Qualitative and quantitative research designs are the two main methods used by social scientists today. They are used with a variety of research methods and have been a common thread in case studies. Compare and contrast elements of qualitative and quantitative research methods in terms of descriptive and case study designs. What qualitative and quantitative analyses would be useful in interpreting and analyzing the results of a survey?
The basic purpose of research is discovery. The early formation of faculties and scientists gathering under the auspices of peer reviewing bodies of the Renaissance, catalyzed what we view today as legitimate scientific research through quantitative methods (Creswell, 2003). Later, questions arising from complex human interactions and the failure of statistically accurate models would catalyze legitimacy for other research methods, including qualitative observation and discovery (Trochim, 2001).
While it has taken considerable time for scholars to recognize the equal validity and reliability of qualitative and mixed method research designs, social science studies conducted in the area of organizational behavior, leadership, and ethics, the subjects of the author’s research, have successfully utilized all three approaches for several decades.
After an introduction to the evolution of qualitative and quantitative research processes, this paper compares and contrasts quantitative and qualitative approaches to descriptive and case method based, phenomenological studies.
A Brief History of Research Methods
Traditional research methodologies in western science were based more on rediscovering information arriving from Arab cultural centers conquered during the Crusades, than creating anything new (Burke,1985). Revealed in these ancient texts however, were the debates on research methodology advanced by Aristotle. His theories on study and method relied on repeatable observation of the interaction between the organic and inorganic. For nascent, western science, the discoveries, observations and questions contained in Aristotle’s and other Greek philosopher/scientist’s works were a watershed for methodology (Capra, 1975).
Nascent forms of scientifically-based research took back seat to divine knowledge and inferred truth. While important to research design and method, the change to a helio-centric universe based on Galilaen scientific rationality proved profound. The scientific approach to knowledge catalyzed macro-level changes in western culture, religion, philosophy, and eventually, in global society (Spruill, Kennedy, & Kaplan, 2001).
The advent of the modern, scientific era created a seminal shift in the methods for proving all fundamental theories and perceptions of the universe.
Development and Impact of Post-Modern Research Methodologies
Based on the scientific method advanced from the fifteenth through the early twentieth century, prominent views on researching were rational-model based. The quantitative absolute to researching all phenomena carried through to the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800’s (Vancouver, 1996). And, indeed this quantitative-based paradigm led innumerable social and economic organizations developing in parallel with the mechanistic efficiencies of scientific discovery, to look increasingly to statistics and mathematics to understand all characteristics of the human and natural world.
Questioning the Paradigms of Rationality
Despite their widespread acceptance, and over three and one-half centuries of tradition, western scientific rationality and quantitative research methods did not always lead to accurate solutions. By the late 1800’s fundamental questions were being asked across a myriad of scientific disciplines about the validity and objectivity of purely rational, quantifiable research paradigms (Capra, 1983).
Late nineteenth century scientific advances furthered questions about the validity of scientific rationalism in modeling the universe. In the arena of human and social development, increasingly complex questions from a burgeoning workforce requiring organizational and managerial structure could not be thoroughly answered by quantitative-based research. Taylor’s (1911) work on motivation and control through time-motion studies and scientific management epitomize this era and the ultimate failure of the scientific paradigm to be all-predictive.
The remainder of this section will compare and contrast these methods, providing guidance for their application to phenomenological research.
Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses and Their Cultures
Qualitative research differs from quantitative in a number of ways. In quantitative research, the researcher disassociates from the subject(s) of the research (Winter, 2000). Dispassionate observation and neutral categorization of the data are imperative to validity in quantitative research. Reasonable interpretation of collected data relies on these ‘third-party’ frameworks, and methodology is constructed to gather data with minimized interactions of the researcher.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, presupposes that no researcher can create entirely dispassionate methods of observation, interpretation and analyses. As Winter (2000) notes, validity in quantitative research relies on a “culmination of empirical conceptions: universal laws, evidence, objectivity, truth, actuality, deduction, reason, fact and mathematical data.” (p. 7) He goes on to comment:
Qualitative research, arising out of the post-positivist rejection of a single static or objective truth, has concerned itself with the meanings and personal experience of individuals, groups and sub-cultures. Reality in qualitative research is concerned with the negotiation of ‘truths’ through a series of subjective accounts. (p. 7)
An axiom of quantitative research is that researcher involvement reduces the validity of a test. In qualitative research, denying the researcher’s role threatens that validity. Quantitative researchers argue that dispassionate observation is impossible given human motivations and emotions. Where quantitative approaches require very specific, standardized testing, the nature of the investigation in qualitative research is determined and adapted by the research itself. Quantitative research is limited to what can be measured or quantified. Certain fields of research have also become predominated by specific research methodologies, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, and other ‘hard’ sciences among them. Within the social sciences however, qualitative research and mixed methodologies have become more broadly accepted approaches to studying human behavior. Qualitative methods are also supported as superior methods for understanding relationships in health services and policy research (Hurley, 1999). In addition, other fields such as human relations, organizational behavior, leadership, and ethics, known initially for their heavy reliance on quantitative research, are exploring qualitative research as an additive methodology. Conger (1998) supports this shift, pointing out that qualitative leadership studies are still relatively rare in the behavioral sciences. He also purports that since leadership study is contextually rich, qualitative research is the most appropriate methodology based on its adaptability to context.
Over time, alternative knowledge claims emerged, and were legitimized, especially where problems identified with the scientific method arose. For example, some (Poggenpoel, Myburgh, & van der Linde, 2001; Denzan & Lincoln, 2000; Shani & Lau, 2000; and, Schulman, 1994) believe that quantitative methodology objectifies humans and their motivations. Their collective works concentrate on the subjective nature of human experience and confirm the appropriately subjective nature of qualitative research in its study.
The influx of increasing qualitative methodologies led researchers to view scientific methods differently. Some arguments for thorough investigation supported the idea of qualitative research as a component of the scientific research method. Sogunro (2002, p. 7) supports this, “Research being a trust-finding construct aimed at verifying and authenticating phenomena, evidence abounds that the use of a combination of both quantitative and qualitative research methods results in a stronger validity of outcomes”. As Poggenpoel, Myburgh, & van der Linde (2001) state, “If the classic scientific research approach is followed it implies that qualitative research will be a prerequisite for quantitative research.” With wider acceptance of qualitative methodologies, researchers began to associate based on their preferred knowledge claim positions such as, post positivism, constructivism, advocacy/participatory, and pragmatism (Creswell, 2003). These preferred knowledge claims combined with their inquiry strategies, quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methodology, now often determine the total research approach (Creswell, 2003).
Onwuegbuzie (2002) believes that researchers tend to approach inquiry strategies from three perspectives, purists who argue methods should not be mixed (mono-method), situationalists who argue that methods depend upon the situation, and pragmatists who argue that mixed methodology is best.
Modern Research and Discovery
The greatest challenges inherent in research are accessibility and repeatability. Any discovery is perceived as truth when the processes supporting the discovery can be understood and replicated (Reyna & Schiller, 1998). Repetition and predictive value are most apparent in quantitative statistics and mathematical modeling. Modern Economics is replete with quantitative studies and numbers-based maxims on consumer behavior. In the specific organizational concentrations of leadership and ethics, the research challenge goes beyond simply defining or characterizing human traits and capacities as quantitatively modeled phenomenon. True understanding often requires research methods be illuminative of the complexities underlying socio-technical and other human workplace interactions (Shani & Lau, 2002). While context and confirmability apply to researching these interactions, the practice of research has expanded. Quantitative, qualitative and mixed methodologies now serve complementary functions to reach an understanding of these complex, often non-rational, human behaviors (Onwuegbuzie, 2002).
