I am going to begin by providing you with a brief description for both qualitative and quantitative research methods in order to highlight the differences, as I know they can be easily confused and I will be frequently referring to them throughout.
According to Bryman (2008) qualitative research methods place more emphasis on words rather than quantification in the collection and analysis of data; and is largely it inductivist, constructionist, and interpretivist (Bryman, 2008). Primarily concerned with the richness of description; it is interested in individual experience and in depth insights, a level of depth that cannot be accessed using quantitative research methods.
Conversely, quantitative research places more emphasis on quantification in the collection and analysis of data. As a research strategy it is deductivist and objectivist and incorporates a natural science model of research process (Bryman, 2008). The descriptions provided by Bryman (2008) are both sufficient yet somewhat difficult to decipher. In lucid terms, qualitative research places more emphasis on words and meanings whereas quantitative research is more interested in quantification, numbers.
I am now hoping that you are going to join me on a voyage of statistical discovery, first discussing whether qualitative research is, or is not as scientific as quantitative research. Then proceeding to discuss whether it is the quality or quantity of information that we are more interested in in psychological research. I would also like to explore the idea of the two methods interacting, in contrast to them existing as absolute separate entities.
This discussion requires an understanding of the criterion involved in establishing whether a research can be deemed scientific or not, an understanding that we obtained last year.
For those of you who may need a little help remembering, the standard cardinal requirements for science include empiricism, objectivity, replicability, generalisability, validity, reliability, and falsifiability according to Gravetter and Forzano (2008).
Science requires empirical validation, using the scientific method; observations are scientific in that they are performed under a specific set of conditions so that we can accurately answer the question we are addressing (Gravetter & Forzano, 2008).
Science is objective; observations are structured so that the researcher’s biases and beliefs do not influence the outcome of the study. It is also essential that other individuals should be able to repeat the same step-by-step process that led to the observations so that they can replicate the observations for themselves. Replication, or repetition of observation, allows verification of the findings. By replicating studies and subjecting them to peer review, we can guard against errors and biases (Bryman, 2008). The results obtained from the sample in your study must also be generalisable to the rest of the population. Your results must be falsifiable; therefore your results must be capable of being either verified or falsified. Validity and reliability are also required, you must be exact in measuring what you intended to measure, and you have to be able to produce the same or similar results when repeating the process.
In summary, it is quite evident that qualitative research methods violate many of science’s criterions, making it hard to ignore the fact that it is ‘less scientific’ than quantitative research according to Gravetter and Forzano’s criteria (2008). Whilst, quantitative research methods adhere to all of sciences constraints qualitative research is too subjective, too difficult to replicate, is not easily generalisable and lacks the transparency to be deemed scientific according to Bryman (2008).
Contrary to Bryman’s (2008) opinion regarding the transparency of qualitative research, I believe that qualitative research does aim to recognise the scientific method in the sense that it aims to be transparent, rigorous and systematic in its approach to the data and findings.
The conception that qualitative research is less scientific does not imply that quantitative research is necessarily ‘better’ than qualitative research nor does it imply that qualitative is less useful.
In my opinion it is unfair to compare the two, in many ways they are separate entities with different uses. Like tools, there are some occasions where the use of one is more appropriate than the use of the other. You could not use qualitative research methods to record reaction times, nor could you use quantitative research methods to gain an in-depth insight into someone’s feelings.
It is important to realise that qualitative research does not pride itself nor does it claim to be scientific. In fact, many qualitative researchers would happily be the first to point this out. Qualitative research is more interested in obtaining rich information as I have already mentioned, that cannot be accessed with quantitative research. It is true that you cannot generalise the findings obtained from a qualitative research report to the rest of the population, but, qualitative research does inform us of how something can be. From qualitative research you can gain a more holistic view, with rich information. It is subject to change as well; you may interview someone more than once and obtain different information from them on every occasion.
Now elaborating on a point made in the introduction, qualitative research is largely interpretivist, hence requiring a great deal of interpretation.
Interpretation is a key feature in qualitative research because as a method it is person centred, based around meaning, how does the researcher interpret the events of an individual, and also, how does the individual interpret the events they have experienced. The level of interpretation in qualitative research highlights the need for the use of phenomenology and hermeneutics. Bryman (2008) supports my understanding that phenomenology is a philosophy that is concerned with the question of how individuals make sense of the world around them and how in particular the philosopher should bracket out preconceptions concerning his or her grasp of that world. Hermeneutics is concerned with the theory and method of the interpretation of human action. It emphasises the need to understand from the perspective of the social actor (Bryman, 2008). Researchers’ personal values, biases and beliefs can affect the way that they might shape the data (Bryman, 2008; Malterud, 2001), a process that has been termed reflexivity. Reflexivity is an implication that is very difficult to avoid, hence the need for hermeneutics in qualitative research.
Now that we have explored the two research methods as separate entities, I would like to take some time to introduce possible ways that they can be used together. Triangulation combines two or more research methods to ‘double check’ (O’Donoghue & Punch, 2003) results; this process can be used to facilitate validation of data through cross verification from more than two sources. Methodological triangulation involves using more than one method to gather data, such as interviews, observation and questionnaires (Bryman, 1984). Triangulation can increase the credibility and validity of results, illustrating that researchers can overcome the weaknesses and problems associated with a single method.
Bryman (1984) also indicated that qualitative research can be used as preparation for quantitative research, in his own words “qualitative research provides quantitative research with a continuous supply of leads, hunches, or hypothesis’ that they can confirm, reject or qualify, while simultaneously retaining their methodological ascendency over qualitative research.”
To conclude, qualitative research is not as scientific as quantitative research because seems to violate many of sciences criterion whereas quantitative research does not. However, qualitative research addresses this fact, but not as a weakness. Although the two methods may appear to have a gulf between them, they do actually share some features. Qualitative research is more interested in a richness of description, individual experience and in depth insights; it accesses a level of depth that cannot be attained using quantitative method. The two research methods are often looked at as separate entities, ignoring the possibility that they both can be used to complement one another. We explored ways in which both methods could be used together; using qualitative research as preparation and triangulation.
Cheers for reading.
For a more in-depth look at this argument I have provided links below: