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Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods: Similarities and Differences Compare & Contrast Essay

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Updated: Aug 20th, 2019

Introduction

The aim of this paper is to analyze and to compare quantitative and qualitative research methods. The analysis will begin with the definition and description of the two methods. This will be followed by a discussion on the various aspects of the two research methods.

The similarities and differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods can be seen in their characteristics, data collection methods, data analysis methods, and the validity issues associated with them, as well as, their strengths and weaknesses.

Definition and Description

Qualitative research method is a technique of “studying phenomena by collecting and analyzing data in non-numeric form”. It focuses on exploring the topic of the study by finding as much detail as possible. The characteristics of qualitative research include the following.

First, it focuses on studying the behavior of individuals in their natural settings. Thus, it does not use artificial experiments. This helps researchers to avoid interfering with the participants’ normal way of life.

Second, qualitative research focuses on meanings, perspectives, and understandings. It aims at finding out the meanings that the subjects of the study “attach to their behavior, how they interpret situations, and what their perspectives are on particular issues”.

Concisely, it is concerned with the processes that explain why and how things happen.

Quantitative research is “explaining phenomena by collecting numerical data that are analyzed using mathematical techniques such as statistics”.

It normally uses experiments to answer research questions. Control is an important aspect of the experiments because it enables the researcher to find unambiguous answers to research questions.

Quantitative research also uses operational definitions. Concisely, the terms used in a quantitative study must be defined according to the operations employed to measure them in order to avoid confusion in meaning or communication.

Moreover, the results of quantitative research are considered to be reliable only if they are replicable. This means that the same results must be produced if the research is repeated using the same techniques.

Hypothesis testing is also an integral part of quantitative research. Concisely, hypotheses enable the researcher to concentrate on a specific aspect of a problem, and to identify the methods for solving it.

The similarities and differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods can be seen in their characteristics

Quantitative and qualitative studies are similar in the following ways. To begin with, qualitative research is normally used to generate theory. Similarly, quantitative studies can be used to explore new areas, thereby creating a new theory.

Even though qualitative research focuses on generating theory, it can also be used to test hypotheses and existing theories. In this regard, it is similar to quantitative studies that mainly focus on testing theories and hypotheses.

Both qualitative and quantitative studies use numeric and non-numeric data. For instance, the use of statements such as less than normally involves the use of quantitative data in qualitative studies.

Similarly, quantitative studies can use questionnaires with open-ended questions to collect qualitative data.

Despite these similarities, quantitative and qualitative studies differ in the following ways. To begin with, the purpose of qualitative research is to facilitate understanding of fundamental meanings, reasons, and motives.

It also aims at providing valuable insights concerning a problem through determination of common trends in thought and generation of ideas.

On the other hand, the purpose of quantitative research is to quantify data and to use the results obtained from a sample to make generalizations on a particular population.

The sample used in qualitative research is often small and non-representative of the population. On the contrary, quantitative research uses large samples that represent the population. In this regard, it uses random sampling techniques to select a representative sample.

Qualitative research uses unstructured or semi-structured data collection techniques such as focus group discussions, whereas quantitative research uses structured techniques such as questionnaires.

Moreover, qualitative research uses non-statistical data analysis techniques, whereas quantitative uses statistical methods to analyze data. Finally, the results of qualitative research are normally exploratory and inconclusive, whereas the results of quantitative research are usually conclusive.

The similarities and differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods can be seen in their data collection methods

The main data collection methods in qualitative research include observations, interviews, content review, and questionnaires. The researcher can use participant or systematic observation to collect data.

In participant observation, the researcher engages actively in the activities of the subjects of the study. Researchers prefer this technique because it enables them to avoid disturbing the natural settings of the study.

In systematic observation, schedules are used to observe the behaviors of the participants at regular intervals. This technique enhances objectivity and reduces bias during data collection.

Most qualitative studies use unstructured interviews in which the interviewer uses general ideas to guide the interview and prompts to solicit more information.

Content review involves reading official documents such as diaries, journals, and minutes of meetings in order to obtain data. The importance of this technique is that it enables the researcher to reconstruct events and to describe social relationships.

Questionnaires are often used when the sample size is too large to be reached through face-to-face interviews. However, its use is discouraged in qualitative research because it normally influences the way participants respond, rather than allowing them to act naturally during data collection.

Quantitative research mainly uses surveys for data collection. This involves the use of questionnaires and interviews with closed-ended questions to enable the researcher to obtain data that can be analyzed with the aid of statistical techniques.

The questionnaires can be mailed or they can be administered directly to the respondents.

Observations are also used to collect data in quantitative studies. For example, the researcher can count the number of customers queuing at a point of sale in a retail shop.

Finally, quantitative researchers use management information systems to collect data. This involves reviewing documents such as financial reports to obtain quantitative data.

