Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches

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QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE APPROACHES
TO SOCIAL RESEARCH

Christina Hughes

C.L.Hughes@warwick.ac.uk

There has been widespread debate in recent years within many of the social sciences regarding the relative merits of quantitative and qualitative strategies for research. The positions taken by individual researchers vary considerably, from those who see the two strategies as entirely separate and based on alternative views of the world, to those who are happy to mix these strategies within their research projects. For example, Bryman (1988) argued for a `best of both worlds' approach and suggested that qualitative and quantitative approaches should be combined. Hughes (1997), nevertheless, warns that such technicist solutions underestimate the politics of legitimacy that are associated with choice of methods. In particular, quantitative approaches have been seen as more scientific and `objective'.

In exploring issues of qualitative and quantitative research, this material builds directly on the epistemological foundations presented in the package `What is Research?' .... Thus, on first consideration, the use of questionnaires as a research technique might be seen as a quantitative strategy, whereas interviews and observations might be thought of as qualitative techniques. Similarly, it is often assumed that quantitative approaches draw on positivist ontologies whereas qualitative approaches are more associated with interpretive and critical paradigms. A further assumption is that some critical approaches to research, such as feminism, only use qualitative approaches (see Graham, 1984; Jayrantine, 1993 to prove this assumption wrong!). And so in practice, of course, it is often more complicated than that! Thus, interviews may be structured and analysed in a quantitative manner, as when numeric data is collected or when non-numeric answers are categorized and coded in numeric form. Similarly, surveys may allow for open-ended responses and lead to the in-depth study of individual cases. In addition, quantitative and qualitative approaches are strongly associated with objectivity (quantitative) and subjectivity (qualitative). These were issues that we considered in terms of the role of the researcher within the research process earlier in the course. Finally, the choice of approach is linked to the research objectives.

The main aim of this package is to introduce you to, and facilitate your understanding of, the key debates concerning qualitative and quantitative approaches. The learning outcomes are:

· To outline the qualitative and quantitative paradigms;

· To illustrate the distinctiveness of each paradigm;

· To illustrate issues of similarity between each paradigms;

· To outline the ways in which qualitative and quantitative methods can be combined;

· To apply this learning to individual research projects.

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE DIVIDE

Read the quotations below. Draw up a list of the characteristics of qualitative and quantitative research.

...

Quantitative research consists of those studies in which the data concerned can be analysed in terms of numbers ... Research can also be qualitative, that is, it can describe events, persons and so forth scientifically without the use of numerical data ... Quantitative research is based more directly on its original plans and its results are more readily analysed and interpreted. Qualitative research is more open and responsive to its subject. Both types of research are valid and useful. They are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for a single investigation to use both methods. (Best and Khan, 1989: 89-90)

Qualitative research is harder, more stressful and more time-consuming than other types. If you want to get your MEd dissertation or whatever finished quickly and easily do a straightforward questionnaire study. Qualitative research is only suitable for people who care about it, take it seriously, and...
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