Qualitative Research

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The quantitative and qualitative research traditions can be thought of as distinct cultures marked by different values, beliefs, and norms. Qualitative research methods are complex meaningful analyses characterized by processes and meanings that are not measured in terms of mathematical measurements. Quantitative research however, relies and builds on mathematical procedures and methods, such as frequency, quality, amount and statistical procedure. There are unique characteristics which distinguish one research process from the other.

In the simplest terms, it's about the nature of the data you collect and analyze. Quantitative research uses data that are associated with quantity -- some measure with numbers that can be assessed through comparisons of means, frequencies, and usually statistical tests. Qualitative research collects and analyzes data that are descriptive in nature -- think of anything that can take the eventual form of a text, such as interviews or descriptive observations of behavior. In Miles and Huberman's 1994 book Qualitative Data Analysis, quantitative researcher Fred Kerlinger is quoted as saying, "There's no such thing as qualitative data. Everything is either 1 or 0". To this another researcher, D. T. Campbell, asserts "all research ultimately has a qualitative grounding" (p. 40). This back and forth banter among qualitative and quantitative researchers is "essentially unproductive" according to Miles and Huberman. They and many other researchers agree that these two research methods need each other more often than not. However, because typically qualitative data involves words and quantitative data involves numbers, there are some researchers who feel that one is better (or more scientific) than the other. Another major difference between the two is that qualitative research is inductive and quantitative research is deductive. In qualitative research, a hypothesis is not needed to begin research. However, all quantitative research requires a hypothesis before research can begin. The primary aim of a Qualitative Research is to provide a complete, detailed description of the research topic. Quantitative Research on the other hand focuses more in counting and classifying features and constructing statistical models and figures to explain what is observed. Qualitative Research is ideal for earlier phases of research projects while for the latter part of the research project, Quantitative Research is highly recommended. Quantitative Research provides the researcher a clearer picture of what to expect in his research compared to Qualitative Research. Many qualitative researchers have long criticized laboratory based research as 'artificial' and noted that people react differently in other contexts. There are also criticisms about those researched being influenced by the researchers so that conclusions are not sound, especially when compared to research in 'natural' settings. One response to these arguments are criticisms about the artificiality of structured interviews which qualitative researchers carry out. Of course, interviews need not be structured though the central issue is about the extent to which the research act interferes with what is researched. In other words are the conclusions valid, do they reflect what they believe they are reflect or are people responding, above all, to the researchers? Hammersley argues: [p231]

"In my view this distinction between natural and artificial settings is spurious. What happens in a school class or in a court of law, for example, is no more natural [or artificial] than what goes on in a social psychological laboratory." To us this is simply wrong. There is an enormous difference. If Hammersley had argued that there is some form of reaction to all forms of research we could have accepted that. He is, however, going much further. In qualitative research we seek to minimise the...
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