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The Debate about Qualitative and Quantitative Research Paper


Qualitative and quantitative research methodologies are the basic research methods in application today. However, there has been a lot of debate surrounding their application and appropriateness in undertaking various research studies. For example, Miles, an independent researcher, (cited in Colorado State University, 2010, p. 1) notes that “There’s no such thing as qualitative data, everything is either 1 or 0”.

On the other hand, another researcher Campbell affirms that “All research ultimately has a qualitative grounding”. This ensuing debate is quite unproductive when analyzed from an objective point of view (Colorado State University, 2010, p. 1). Even though most researchers indicate that both research methods are helpful in research studies, the fact that quantitative data engages variables while qualitative figures involve extensive literature; many observers point out that one is enhanced than the other.

Problem Statement

Over the past decade or so, there has been a considerable degree of uncertainty over the virtues that underlie the qualitative and quantitative research methodologies as the main types of research methods. This dispute has gained considerable impetus in many research circles (Bryman, 1984, p. 75).

However, the exact constitutions underlying these research methods vary from author to author; or are directly dependent on the level of specification a given researcher wants to indulge into. Nonetheless, there is a significant level of agreement among researchers of the antinomies and the specific implications both research methods pose (Bryman, 1984, p. 75).

Even amid this agreement, it is still difficult for researchers to merge divergent opinions or practical applications advanced by both methodologies. This conflict majorly arises from the different philosophical and technical issues about qualitative and quantitative research methods which are supposed to be considered either individually or at the same time.

The underlying philosophical conflict revolves around epistemological issues, which also revolve around the understanding of researchers with regards to specific methodologies and their manifestations on research studies. However, the technical issues bespeak the importance of choosing a given research methodology because of their appropriateness over all other factors. Nonetheless, recent research studies incline towards the opinion that the latter is dependant on the former (Bryman, 1984, p. 75).

This means that the basis of any given epistemological study will eventually dictate the appropriate research method to be used; assuming the above philosophical deliberations are considered. Interestingly, these two schools of thought are usually confused with each other. This is often evidenced when different researchers seek to articulate the underlying relationship between the two research methodologies.

In trying to merge the different schools of thought, it should still be understood that the general term: research methodology; whether it is used to refer to the qualitative or quantitative types of research, eventually boil down to represent an epistemological position. However, the reference to methods and techniques will often be considered synonymous to one another, but it is of high importance that the different realism of discourse be properly evaluated.

This study seeks to give an insight into the existing debate between the two types of methodologies with a specific aim of distinguishing the epistemological and technical issues surrounding the debate; to come up with a clear outline of specific areas of importance underlying the debate.

Literature Review

Throughout the 19th century, it had become increasingly difficult to establish the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. To many, the solution to this dilemma lay with a researcher, Troy, who advanced the opinion that “the problem under investigation properly dictates the method of investigation” (Bryman, 1984, p. 76). Back in the 19th century, this explanation became a highly credible and attractive solution to explain research methodologies.

Those who argued against it were dismissed because they would have been advancing the opinion that one research method was better than the other (Bryman, 1984, p. 75). However, in the past few decades, this discussion has changed to probe the comparative differences between qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Interestingly, vast volumes of books have been published over the past few years on the same, but many have centered on qualitative research only (Bryman, 1984, p. 75). Similarly, most journals have also been derived from the same data. These expositions have brought to fore an underlying contrast between the two research methods, especially by writers who are sympathetic to the qualitative research method; or by researchers who are sympathetic to it.

On the other hand, researchers who use quantitative research seldom write about the advantages of the research method and instead opt to write more about existent plausible alternatives to the methodology. Therefore, a deep understanding of the quantitative research method has been greatly derived from the understanding of quantitative researchers.

This does not, however, mean that other research materials explaining the same elements are wrong because some of them have been exceptionally useful in explaining the epistemological fundamentals underlying the research methodology.

