Research Paradigms and Meaning Making

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The Qualitative Report Volume 10 Number 4 December 2005 758-770

Research Paradigms and Meaning Making: A Primer
Steven Eric Krauss
Universiti Putra, Selangor, D.E., Malaysia

An introduction and explanation of the epistemological differences of quantitative and qualitative research paradigms is first provided, followed by an overview of the realist philosophical paradigm, which attempts to accommodate the two. From this foundational discussion, the paper then introduces the concept of meaning making in research methods and looks at how meaning is generated from qualitative data analysis specifically. Finally, some examples from the literature of how meaning can be constructed and organized using a qualitative data analysis approach are provided. The paper aims to provide an introduction to research methodologies, coupled with a discussion on how meaning making actually occurs through qualitative data analysis. Key Words: Qualitative Research, Quantitative Research, Epistemology, Meaning Making, and Qualitative Data Analysis

Introduction: Religiosity Research and Meaning There are many topics within the social sciences that are deeply embedded with personal meaning. Research on religious experience and religious psychology are two such areas that are potentially rich in meaning, particularly in the context of individual experience. The following paper was written following a multi-year religiosity initiative in which the author was involved in conducting both qualitative and quantitative research to “assess” religiosity in the lives of young people. To better understand his study respondents, the author realized the need to make use of multiple research methods to optimize the data collection process, or to increase both the breadth and width of data collection. This required the use of mixed methods. The result of the process was a major study that tapped into the richness of individual religious experience, along with a broader understanding of religious behaviors and knowledge levels across large groups of young people. The following paper is not a report out on the findings of the religiosity study, but rather is a “primer” or an introduction to some of the basic issues in attempting to work with both quantitative and qualitative research methods toward the goal of generating meaning. Comparative Epistemologies: Qualitative “versus” Quantitative Research Paradigms The term epistemology comes from the Greek word epistêmê, their term for knowledge. In simple terms, epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge or how we come to know (Trochim, 2000). Epistemology is intimately related to ontology and methodology; as ontology involves the philosophy of reality, epistemology addresses


The Qualitative Report December 2005

how we come to know that reality while methodology identifies the particular practices used to attain knowledge of it. Epistemology poses the following questions: What is the relationship between the knower and what is known? How do we know what we know? What counts as knowledge? In the positivist paradigm, the object of study is independent of researchers; knowledge is discovered and verified through direct observations or measurements of phenomena; facts are established by taking apart a phenomenon to examine its component parts. An alternative view, the naturalist or constructivist view, is that knowledge is established through the meanings attached to the phenomena studied; researchers interact with the subjects of study to obtain data; inquiry changes both researcher and subject; and knowledge is context and time dependent (Coll & Chapman, 2000; Cousins, 2002). Understanding the differences in epistemology among research paradigms begins primarily as a philosophical exercise, for according to Olson (1995), the question of whether there is one knowable reality or that there are multiple realities of which some individual knowledge can be...
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