Qualitative vs. Quantitative Methods

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Discuss the main differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection and analysis in management research. Your answer should make reference to the philosophical assumptions which underpin these methodological approaches.

Introduction Whenever a decision is made to undertake a piece of research a method for conducting the study is required. In scientific research the techniques typically used for data collection and analysis are those which allow the evaluation of data to test a predetermined hypothesis (Zikmund, 2000). An example of this is a laboratory-based experiment where the researcher can be in full control of all the variables involved and can therefore be sure that any change in the phenomena under investigation is a direct result of an identified and controlled stimulus. In marketing research however, which is usually reliant on some aspect of human influence, it has been proposed that such a uniform, rigid approach is not appropriate: “There is never a single, perfect research design that is the best for all marketing research projects, or even a specific type of marketing research task.” (Malhotra and Birks, 2000: p.70)

The aim of this assignment is to critically evaluate the quantitative and qualitative approaches to research, specifically focusing on the marketing perspective. To do this, consideration is firstly given to the basic differences between the qualitative and quantitative approaches, considering the seemingly opposing theoretical paradigms from which they have originated.

Subsequently the development of the marketing discipline is examined with a specific focus on how and why different research methods have been employed in the field. Attention is

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given to the need for marketing to address both the issue of verifying existing hypotheses, and the requirement to develop new theory.

As there appears to be no ideal research method for use in marketing it would seem that what is important is being critically aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches available. Finally, therefore, the notion of pluralism, or methodological triangulation, is explored as such an approach is often used to exploit the strengths and minimise weaknesses in research design through the combination of two or more research methods, often from opposing theoretical paradigms.

Basic differences between quantitative and qualitative research Qualitative research can be defined as: “…the collection, analysis and interpretation of data that cannot be meaningfully quantified, that is, summarised in the form of numbers.” (Parasuraman et al, 2004: p.195)

Whereas quantitative research can be defined as:
“…the collection of data that involves larger, more representative respondent samples and the numerical calculation of results.” (Parasuraman et al, 2004: p.195)

Historically it has been considered that science based disciplines such as mathematics and physics are especially suited to quantitative research methods. Such methods are considered to be objective and lead to numerical, absolute outcomes, which can be verified through repetition and further testing (Zikmund, 2000); in other words the knowledge is external to the knower (Milliken, 2001), and therefore is available be found by whoever conducts the necessary research (Cunningham, 1999). This view of natural science can be considered to fit within the positivist paradigm, where a paradigm can be thought of as theoretical framework for looking at a situation and a basis upon which phenomena can be analysed and interpreted

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(Gill and Johnson, 2002). Kuhn (1970) supports the need for paradigms on the basis that they bind disciplines together, and without them there would be no valid position from which to undertake research.

Deshpande (1983) suggests that the acceptance of a particular theoretical paradigm is typically followed by a choice of a specific set of research methods that appear...
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