Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
Most students in college, at one point or the other, face the daunting task of working on a research paper. This involves extensive research on an approved topic, among other things. One of the most important aspects of a research paper is the methodology used in acquiring and processing data used in the research.
If you are facing the monumental task of working on a research paper and feel overwhelmed and unsure on what type of research methodology to employ or the differences between the types of research methods that exist and how they can affect your research paper, then this article is for you.
According to the University of the Witwatersrand, research methodology is the specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information about a topic. In a research paper, the methodology section allow the reader to critically evaluate a study’s overall validity and reliability.
The methodology section of your research paper should answer two main questions: How was the data collected or generated? How was it analyzed?
Generally, there are two types of research methods that can be used when working on your research paper. They are the Quantitative and Qualitative research methods. Don’t get me wrong, other methods exist, but they all branch out from these two.
Herbst and Coldwell (2004) state that Quantitative research “describes, infers, and resolves problems using numbers. Emphasis is placed on the collection of numerical data, the summary of those data and the drawing of inferences from the data”.
On the other hand, they note that “Information is considered qualitative in nature if it cannot be analyzed by means of mathematical techniques. This characteristic may also mean that an incident does not take place often enough to allow reliable data to be collected”.
Simply put, Quantitative research has to do with the collection of data that can be measured and analyzed numerically while Qualitative research is based on non-numerical and unquantifiable elements like words, feelings, emotions, sounds etc.
As stated earlier, the research method you choose to employ will go a long way in determining the outcome of your research paper. It is also important to note that your academic field and the aims and objectives of your research can also help you decide what research method best suits your research paper. It is also a common practice to combine both methods of research.
Before you dive into your research, here are some differences between the Quantitative and Qualitative methods of research that will give you a better idea of what each entails and get you started on your research journey.
The foremost difference between Qualitative and Quantitative research is their overall purpose. The purpose of Qualitative research is to investigate and reveal the reasons that inform the action or results that are normally measured using Quantitative research methods. Qualitative research is used mostly in the social sciences because it examines processes, symbols, meanings and relationships of social life.
On the other hand, the purpose of Quantitative Research is to understand the problem by creating numerical data or information that can be transformed into practical statistics. To put it simply, quantitative research uses numbers to help us comprehend what, how and why a phenomena is occurring. Quantitative research is predominantly employed in the core sciences because it is able to quantify and generalize results from a larger sample population.
Another difference that exists between the Qualitative and Quantitative research methods is the approach used in carrying them out. According to Dr. Adar Ben-Eliyahu (2014), the Qualitative approach to gathering information focuses on describing a phenomenon in a deep comprehensive manner. This is generally done in interviews, open-ended questions, or focus groups. On the other hand, the Quantitative approach to gathering information focuses on describing a phenomenon across a larger number of participants thereby providing the possibility of summarizing characteristics across groups or relationships. This approach surveys a large number of individuals and applies statistical techniques to recognize overall patterns in the relations of processes. Simply put, Qualitative approach to research involves observing and interpreting information while the Quantitative approach to research seeks to measure and test data. Also, the Qualitative approach to research is subjective in nature, while the Quantitative approach to research is objective in nature.
Another distinction that exists between the Quantitative and Qualitative method of the research is the kind of data collected and the approach to data collection. This will play a huge role in the outcome of your research paper.
Quantitative Data deals with quantity, numbers or figures. It refers to the data which can be expressed in numerical terms. In statistics, you find most of the evaluations are conducted using this data. It is concerned with dimensions like weight, volume, height, humidity, speed, length, etc. Quantitative data can further be classified as discrete or continuous data. It is also structured and can be processed and analyzed using tools and methods. Surveys, experiments, observations and Interviews are all methods used for the collection of Quantitative data for your research paper.
Qualitative data, on the other hand, is solely concerned with descriptions, which can be observed but are difficult to compute. Qualitative Data is information that provides insights into a particular problem. It is data that is unstructured and can be approximated but cannot be computed. Qualitative data occurs more as spoken or written narratives than numbers. It is concerned with the information that is apparent in terms of gender, nationality, appearance, and so on. Focus groups, observation, interviews, Archival Materials like newspapers, etc. are some of the methods of collecting Qualitative data for your research paper.
Data collected using either the Quantitative or the Qualitative methods are usually analyzed differently. This is due to the distinctions that exist between them and also the type of data each method generates.
Qualitative analysis is intricate, it allows a solid distinction to be drawn between results. However, even though Qualitative data doesn’t need to be restricted by a particular number of classifications, it doesn’t misrepresent the outcome of an analysis, rather it can bring deeper understanding. Qualitative analysis is non-statistical, subjective, descriptive, and investigative in nature. Producing a comprehensive image that is rich in data and descriptions is the ultimate purpose of conducting a qualitative analysis. However, employing Qualitative analysis in your research paper has certain drawbacks which include inability to generalize the population, it’s difficult to apply with statistical methods at times and the instruments of research affect its effectiveness.
Quantitative analysis, on the other hand, involves using a meticulous set of rules, classifications and statistical models to process the received data and reflect the outcome of the observation. Generalization takes place easily in Quantitative analysis because the research outlines developed in a sample can be applied to the larger scale and the larger populations of studied objects. Quantitative analysis is objective in nature and seeks to grasp the how, why and what of phenomenon and then describe them using statistical methods. There are certain limitations to this research method including the fact that it is difficult to deal with new and undiscovered phenomenon and it is restricted by statistical design and can cause limited conclusions on a matter.
The kind of results generated from employing the Quantitative and Qualitative methods of research whilst writing your research paper is another major difference that exists between these two approaches. This is mainly due to the differences in the data type and data collection methods that exist between the two.
When stating the results of your Qualitative analysis, you have to state the findings of your study objectively and in a clear and precise format using charts, graphs, tables and other non-textual elements to make the data presented more understandable. Ensure that text is supplemented by non-textual elements in order to help clarify the key points being made. The findings should be present in a logical, sequential order. Describe but do not interpret these trends or negative results; save that for the discussion section. The results should be presented in the past tense. Quantitative results can be generalized and applied to other populations, it usually includes statistical reports that showcase correlation, statistical meaning of results and comparisons of means.
On the other hand, when stating the results of your Qualitative analysis, it is important to remember that since the process used in collecting data is field-based and repetitive, your data should be organized in such a way that a pattern will emerge; starting from the specific and moving towards the general. Also, because multiple realities are recognized, subjectivity is expected to be reflected in your findings. Qualitative research produces results that are specialized, precise and therefore less generalizable, leading to the creation of new hypotheses and theories.
In conclusion, despite the peculiarities that make either of these research methods suitable for your research paper, it is imperative that you understand what either fully entail and how best to utilize them in your research. It is also important to note that although it is not a popular choice, it is possible to combine both the Quantitative and Qualitative research methods when working on your research paper. This is called the Mixed method of research and involves collecting, analyzing and combining data gotten via Quantitative and Qualitative means in other to get a more comprehensive picture of your research which would not be normally possible if you used one method alone. This also creates a balance in your research thesis where the strengths of one method balances out the weaknesses of the other. However, using the Mixed method can be a very complex and tasking endeavor.