After identifying research problems, questions and examining the feasibility of conducting a study based on prior research, most researchers are faced with the “What now?” problem.
While some researchers choose to adopt a particular methodology based on their field of study or personal preferences, it may not always be appropriate to the context.
Typically considered to be the more “scientific” approach, Quantitative research aims to explain various phenomena through the collection of numerical data which is subjected to statistical analysis and interpretation.
Qualitative research on the other hand emphasises on the exploration of issues and understanding phenomena through the systematic collection and interpretation of unstructured data (interviews, observations etcetera).
To determine the applicability and appropriateness of the approach to specific phenomena or hypotheses testing, there are a few questions that should be taken into consideration:
- Can the variables examined be quantified?
- Can the data derived from quantitative and qualitative approaches be cross validated?
- Should the study be based on a qualitative or quantitative approach?
- What are the benefits and disadvantages of each approach?
- Do the disadvantages outweigh the benefits? If so how can the differences be reconciled?
- Which approach yields the best results in terms of reliability and validity (face, content, predictive, concurrent, convergent and discriminant validity)?
Given the subjectivity surrounding the interpretation of the data from the qualitative approach, the quantitative approach is not one without its flaws.
It remains a fact that not all examinable and observable differences can be quantified.
When you have got to this stage, CONGRATULATIONS!
Your methodological frustrations have led you onto Stage 2 of the research process: Identifying the appropriate methodology for the study in an attempt to define and measure variables.
P.S. Despite the issues that surround the qualitative / quantitative debate, I am a strong proponent of the mixed methods approach, for I believe that having to adopt an “either or” approach can at times be inadequate; stifling academic thought and our understanding of the subject at hand.
We can only hope that further research into this area could amalgamate the bifurcation of contrasting views, allowing for a more cohesive framework for analysis.