Practical Considerations When Choosing a Qualitative, Quantitative, Or
Oct 4, 2010 Teacher Training 3952 Views
Discussion of the differences between quantitative and qualitative research are numerous. Some of this discussion focuses on the epistemological differences, that is, differences in the nature and value of the knowledge obtained (Chong, 2006; Guba & Lincoln, 2005; Morgan, 2007). Other discussions center on how to conduct each type of research, focusing on the specific procedures employed, and the application of quantitative-specific or qualitative-specific concepts within a research framework (Creswell, 2009; Merriam, 2009; Kultar, 2007). In addition to epistemological and procedural concerns, practical considerations play an important role in any research activity. Feasibility issues potentially experienced by the individual doing the research design should never be ignored. The PhD candidate may want to consider some of these practical differences before beginning a dissertation or proposal writing process.
1. Number of subjects
Although some experimental studies can have few subjects, quantitative research usually involves many more subjects compared to qualitative research. This is particularly true for survey research. It is not uncommon to see a survey study involving hundreds of subjects, and in some cases, even thousands. This is because the demands of inferential statistics require sample sizes be sufficiently large in relation to the population from which the sample was drawn. Qualitative research, on the other hand, does not require large numbers of subjects in order to draw empirical conclusions based on results. Numerous qualitative studies involving only a handful of participants exist (less than 20), and rarely does a qualitative study involving more than a hundred participants. Consequently, the qualitative researcher is required to contact fewer organizations, hence fewer gatekeepers, and must deal with subjects, creating less work at the front end of the data collection process.
2. Time spent with subjects
However, once you lay the initial groundwork for data collection, the pendulum swings in favor of quantitative research. One hallmark of qualitative research is that it is "data rich." That means the researcher will be doing such things as repeated interviews, observations, participation, event analysis, and content analysis of texts and may be doing these activities over a long period of time. Although the quantitative researcher conducting surveys may end up contacting subjects more than once in order to reduce non-response bias, the amount of time spent with the actual subject is less. Even in experimental research using a quantitative approach the researcher will usually spend less time with the participant compared to qualitative research.
3. Rigor versus freedom
Both the quantitative and qualitative researcher are trying to arrive at some degree of understanding of some phenomenon or variable. They both get to their destinations differently. On the one hand, the quantitative researcher uses a roadmap in which all the roads and turns are fairly well described. On the other, the qualitative research has fewer restrictions of where to go and turn. He or she may have some general landmarks and pointers, but in general, does not have the same strict guidelines. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage. Due to the many strict guidelines of quantitative research, some of which are statistically related and others which pertain to other methodological reasons, it is crucial the dissertation student have a grasp of all the components of the particular quantitative design being used. Moreover, these components must be understood and function in relation to each other.
Insofar as its general approach is more interpretive and does not require special knowledge of statistics, qualitative research is easier. To be sure, every qualitative method has specific tools and perspective with which the PhD student should be familiar. Still, compared to quantitative research, it may not be obvious what defines a red-flag. Qualitative research is more inductive, more interpretive, and less subject to highly programmed ways of conducting research. This is one reason qualitative research is sometimes unfortunately labeled "soft." The researcher who feels more comfortable with an explicit road map may prefer working within the quantitative paradigm.
4. People versus numbers
A researcher using a quantitative approach will not necessarily have much contact with the study sample. Often data sets have already been previously compiled by other organizations, or the researcher uses a predesigned instrument, such as a survey. Conversely, the qualitative research must interact with participants. It is widely accepted that the qualitative researcher is the instrument (Patton, 2002; Creswell, 2009), and the primary means for gathering data is through interviews, observation, focus groups.
5. Mixed-method research
Concerning the problem of knowledge, mixed-method may be ideal, as the mixed-method researcher can gain insight into an issue from both angles. From a practical viewpoint, mixed-method is the worst type of research. Approaching a research problem using multiple methods means the researcher must collect two sets of data, both of a very different nature, and must therefore conduct two separate analyses for each set of data and then link the two analysis together. Not only that, but the mixed-method dissertation student must discuss multiple instruments and multiple rationales. As John Creswell (1994) states, "Using both paradigms in a single study can be expensive, time-consuming, and lengthy" (p. 7). Creswell also remarks the researcher must be competent in the skills required by both methodological approaches.
Idealistically, the type of problem which interests a researcher and his or her philosophy about how one should arrive at a valid understanding of the subject studied should be the driving consideration when determining the methodological approach. Choosing method first and then a specific problem to tackle that fits into the appropriate method is quite arguably a backward approach. Still, one should consider the practical issues involved when preparing to choose a topic of study. Unless the researcher has narrowed his or her topic and can picture not only what, but how he or she will conduct the study, then it is worth keeping an open mind about which empirical approach to choose and subsequently the specific topic.
Chong, H. Y. (2006). Philosophical foundations of quantitative research methodology. Location? University Press of America.
Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (1st ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Guba, E., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.) (pp. 105-177). Thousand Oaks, CA: SagePublications, Inc.
Kultar, S. (2007). Quantitative social research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guided to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Son.
Morgan, D. L. (2007). Paradigms lost and pragmatism regained: Methodological implications of combining qualitative and quantitative methods. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(1), 48-76. doi: 10.1177/2345678906292462