However, the differences between the two research methods have been extensively explained in many disciplines, including psychology, evaluation research, educational studies and the likes (Davidsson, 2005, p. 57). Some researchers have, however, refrained from using distinctive open terms between the two research methodologies and have instead used synonyms found to negate the distinctions between the two methodologies.

Such adopted terms now include “positivist” and “empiricist” which fundamentally mean the same thing as the quantitative approach but terms such as “ethnographic” or “interpretivist” all denote the qualitative technique (Bryman, 1984, p. 76). However, regardless of the nomenclature, it becomes apparently clear that many researchers try to expose the similarities or distinctiveness between the two research methods.

It is however unclear whether surveys are more preferred to the participative observation of both techniques, but some observers note that this may mean a probable shift in emphasis but some of its consequences may be of value if properly analyzed (Bryman, 1984, p. 76).

Quantitative methodologies are commonly used in social sciences and natural sciences, but overall, they represent a positivist approach to the specific research.element to be analyzed. Bryman (1984) affirms that “the paraphernalia of positivism are characterized typically in the methodological literature as exhibiting a preoccupation with operational definitions, objectivity, replicability, causality, and the like” (p. 77).

Social research studies have been singled out to be some of the best methods of research studies to be used within this tradition because its findings can be easily adapted to the concerns described above.

In fact, in the use of questionnaires, various concepts can be put into operation while maintaining the objective of the research because the there will be a clear distance between the observer and the respondent in addition to the possibility of regulation, through external elements in the questionnaire. Replication is in fact, straightforward in this situation because a researcher can undertake the same research in another context.

The problem of causality can also be easily tackled through the inclusion of path analysis and regression techniques which blend quite exceptionally with such kind of surveys. This type of research is generally perceived as positivist or empiricist, but conventionally, it represents the quantitative type of research. When defining such type of research as positivist or similar kind of terms, an empirical point is derived because, in conventional terms, such kind of research should be easily perceived as warrantable research material (Bryman, 1984, p. 77).

Bryman (1984) further identifies that in the same context, “surveys are seen as instruments for the elucidation of research which makes such epistemological assumptions, though experimental designs and secondary analyses of pre-collected data are also often recognized as exhibiting the same underlying philosophical premises” (p. 77).

A qualitative research method, however, has a number of differences from the above analogy. To illustrate the difference, Bryman (1984) explains that “the sine qua non is a commitment to seeing the social world from the point of view of the actor, a theme which is rarely omitted from methodological writings within this tradition” (p. 77-78).

Qualitative research has an edge above quantitative analysis in the eyes of most researchers because it is usually perceived to be more flexible than the latter due to its potential of leading researchers to discover unanticipated conclusions. This is contrary to expectations of the quantitative research because it is normally perceived to be predictable and inclined more towards the expected hypothesis. Moreover, fieldwork studies involving this type or research method are more protracted as compared to the qualitative technique (Davidsson, 2005, p. 57).

When analyzed from a philosophical perspective, the qualitative research method is usually attributed to phenomenology and symbolic interactions, but many researchers view the phenomenological perspective as most important because other parameters are only considered to be essential elements of analysis (Davidsson, 2005, p. 57).

The phenomenological aspect is especially important because it considers the actors’ perspective as the most critical empirical point of analysis, which can be used to comprehend the research method best. However, approaches of a positivist nature are normally considered when the researcher is to view a given research topic from the outside and from a mostly empirical point of view (which may deviate the attentions from core areas of analysis) (Davidsson, 2005, p. 57).

To best comprehend the inside view of many research topics involving epistemological studies, the analysis of the applicability of research methods can never be ignored. In so doing, qualitative research is normally perceived to create a deep sense of research with an equally deep sense of analysis leading to “rich” and conclusive data.

Quantitative data is normally perceived to fall short in this respect and its analysis is also generally viewed as superficial evidence because it often excludes essential causal relationships in research studies and instead; includes data which has unnecessary or insignificant meaning towards the overall objective of the research study.

