Thursday, April 8, 2010

RESEARCH METHODS

BY NATAMBA SHADRACK
FROM UGANDA CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY-MUKONO

Question: Illustrating with examples, distinguish between qualitative and quantitative approaches to research. Explain the value of the mixed methods approach.
Approach:
Define the key terms-research, qualitative, and quantitative approach.
Differences between qualitative and quantitative
The value of the mixed methods approach

Research; is taking another step forward is searching for the unknown. Someone else has searched and explained some phenomenon, and you are adding on what is already known.

A qualitative "approach" is a general way of thinking about conducting qualitative research. It describes, either explicitly or implicitly, the purpose of the qualitative research, the role of the researcher(s), the stages of research, and the method of data analysis.
A qualitative approach: This approach promotes greater understanding of not just the way things are, but also why they are the way they are. Through intensive and extensive observation, interviews and discussions, the qualitative researcher seeks to derive and describe findings that promote greater understanding of how and why people behave the way they do. It explains and gains insight and understanding of phenomena through intensive collection of narrative data (Martin E. Amin, 2005).
In this approach, data collected is subjective and the main measurement tool for collecting data is the investigator him/herself (Martin E. Amin, 2005), therefore a need for an intensive training and practice in the methods to be used if one is to conduct an effective research. Its data is basically descriptive in nature.
A quantitative approach: On the other hand however, this appraoch deals with numbers. Quantitative research involves the collection of numerical data in order to explain, predict and control phenomena of interest, data analysis being more statistical (Martin E. Amin, 2005). It involves collecting data in order to test hypotheses or answer questions concerning the current status of the subject of the study.
Quantitative research is the sort of scientific research with which you are probably most familiar. There are a strict set of rules that govern the use of such research. Knowledgeable methodologists can evaluate the quality of such research and point out weaknesses in it.
Quantitative research is probably the least contentious of the two schools, as it is more closely aligned with what is viewed as the classical scientific paradigm. Quantitative research involves gathering data that is absolute, such as numerical data, so that it can be examined in as unbiased a manner as possible. There are many principles that go along with quantitative research, which help promote its supposed neutrality. Quantitative research generally comes later in a research project, once the scope of the project is well understood.
The main idea behind quantitative research is to be able to separate things easily so that they can be counted and modeled statistically, to remove factors that may distract from the intent of the research. A researcher generally has a very clear idea what is being measured before they start measuring it, and their study is set up with controls and a very clear blueprint. Tools used are intended to minimize any bias, so ideally are machines that collect information, and less ideally would be carefully randomized surveys. The result of quantitative research is a collection of numbers, which can be subjected to statistical analysis to come to results.
Remaining separate from the research emotionally is a key aspect of quantitative research, as is removing researcher bias. For things like astronomy or other hard sciences, this means that quantitative research has a very minimal amount of bias at all. For things like sociological data, this means that the majority of bias is hopefully limited to that introduced by the people being studied, which can be somewhat accounted for in models. Quantitative is ideal for testing hypotheses, and for hard sciences trying to answer specific questions.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, is a much more subjective form of research, in which the researchers allow themselves to introduce their own bias to help form a more complete picture. Qualitative research may be necessary in situations where it is unclear what exactly is being looked for in a study, so that the researcher needs to be able to determine what data is important and what isn’t. While quantitative research generally knows exactly what it’s looking for before the research begins, in qualitative research the focus of the study may become more apparent as time progresses.

Often the data presented from qualitative research will be much less concrete than pure numbers as data. Instead, qualitative research may yield stories, or pictures, or descriptions of feelings and emotions. The interpretations given by research subjects are given weight in qualitative research, so there is no seeking to limit their bias. At the same time, researchers tend to become more emotionally attached to qualitative research, and so their own bias may also play heavily into the results.
Qualitative research methods are most often utilized in fields such as anthropology, the humanities and sociology, although each of these fields can be studied through quantitative methods as well. Since qualitative research is exploratory and focuses on discerning the why of things, such as human behavior, rather than the what of the natural world, it is often criticized for being too subjective. Many make the counter-argument, however, that since qualitative methods are hypothesis generating, they are not only just as valuable as quantitative methods but necessary for the production of theoretical models which come to inform the direction of quantitative research methods.
Data collection and analysis is another way that quantitative and qualitative research differ. In qualitative research, data samples are usually not collected through random selection but rather purposive reasoning, which is to say they are chosen for how well they typify/demonstrate the characteristics of a certain class. For example, a qualitative research study on racial inequality will not likely concern itself with affluent/rich minorities or the entire population of a minority, but rather, it might focus on depressed areas where minorities are most prevalent. This approach is chosen because qualitative researchers are not concerned with discerning the quantity of people in a minority class, but rather the quality of life for minorities who are affected by inequality.
The researcher's role in interpreting the meaning of data is more centralized in the qualitative approach than it is in quantitative methods, which ideally seek to make purely empirical observations devoid of perspective. In sharp contrast, qualitative researchers must reflect upon their research and make the reasoning behind the interpretations of their data explicit in their analysis.
Qualitative research is thought especially valuable in circumstances where quantitative data does not account for a particular phenomenon. For example, while economics frequently concerns itself with collecting concrete information, like statistics and financial data, it can be said to be flawed because it ignores the humanistic and psychological aspects of the people that are a key component. This human component requires a qualitative understanding, which leads to the development of such concepts as "consumer confidence."
An important variable to consider when analyzing the dependability of qualitative research is validity. It is important to consider how a conclusion was reached, and whether it really represents a dependable and realistic interpretation of its subject. It may or may not be pertinent to ask whether or not a conclusion is reproducible, or whether it was affected by bias. One should also consider whether data from qualitative research is well reasoned and the extent to which it accounts for a substantial majority of the available data.
The Difference between Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Qualitative Quantitative
The aim is a complete, detailed description. The aim is to classify features, count them, and construct statistical models in an attempt to explain what is observed.
Researcher may only know roughly in advance what he/she is looking for. Researcher knows clearly in advance what he/she is looking for.
Recommended during earlier phases of research projects. Recommended during latter phases of research projects.
The design emerges as the study unfolds. All aspects of the study are carefully designed before data is collected.
Researcher is the data gathering instrument. Researcher uses tools, such as questionnaires or equipment to collect numerical data.
Data is in the form of words, pictures or objects. Data is in the form of numbers and statistics.
Subjective - individuals’ interpretation of events is important ,e.g., uses participant observation, in-depth interviews etc. Objective – seeks precise measurement & analysis of target concepts, e.g., uses surveys, questionnaires etc.
Qualitative data is more 'rich', time consuming, and less able to be generalized. Quantitative data is more efficient, able to test hypotheses, but may miss contextual detail.
Researcher tends to become subjectively immersed in the subject matter. Researcher tends to remain objectively separated from the subject matter.

