Research involves application of scientific methods to understand the world that surround us. According to Redman & Mory, (1923) research is a “systematized effort to gain new knowledge. It is the search for truth with the help of study, observation, comparison and experiment”. The main purpose of research is to discover new knowledge and fill in the knowledge gap within the field which researcher wish to pursue a study. A research helps addresss problems faced by human beings within their social settings. When conducting research studies, different researchers employ different methodologies. Quantitative and qualitative researches are the general methodologies mostly used. These two methodologies have dominated the field of social sciences over a long period of time and their applications have been sometimes confused by many. This essay, therefore, examines some of the distinctions between these two approaches, particularly: literature review, theory, Research Questions and Hypotheses and methods. The paper will later on provide justifications for a mixed method of both.
To begin with, by definition as Creswell (2007) puts it, a “Qualitative research is a means for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to a social or human problem. The process of research involves emerging questions and procedures. Data typically collected in the participant's setting data analysis inductively building from particulars to general themes, and the researcher making interpretations of the meaning of the data. The final written report has a flexible structure.” On the other hand, Creswell 2008 has defined a Quantitative research as “a means for testing objective theories by examining the relationship among variables. These variables, in turn, can be measured, typically on instruments, so that numbered data can be analyzed using statistical procedures. The final written report has a set structure consisting of introduction, literature and theory, methods, results, and discussion. The final written report has a flexible writing structure.” This definitional defference precisely gives a clear picture of how each method looks like.
The other underlying difference is the application of theory. Qualitative research use theory in many ways. First, as accrding to Creswell, in quantitative research, a “theory is used as a broad explanation for behavior and attitudes, and it may be complete with variables, constructs, and hypotheses. Second. Researchers increasingly use a theoretical lens or perspective in qualitative research, which provides an overall orienting lens for the study of questions of gender, class, and race (or other issues of marginalized groups).” In quantitative studies, a theory is used more differently. Creswell has emphasized that, “one uses theory deductively and places it toward the beginning of the proposal for a study. With the objective of testing or verifying a theory rather than developing it, the researcher advances a theory, collects data to test it, and reflects on its confirmation or disconfirmation by the results.”
Another crurcial difference come from literature review. Creswell 2008 has asserted that, “in Qualitative research, the literature is used in a manner consistent with the assumptions of learning from the participant, not prescribing the questions that need to be answered from the researcher's standpoint.” For a Quantitative research, Creswell has argued that, “substantial amount of literature is included at the beginning of a study to provide direction for the research questions or hypotheses. It is also used there to introduce a problem or to describe in detail the existing literature in a section titled "Related Literature" or "Review of Literature," or sore other similar phrase. Also, the literature review can introduce a theory ran explanation for expected relationships describe the theory that will be used, and suggest why it is a useful theory to examine.” In other words, quantitative research handles the literature deductively as a framework for the research questions or hypotheses.
The use of research questions and hypotheses also differ between Qualitative and Quantitative research. In a qualitative study, inquirers state research questions not objectives or hypotheses. The central question is a broad question that asks for an exploration of the central phenomenon or concept in a study. In quantitative studies, investigators use quantitative research questions and hypotheses, and sometimes objectives, to shape and specifically focus the purpose of the study. Quantitative research questions inquire about the relationships among variables that the investigator seeks to know. They are used frequently in social science research and especially in survey studies. They are numeric estimates of population values based on data collected from samples.
Another difference comes from methods employed by these two methods. According to Mehl, (2000), a “Qualitative Research is used to uncover trends in thought and opinions, and dive deeper into the problem”. Therefore, it uses a broad range of methods which include: purposeful sampling with small sample size where respondents are selected to fulfill a given quota; collection of open-ended data using unstructured or semi-structured techniques; analysis of text or pictures, representation of information in figures and tables, and personal interpretation of the findings all inform qualitative procedures. Other common methods asn articulated by Monfared and Derakhshan, (2015) include: focus groups (group discussions), individual interviews, and participation/observations . On the contrary, “the aim of the quantitative method is to test pre-determined hypotheses and produce generalizable results” (Marshall, 1996). Therefore it is instrument based, use performance data, attitude data, closed-ended questions, observation data, statistical analysis and statistical interpretation text analysis. Quantitative data collection methods are much more structured than Qualitative data collection methods. Quantitative data collection methods include various forms of surveys – online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys and kiosk surveys, face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations (Jandagh, 2010).
Lastly, “the qualitative and quantitative data can be merged into one large database or the results used side by side to reinforce each other (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007).This produces what is called a mixed method. Basically, this method, seeks to address weakness of each individual method in regard of qualitative and quantitative research. Recognizing that all methods are not perfect, researchers feel that biases can be inherent in any single method. Therefore the basic aim of Mixed method is to neutralize or cancel the biases of the other methods. Greene (2007:13) cited in Johnson & Onwegbuzie (2004) has articulated that, “this approach provides researchers with opportunities to “…compensate for inherent method weaknesses, on inherent method strengths and offset inevitable method biases”.
In conclusion, developing a better research requires a deep understanding of methods to be used. The decision of whether to choose a quantitative or a qualitative design is dependent on the nature of the study, the type of data needed, the context and, recourses availability for the study However, choosing appropriate method for a particular study also requires a clear understanding of the methods and serves a greater purpose of simplifying the process of conducting a study. By combining both methods, researcher may produce a clearly defined study which is neutral and free from bias.
Marshall, MN 1996, Sampling for Qualitative Research, Oxford University Press, p 5
Redman and Mory, The Romance of Research, 1923, p.10
Monfared and Derakhshan, 2015. The Comparison Qualitative and Quantitative Research. Indian Journal of Fundamental and Applied Life Sciences Vol. 5 (S2), pp.ISSN: 2231– 6345 1111-1117/Monfared and Derakhshan
SEEP-AIMS, 2000. Differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods
Creswell J W (2008). Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches RESEARCH DESIGN THIRD EDITION. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Los Angeles, London New Delhi Singapore
Jandagh, G., (2010). Application of qualitative research in management (why, when and how). ranian Journal of Management Studies (IJMS) Vol 3. No.3. January 2010 pp: 59 – 74
Johnson & Onwegbuzie (2004)