It, therefore, becomes apparently clear that in the analysis of these two research studies, explication at an epistemological level is clearly evident, but a bridge should be formed to merge this epistemological level with the technical level (which majorly revolves around the practicality of issues).

In this context, therefore, discussion about which technique is better than the other should be discouraged and instead, the big question should be: which technique is more appropriate than the other? Proponents of the qualitative research method defend their position by citing the ability of the research method to meet initial sets of epistemological requirements (Davidsson, 2005, p. 57).

The biggest motivator to this type of observation in qualitative research is the apparent increase of interest in phenomenological ideas and the similar surge of interests in symbolic interactions. In comparison, the quantitative technique is normally shot down because of allegations that it “flirts” with certain methods of research and therefore concentrates on creating a certain impression. It, therefore, does not seem scientific enough for most researchers, especially in various scientific fields.

Qualitative research, therefore, seems quite attractive for most researchers because it links abstract ideas with specific research questions as opposed to the qualitative research method which is centered on coming up with superficial positions of relative superiority. However, the understanding of appropriateness in certain research methods among various researchers is still unclear (Davidsson, 2005, p. 57).

In a professional manner, the research problem should be the baseline for the correct research method to be used. This statement does not, however, seem to be clear for most researchers because the notion of a problem does not seem to include philosophical points of views which have been used in the past.

In this confine of thought, its is therefore not correct to assume that the problem should determine the type of research method to be used but rather, the intellectual commitment to be analyzed in relation to a given philosophical stand. This point of view also seems to explain the trend whereby some researchers are often noted to incline towards using a certain type of research method over and over in their studies.

An interesting element in this debate is the fact that the different titles of qualitative and quantitative research are the ones that dictate the underlying intellectual inclinations. However, the lack of quantitative data in this analysis can be largely perceived as a superficial manifestation of underlying epistemological issues because none of the research methods correctly signifies the cluster of commitments they are supposed to uphold.

However, some hard-line proponents of the quantitative research method would rather deny these underlying facts about qualitative research; but many researchers adopt a modicum of quantitative data in their studies to merge the differences between the two methods of research (Klenke, 2008, p. 44). As much as it is essential to factor in the level of quantification in research studies, it is interesting to note that this point of analysis marks the terminological focus.

The qualitative and quantitative research methods, therefore, come out to be primarily dictated by epistemological issues and existing dilemmas regarding research techniques and they are therefore largely based on the same issues. This analysis is, however, quite different when compared to arguments which various writers often engage in when comparing various research techniques.

The above argument purporting that a research problem primarily dictates the research method to be used largely a technical rather than an epistemological issue because it suggests that a given technique is not only superior to others, but also the said technique is of more use than the other. Some researchers have, however, gone the extra mile to delaine the relationship with objects and research methods as can be evidenced by (Bryman, 1984, p. 79) who suggests that:

“The sample survey is an appropriate and useful means of gathering information under three conditions; when the goals of the research call for quantitative data or when the information sought is reasonably specific and familiar to the respondents, and when the researcher himself has considerable prior knowledge of particular problems and the range of responses likely to emerge. All of these conditions are met in the areas of research that have been the traditional strongholds of the survey — public opinion, voting, attitudes and beliefs, and economic behavior”.

An interactive type of research study is therefore appropriate when analyzing sophisticated variables with intricate patterns of study; mainly when the end-user of information depends on firsthand information for a correct analysis of the research topic. This argument can be largely perceived as a technical problem because it only seeks to outline specific areas where certain research methods are either appropriate or inappropriate.

There is, however, a number of reasons why an interactive research design (best analyzed through a qualitative research study) is mostly preferred in certain research studies. Some researchers such as Gans (2010) however note that:

“The mail questionnaires and interviews provided more systematically collected data and are thus more scientific in one sense, although less so in another, for they can only report what people say they do and feel, and not what a researcher has seen them say, do and feel” (p. 34).

In a literal sense, this means that the gap in the theoretical and practical aspects of research methodologies creates a technical edge over a given research study, especially where a disjuncture is highly sought.