Main Points to note
Qualitative research involves analysis of data such as words (e.g., from interviews), pictures (e.g., video), or objects (e.g., an artifact).
Quantitative research involves analysis of numerical data.
The strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative research are a perennial/permanent, hot debate, especially in the social sciences. The issues invoke classic 'paradigm war'.
The personality / thinking style of the researcher and/or the culture of the organization is under-recognized as a key factor in preferred choice of methods.
Overly focusing on the debate of "qualitative versus quantitative" frames the methods in opposition. It is important to focus also on how the techniques can be integrated, such as in mixed methods research. More good can come of social science researchers developing skills in both realms than debating which method is superior.
Unlike the non-survey types of research, these are based on numbers, and the conclusions are based on the frequencies of each category.

Thus qualitative ‘measures’ are often binary in that they are interested in the presence or absence of phenomena, or they work implicitly with simple scales (e.g. How much conversation or laughter or aggression or mutual touching in
a particular interaction?). Primarily qualitative research seeks to understand and interpret the meaning of situations or events from the perspectives of the people involved and as understood by them. It is generally inductive rather than deductive in its approach, that is, it generates theory from interpretation of the evidence, albeit against a theoretical background While Quantitative research places the emphasis on measurement when collecting and analysing data. Quantitative research is defined, not just by its use of numerical measures but also that it generally follows a natural science model of the research process measurement to establish objective knowledge (that is, knowledge that exists independently of the views and values of the people involved).

Methods of qualitative research include: Data management, Aims/analysis objectives, Sampling design Data collection Data analysis while Methods of data collection in quantitative research include: surveys (questionnaires), structured interviewing, structured observation, secondary analysis and official statistics, content analysis according to a coding system, quasi-experiments (studies that have some of the characteristics of experimental design) classic experiments (studies that have control groups and experimental groups).

The Assumptions of Qualitative Designs
Qualitative researchers are concerned primarily with process, rather than outcomes or products.
Qualitative researchers are interested in meaning ¬how people make sense of their lives, experiences, and their structures of the world.
The qualitative researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis. Data are mediated through this human instrument, rather than through inventories, questionnaires, or machines.
Qualitative research involves fieldwork. The researcher physically goes to the people, setting, site, or institution to observe or record behavior in its natural setting.

Qualitative research is descriptive in that the researcher is interested in process, meaning, and understanding gained through words or pictures.
The process of qualitative research is inductive in that the researcher builds abstractions, concepts, hypotheses, and theories from details.

Mixed methods approach and its value;
Mixed methods researchers, brings together the benefits of both qualitative and quantitative approaches to research, often claim greater validity of results as a reason for their methodological choices, but without adequate consideration of the issues involved such validity may be more imagined than real.

Mixed methods are used to enrich understanding of an experience or issue through confirmation of conclusions, extension of knowledge or by initiating new ways of thinking about the subject of the research. Mixed methods are inherently neither more nor less valid than specific approaches to research. As with any research, validity stems more from the appropriateness, thoroughness and effectiveness with which those methods are applied and the care given to thoughtful weighing of the evidence than from the application of a particular set of rules or adherence to an established tradition.

Mixed methods designs are conceptually more complex. They may provide a basis for triangulation but, more often, they become the source of different ways of conceptualising the problem. They might set out to look at the same things from different points of view, but it often turns out that the viewpoint implies such different ways of seeing that the lines of sight do not converge. Mixed method studies might include a survey followed up by detailed individual interviews, or observations used as the basis for constructing a questionnaire. Overall inquiry purpose – whether the aim is to confirm or refute hypotheses or whether it is more exploratory

NB: mixed methods, there are at least twice as many opportunities to make mistakes and twice as many potential sources of criticism! As well as competence in skills and techniques, researchers need to understand the theories of knowledge (the epistemologies) underlying the methods, so that they can make informed choices and reflect critically on their own work














Recommended Links
Qualitative versus Quantitative - http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/siegle/research/Qualitative/qualquan.htm - a table (similar to above), summarizing characteristics of qualitative and quantitative research in more detail
Qualitative versus Quantitative Design - http://www.kelcom.igs.net/~nhodgins/quant_qual.html - another table (like above)
The Qualitative versus Quantitative Debate - http://writing.colostate.edu/references/research/gentrans/pop2f.cfm - good overview, but the layout is flat and difficult to skim-read
Qualitative vs Quantitative analysis - http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/monkey/ihe/linguistics/corpus3/3qual.htm - reasonable overview, with linguistics focus
Qualitative Research Designs (notes from a post-graduate research methods class)
Quantitative Research Designs (notes from a post-graduate research methods class)
Qualitative Research Exam
Quantitative Research Exam

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