COMPARISON OF QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS
This paper compares and contrasts qualitative and quantitative research methods in three basic areas. These are the of their: epistemological foundations, data collection methods, and data analysis methods. The paper ends with a brief summary of the primary points made.
Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) discuss several similarities and differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods. With respect to similarities, both kinds of research formulate epistemological positions regarding the nature of causation and reality and both comprise a set of methods for designing research, collecting data, analyzing data, and deriving information from data collection and analysis. However, they differ in terms of the epistemological positions they advocate and in the methods they hold to be appropriate for meaningful scientific inquiry.
One primary difference between the two research methods according to Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) involves their epistemological assumptions about the nature that causality. The quantitative method, according to the authors, rests on a view of causation as an external, measurable force that occurs independently of the observer and can be used to explain diverse phenomena. On the other hand, the conceptual foundation of qualitative research holds that causation itself is predominately a human interpretive process.
The foregoing assumptions have implications for how scientists should study reality. Quantitative research roots its methods of acquiring information in a view that holds that reality is external to the observer whereas the qualitative method grounds its methodological principles and practices in the notion of reality as an interpretative construct. This point has been discussed by Wainwright (1997) who states that typically qualitative research seeks to discover information about any given phenomenon by obtaining an in-depth understanding of the meanings and definitions of the phenomenon that are conceptualized by informants; moreover, these need not be many informants; a simple case study of one individual is said to yield much given the subjective element of reality.
Quantitative research, based on its assumptions of causation and reality, attempts to arrive at an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon by measuring "it" in some fairly objective manner with results that can be established as valid by a set of formal scientific/methodological principles of inquiry and set criteria for reliability and validity. It seeks for results that are stable across time. Thus, while qualitative research aims at discovering how a very small collective interpret a phenomenon, quantitative research looks at some objective index of the phenomenon attempting to produce information that is stable and valid for large populations and samples.
Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) note that for some domains such as education, the existing knowledge base consists of information obtained by both quantitative and qualitative research. The authors point out that many research experts believe it is quite acceptable to use both kinds of research to collect information about a given phenomenon despite their differing assumptions----provided that the two methods are assigned differing roles in terms of the contribution they make to understanding the phenomenon being studied.
With respect to the foregoing, qualitative methods are assigned the role of intensively observing some small sample and conceptualizing possible themes, patterns, processes, and/or structures as being involved in the phenomenon of interest. Quantitative methods are then called upon to determine whether the conceptualized constructs are supportable or confirmed.
For example, a quantitative study might be conducted of three special education students' responses to inclusion with possible patterns of...