The similarities and differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods can be seen in their data analysis methods

Qualitative researchers often start the analysis process during the data collection and preparation stage in order to discover emerging themes and patterns. This involves continuous examination of data in order to identify important points, contradictions, inconsistencies, and common themes.

After this preliminary analysis, qualitative data is usually organized through systematic categorization and concept formation. This involves summarizing data under major categories that appear in the data set.

Data can also be summarized through tabulation in order to reveal its underlying features. The summaries usually provide descriptions that are used to generate theories. Concisely, the data is used to develop theories that explain the causes of the participants’ behavior.

Theories are also developed through comparative analysis. This involves comparing observations “across a range of situations over a period of time among different participants through a variety of techniques”.

Continuous comparisons provide clues on why participants behave in a particular manner, thereby facilitating theory formulation.

Quantitative analysis begins with the identification of the level of measurement that is appropriate for the collected data. After identifying the measurement level, data is usually summarized under different categories in tables by calculating frequencies and percentage distributions.

A frequency distribution indicates the number of observations or scores in each category of data, whereas a percentage distribution indicates the proportion of the subjects of the study who are represented in each category.

Descriptive statistics help the researcher to describe quantitative data. It involves calculating the mean and median, as well as, minimum and maximum values. Other analytical tools include correlation, regression, and analysis of variance.

Correlation analysis reveals the direction and strength of the relationship associated with two variables. Analysis of variance tests the statistical significance of the independent variables. Regression analysis helps the researcher to determine whether the independent variables are predictors of the dependent variables.

The similarities and differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods can be seen in their validity issues

Validity refers to the “degree to which the evidence proves that the interpretations of the data are correct and appropriate”. Validity is achieved if the measurement instrument is reliable. Replicability is the most important aspect of reliability in quantitative research.

This is because the results of quantitative research can only be approved if they are replicable. In quantitative research, validity is established through experiment review, data triangulation, and participant feedback, as well as, regression and statistical analyses.

In qualitative research, validity depends on unobtrusive measures, respondent validation, and triangulation. The validity of the results is likely to improve if the researcher is unobtrusive. This is because the presence of the researcher will not influence the responses of the participants.

Respondent validation involves obtaining feedback from the respondents concerning the accuracy of the data in order to ensure reliability. Triangulation involves collecting data using different methods at different periods from different people in order to ensure reliability.

The similarities and differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods can be seen in their strengths and weaknesses

The strengths of qualitative research include the following. First, it enables the researcher to pay attention to detail, as well as, to understand meanings and complexities of phenomena.

Second, it enables respondents to convey their views, feelings, and experiences without the influence of the researcher.

Third, qualitative research involves contextualization of behavior within situations and time. This improves the researcher’s understanding, thereby enhancing the reliability of the conclusions made from the findings.

Finally, the findings of qualitative research are generalizable through the theory developed in the study.

Qualitative research has the following weaknesses. Participant observation can lead to interpretation of phenomena based only on particular situations, while ignoring external factors that may influence the behavior of participants.

This is likely to undermine the validity of the research. Additionally, conducting a qualitative research is usually difficult due to the amount of time and resources required to negotiate access, to build trust, and to collect data from the respondents.

Finally, qualitative research is associated with high levels of subjectivity and bias.

Quantitative research has the following strengths. First, it has high levels of precision, which is achieved through reliable measures.

Second, it uses controlled experiments, which enable the researcher to determine cause and effect relationships.

Third, the use of advanced statistical techniques such as regression analysis facilitates accurate and sophisticated analysis of data.

Despite these strengths, quantitative research is criticized because it ignores the fact that individuals are able to interpret their experiences, as well as, to develop their own meanings.

Furthermore, control of variables often leads to trivial findings, which may not explain the phenomena that are being studied. Finally, quantitative research cannot be used to study phenomena that are not quantifiable.

Conclusion

The aim of this paper was to analyze quantitative and qualitative research methods by comparing and contrasting them. The main difference between qualitative and quantitative research is that the former uses non-numeric data, whereas the later mainly uses numeric data.

The main similarity between them is that they can be used to test existing theories and hypothesis. Qualitative and quantitative research methods have strengths and weaknesses. The results obtained through these methods can be improved if the researcher addresses their weaknesses.

References

Gravetter, F., & Forzano, L.-A. (2011). Research methods for the behavioral sciences. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Kothari, C. (2009). Research methodology: Methods adn techniques. London, England: Sage.

McNeill, P., & Chapman, S. (2005). Research methods. London, England: Palgrave.

Rosenthal, R., & Rosnow, R. (2007). Essentials of behavioral research: Methods and data analysis. Upper River Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Stangor, C. (2010). Research methods for the behavioral sciences. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.

Wallnau, L., & Gravetter, F. (2009). Statistics for the behavioral sciences. London, England: Macmillan.

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