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Handout 1
Qualitative vs. Quantitative:
The Assumptions of Qualitative Designs

* Qualitative researchers are concerned primarily with process, rather than outcomes or products. * Qualitative researchers are interested in meaning how people make sense of their lives, experiences, and their structures of the world. * The qualitative researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis. Data are mediated through this human instrument, rather than through inventories, questionnaires, or machines. * Qualitative research involves fieldwork. The researcher physically goes to the people, setting, site, or institution to observe or record behavior in its natural setting. * Qualitative research is descriptive in that the researcher is interested in process, meaning, and understanding gained through words or pictures. * The process of qualitative research is inductive in that the researcher builds abstractions, concepts, hypotheses, and theories from details.

Merriam, S. B. (1988). Case study research in education: A qualitative approach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research design: Qualitative & quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Arguments Supporting Qualitative Inquiry

Human behavior is significantly influenced by the setting in which it occurs; thus one must study that behavior in situations. The physical setting e.g., schedules, space, pay, and reward sand the internalized notions of norms, traditions, roles, and values are crucial contextual variables. Research must be conducted in the setting where all the contextual variables are operating. Past researchers have not been able to derive meaning from experimental research. The research techniques themselves, in experimental research, can affect the findings. The lab, the questionnaire, and so on, can become artifacts. Subjects can become either suspicious or wary, or they can become aware of what the researchers want and try to please them. Additionally, subjects sometimes do not know their feelings, interactions, and behaviors, so they cannot articulate them to respond to a questionnaire. One cannot understand human behavior without understanding the framework within which subjects interpret their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Researchers need to understand the framework. In fact, the "objective” scientist, by coding and standardizing, may destroy valuable data while imposing her world on the subjects. Field study research can explore the processes and meanings of events.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. (1980). Designing qualitative research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Predispositions of Quantitative and Qualitative Modes of Inquiry

Quantitative Mode| Qualitative mode|
AssumptionsSocial facts have an objective realityPrimacy of methodVariables can be identified and relationships measuredEtic (outside's point of view)| AssumptionsReality is socially constructedPrimacy of subject matterVariables are complex, interwoven, and difficult to measureEmic (insider's point of view)| PurposeGeneralizabilityPredictionCausal explanations| PurposeContextualizationInterpretationUnderstanding actors' perspectives| ApproachBegins with hypotheses and theoriesManipulation and controlUses formal instrumentsExperimentationDeductiveComponent analysisSeeks consensus, the normReduces data to numerical indicesAbstract language in write-up| ApproachEnds with hypotheses and grounded theoryEmergence and portrayalResearcher as instrumentNaturalisticInductiveSearches for patternsSeeks pluralism, complexityMakes minor use of numerical indicesDescriptive write-up| Researcher RoleDetachment and impartialityObjective portrayal| Researcher RolePersonal involvement and partialityEmpathic understanding|

Although some social science researchers (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Schwandt, 1989) perceive qualitative and quantitative approaches as incompatible, others (Patton, 1990;...
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