Comparing Quantitative, Qualitative and Mixed Research Methods
As has been stated, the long-held standard for empirical knowledge in organizational science and human behavior has been quantitative research. In addition to statistically evaluating production and manufacturing processes, quantitative survey instruments have been adapted for more subjective processes such as measuring leadership capacities, ethical decision making and human relations processes (Price, 1997). Statistical techniques applied to quantitative data points offer clear mathematical frameworks for reference and evaluation. Purposes for studying phenomena include exploration, description, explanation (relationship or causal), interpretive (language, hermeneutics, or phenomenology), critical research, or prediction (Babbe, 2001; Cooper & Schindler, 2003; Trochim, 2001; White, 1999). The purposes, however, eventually return to the research methodology. As Winter (2000, p. 7) points out, research subject sample size, selection and observation methods “ultimately relates on the degree to which the research is intended to be internally or externally generalizable.” Quantitative studies require enough sample size and averaging to create a base line for analysis. Qualitative studies, on the other hand, do not require statistical causation for validity. In fact, qualitative studies such as those listed above, often choose to investigate unrepresentative and less usual phenomenon (Winter, 2000).
Qualitative research exploring leadership issues has evolved as a useful, more widely accepted and in some cases, more profound approach to insightful analysis and overall understanding (Conger, 1998). In fact, qualitative methods have now applied widely-accepted or grounded theory to human dynamics (Bryman & Stephens, 1996).
The nature of these qualitative studies often includes interviews, surveys or phenomenological studies, the raw data of which, are transcribed and coded for objective content analysis. This is not antithetical to proven or accepted quantitative sampling methods. Schulman (1994) describes triangulation as a process linking method, data and analysis as three cornerstones of interpretation. Pragmatists have supported their position of mixed methodology by using triangulation as a way to ensure robustness and to offset the deficiencies in both quantitative and qualitative research (Hall & Rist, 1999; Scandura & Williams, 2000). Supporting this view, Abusabha & Woelfel (2003) declare there are three reasons for using a mixed methodology; 1) all data has both an objective and a subjective component, 2) “using different methods allows researches to cross-validate results”, and 3) “mixing the two methods [qualitative and quantitative] cancels out, somewhat, their corresponding weaknesses” (p. 569).
As has been pointed out, the organizational research field has been dominated by postpositivist assumptions or the scientific method. “In some discussions it often seems as if statistics and hypothesis testing dictated the research process rather than the research problem and the phenomenon being researched itself” (Poggenpoel, Myburgh, & van der Linde, 2001, p. 409).
Phenomenology, Case Studies and Research Methods
Phenomenology, which includes the specific techniques of case study, ethnography and heuristic inquiry, has greatly enhanced the scholarly level of qualitative studies (Maggs-Rapport, 2001). Phenomenology is both a philosophy and a research method. The choice of this method, or any other qualitative method, requires research anchored in this choice. If choosing a phenomenology method, the phenomenological school of thoughts should be explicitly stated in the design and methodology. Creswell & Miller (2000) state: “There is a general consensus, that qualitative inquirers need to demonstrate that their studies are credible” (p. 124). To this end, they propose there are nine validity procedures within a qualitative researcher’s paradigm. Their definition of validity is the accuracy of the inferences drawn of social phenomenon (Creswell & Miller, 2000). Their historical model of these different paradigms or lenses is modeled in table 1.
Table 1: Qualitative Researcher’s Lens & Paradigm Assumptions (adapted from Creswell & Miller, 2000, p. 126)
Postpostivism or Systems Thinking
for this Paradigm
Rigorous methods & systemic forms of inquiry. Look for quantitative evidence, validity from protocol
Pluralistic, interpretive, trustworthiness(credibility, transferability, dependability, confirmabilty) and authenticity (fairness, empowered action, personal constructions)
Researcher should be reflexive and disclose hidden assumptions (bias), describing how narratives are constructed, read and interpreted
Lens of Researcher
Lens of Participant
Prolonged engagement in the field
Lens of Reviewers & Readers
The audit trail
Thick, rich description
Thorough research requires a transparent process. “The qualitative ethic calls for researchers to substantiate their interpretations and findings with a public accounting of themselves and the processes of their research” (Ankara, Brown, & Mangione, 2002, p. 35). Additionally, good qualitative components of any research should include the paradigm and the resulting lens through which the data was collected and analyzed.