When trying to determine the appropriateness of a given research method therefore, it is extensively challenging to arrive at a prudent decision because epistemological and technical insights may cloud a researcher’s judgment. This fact manifests itself through a number of areas such as technique and sensitivity; qualitative research as a preparation for subsequent research and a combination of research methods (Bryman, 1984).

A basic argument often advanced by researchers especially in social and natural sciences (for qualitative research methodology) is that the associated techniques are quite sensitive to the underlying factors of research problems when compared to quantitative research methodology which majorly focuses on the enigmatic quality of research problems (Bryman, 1984).

The quest in quantitative research studies for open quantitative indicators does not, therefore, appeal to many researchers because it fails to capture the underlying factors in research problems; in addition to failing to capture the contextual significance of the same research problems. This concern can be analyzed under the sensitivity aspect of research methodologies.

Empirical leverage can, however, be obtained if the prolonged analysis is observed and a deeper analysis of the research methodology is overseen. For example, when analyzing the performance of schoolchildren, it would be wrong to analyze the attendance level of children because it is difficult to establish the causal relationship between such a variable; as advanced by a Coleman report cited in (Bryman 1984, p. 82). However, in the same article, a contrast is made by another researcher, Light, (quoted in Bryman 1984, p. 82) who explains that:

“In a recent study from England31… systematically observed students study done in local schools came to very different conclusions. With richer, more holistic data it found that schools made an enormous difference in the proportion of students who passed national exams or got arrested for delinquency… While the investigators collected output data, they also went into the schools to find out what social processes lay behind the successes and failures of the contrast”.

With this observation in consideration, Light refers to the holistic nature of qualitative research in arriving at formidable conclusions, but at the same time, he exposes the shallow natured manner of quantitative research. In the same article, he further went on to explain that:

“In contrast to the wastefully expensive Coleman Report, which tried to analyze a training program by isolating a few variables from the whole, the British study examined the whole and discovered key dimensions of educational programs that only systematic observation over time could discover” (p. 82).

This kind of analysis gives an insight into the way philosophical aspects of research studies can be blended with the methodological aspects of research studies; in addition to outlining the methods through which phenomenological approaches can be undertaken. Patton (cited in Bryman, 1984, p. 83) an independent researcher, notes that the quantitative and qualitative methods both have different and contradicting paradigms and such differences extend to the various philosophical contexts they tend to uphold.

Adding to the argument against quantitative research, some observers have noted that qualitative research can be practically used as a tool for research preparation because with its specific lack of clear hypothesis, it is inherently explorative nature can be clearly exposed (Klenke, 2008, p. 44). In this manner, a researcher, therefore, has no other option except to embark on discovering new concepts as opposed to affirming existent dilemmas already in question.

In this respect, the qualitative researcher is likely to come up with newer research avenues to guide other researchers in further exploring these new concepts. In other words, the qualitative research can be used as a reasonable basis for future research studies. Through this analysis, many quantitative researchers rely on qualitative research to get new grounds where they can carry out further studies in the analysis of different concepts because it provides them with hunches or leads which they can pursue in their studies.

This is the most fundamental reason why many observers point out that the two research methodologies need each other because they complement each other’s works. However, in the line of ascendancy, qualitative research falls lower in the epistemological order when compared to the quantitative research. This is because before any research study is termed as true or factual; it ought to be backed up in the field of study and this is where quantitative research studies kick in.

However, this notion, most often than not, leads to another confusing grey area in the use of qualitative and quantitative research; that both methodologies should be used together. However, the biggest problem with this kind of opinion is that it exudes good sense. Interestingly, this dilemma coincides with the triangulation technique often noted in social researches; but the triangulation explanation is essentially very technical to understand. The debate is, however, long as Bryman (1984) notes and more research is yet to be done to understand the underlying issues in the debate.


Overall Objective

  • To establish the underlying premises in the quantitative and qualitative research debate.

