Qualitative and Quantitative Research

In recent years the debate on qualitative versus quantitative research has been well documented (e.g. Crotty 1998; Leedy & Ormrod 2005; Miles & Huberman 1994). Much of this debate does not take into account the underlying epistemology, ontology, and theoretical perspectives from each side (Crotty 1998; Miles & Huberman 1994). As a result, issues of validity, objectivity, and the ability to generalise results become the main focus of debate rather than looking into the origins of the differences. In this section, the underlying principles and philosophy of qualitative and quantitative research will be discussed, followed by the justification of the qualitative approach used in this posting.

The fundamental difference between qualitative and quantitative research is in epistemology, the theory of knowledge embedded in the theoretical perspectives (Crano & Brewer 2002; Crotty 1998). The qualitative approach adopts the constructionist view as the main epistemology while the quantitative approach adopts the objectivist view (Crotty 1998). Constructionists argue that meaning and meaningful reality are constructed by humans. Objectivists, on the other hand, believe that meaning and meaningful reality exist outside any human consciousness. Therefore, the qualitative approach often uses in-depth involvement with the phenomena studied using tools such as participative observation or interview. The quantitative approach often takes distance from the phenomena studied, using tools such as survey questionnaires or controlled experiments in the laboratory (Leedy & Ormrod 2005). Quantitative researchers often use models that simplify the phenomena studied into several variables while assuming that other variables are constant (Leedy & Ormrod 2005; Sekaran 2000). Qualitative researchers reject such simplification and argue that ignoring some of the variables would make unrealistic and simplistic representation of the phenomena. Rather than making any simplification, qualitative researchers try to explore and understand the complexity of phenomena studied by immersing themselves into the subject matter. The models developed by qualitative researchers try to show such richness and complexity. That is why most qualitative research uses methods that interact directly with research participants such as in-depth interview and observation.

References

Crano, W.D. & Brewer, M.B. 2002, Principles and Methods of Social Research, 2nd edn, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah.

Crotty, M. 1998, The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in The Research Process, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards.

Leedy, P.D. & Ormrod, J.E. 2005, Practical Research: Planning and Design, 8th edn, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.

Miles, M.B. & Huberman, A.M. 1994, Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook, 2nd edn, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.

Sekaran, U. 2000, Research Methods for Business: A Skill-building Approach, 3rd edn, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

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