Specific Objectives

  • To determine the Epistemological issues in the quantitative and qualitative research debate.
  • To draw a distinction between epistemological and technical issues in the debate surrounding quantitative and qualitative research
  • To derive a clear line of symmetry between epistemological positions and research techniques when in close application.
  • To determine the extent to which a correspondence can be established between qualitative and quantitative research.


  • Applicability and appropriateness are the underlying epistemological issues in the quantitative and qualitative debate.
  • The qualitative and quantitative debate revolves around epistemological and technical concerns.
  • Positivism is the possible line of symmetry in the qualitative and quantitative research.
  • It is not possible to come up with a clear correspondence in the qualitative and quantitative debate.

Research Procedure/Methods

Population and Sample

This study will majorly seek the insights of experienced researchers who have carried out continuous research for not less than 5 years. Collectively, I will interview twenty researchers and their recruitment will be purely based on random sampling; so long as they meet the sampling criteria.

Research design and Analysis

This study will involve a descriptive research design because available literature and expert opinion will be sought to provide insights into the existing debate between qualitative and quantitative research. After such information is obtained, it will be evaluated and compared with other existing research studies and all real insights into the topic will be evaluated to come up with a strong deductive conclusion of the underlying issues in the qualitative and quantitative debate. This will be done in consideration of important variables of interest.

Data Collection

Basically, this research study will rely a lot on the analysis of existing literature as a secondary source of data. This method will be preferred because of its convenience and extensiveness. However, I will also interview experienced researchers to give an insight into already acquired resources/data from existing literature. I will seek to undertake these interviews as soon as I strike conversations of interest with the researchers. The type of interview structure I will incorporate will not be formal or structured because I want the respondents to feel free to share information on the topic without any limitation of scope.

Materials Needed

Basic materials will include a list of cited references in the bibliographies section referring to materials used in the literature analysis. Any given statement which has a significant bearing on the proposed study will also be included; plus any important appendix materials. Additionally, a copy of the interview schedule or questionnaires will be incorporated as the primary tool for collecting information.

Time Schedule

The entire research will be undertaken within two and a half months. In the first month, the research proposal will be completed and the literature review carefully analyzed to come up with a comprehensive analysis of the direction the entire research is to take. In the first half of the second month, the fieldwork will be completed and then the analysis will be done in the last two weeks. The final presentation will be undertaken in the first week of the last month, and then later, the complete final report will be handed in by the last week of the same month.

Personnel and Budget

This study will be undertaken as an individual project and therefore, the personnel to be involved will only be one person; the researcher. With regard to the expected budget, the major cost implications will be expended on transport and other costs to facilitate the collection of information. Considering the respondents will be sourced from within the locality, these costs are estimated to be considerably low.


Clearance will be obtained from the university faculty upon approval of this proposal, and then later, clearance will be obtained from participating firms and researchers who will provide the primary information for the study.

Limitations of the Study

Time may be a limiting factor considering the research is to be undertaken within semester periods. Additionally, considering some information is to be obtained from external researchers and unrelated research firms, there are bound to be certain aspects of leadership practices, company policies, organizational practices, organizational culture, and management hierarchy which may lead to the concealment of some information or which may influence the response of the researchers. This may be true, especially if the researchers have a biased opinion because they may have extensively used a given research method for most of their works. Also being an external party to the group of researchers; I may not get all the information I need.

Delimitations of the Study

Considering the research is descriptive in nature and explores a general research problem; many of the respondents may not be in a position to conceal information for selfish reasons. Also, a lack of open structure in the interviews will influence the level of obstruction and influence from other researchers.


Bryman, A. (1984). The Debate about Quantitative and Qualitative Research: A Question of Method or Epistemology? The British Journal of Sociology, 35(1), 75-92.

Colorado State University. (2010). . Web.

Davidsson, P. (2005). Researching Entrepreneurship. New York: Springer.

Gans, H. J. (2010). The Urban Villagers. Glencoe: Free Press.

Klenke, K. (2008). Qualitative Research in the Study of Leadership. London: Emerald Group Publishing.

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