Purists who support quantitative methodology find it difficult to accept qualitative research because of its difference of issues of measurement, validity, lack of empirical testing, and the artistic nature of the research (Labuschagne, 2003). Gerdes & Conn (2001) state, “The matter of trustworthiness and rigor in a qualitative study seems to consistently come under criticism, likely because the research process for qualitative investigations is misunderstood” (p. 187).
In further defense of qualitative methodology, Labuschagne (2003) argues that qualitative research is not an inferior but a different kind of understanding requiring involvement of the reader in the situation and the findings. Qualitative research is complex research that necessitates training and practice to meet and assure that different credibility criteria are met (Adcock & Collier, 2001; Johnson, 1997; Jones, 2002; Labuschange, 2003; Maxwell, 1992; S.K., 1992; Winter, 2000). “The qualitative researcher’s challenge is to demonstrate that personal interest will not bias the study” (Marshall & Rossman, 1999, p. 28).
The Parallels of Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies
So far this paper has intended to substantiate that an accurate research problem and/or hypothesis should reflect the nature of the data analysis. Mixed methodology, the combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, is seen by some, (Creswell, 2000; Trochim, 2001) as providing the best nature of research to the complexities inherent in studies in organizational behavior. And, in deference to earlier statements linking research problem and research method, as Creswell (2002) points out, should a mixed methodology be chosen for thoroughness, the research problem and/or hypothesis should be a mixture of both qualitative and quantitative measures. Trochim (2001) supports this, commenting:
For data analysis in a mixed methodology, the statistical analysis could be more robust than descriptive statistics. If appropriate, the qualitative data can be quantitatively studied using dummy variables for hypothesis or association testing (p.35).
Mixed methodologies do raise some questions of context. Issues of internal validity, external validity, construct validity, conclusion validity, reliability, and generalizability need to be considered in mixed methodologies (Trochim, 2001). Some qualitative researchers have rejected ‘validity’ notions all together though, seeing these as inappropriate to their work in social sciences. Denzin & Lincoln, 1998; Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Hammersley, 1987; Mishler, 1990; and Wolcott, 1990 have proposed terms they feel were more appropriate to the subjective nature of qualitative research. The concept of validity in qualitative studies is, by some definitions, subjective itself. Furthermore, credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability of qualitative data and findings should also be discussed in similar terms, often requiring a more complete explanation in qualitative analyses than quantitative studies. Anfara, Brown, & Mangione (2002, p.28) state, “Too frequently, qualitative research is evaluated against the positivist criteria of validity and reliability and found to be lacking or soft.” Positivists believe there is no way to verify qualitative truth statements (Anfara, Brown, & Mangione, 2002; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000).
Often, qualitative researchers do not describe the decisions made during qualitative research, so the results appear sloppy or worse unverifiable (Anfara, Brown & Mangione, 2002). “They further discuss the divisions amongst qualitative researchers. Qualitative rigor, then, is defined differently from quantitative rigor.” (p. 30) For Lincoln & Guba (2000), “qualitative rigor is community consent and defensible reasoning based on interpretative rigor. (p. 170). This is summarized below in Table 2.
Table 2: Assessing qualitative research quality and rigor (Anfara, Brown, & Mangione, 2002, p. 30).
Prolonged engagement in field
Use of peer debriefing
Provide thick description
Create an audit trail
When a mix of both qualitative and quantitative approaches is applied to scholarly research, as in the creation of a dissertation, there is great potential for advancing scholarly understanding. Often, qualitative inquiry may illuminate complexities in past statistical proofs of a phenomenon. Such investigations can also lead to new hypotheses which themselves require more quantitative research (Creswell & Miller, 2000).
Kekale (2001) reports there are three common elements of a scholarly thesis, it must, “1) contain contribution to the existing research; 2) show proof of logic and mastery of research methodology; and 3) contain enough evidence to support the thesis” (p. 556). These elements, while common in theme, can vary widely because of research methodology.
If research methodology is the focus of the dissertation, however, it can become a mask or screen for the real focus of any research, the phenomena (Onwuegbuzie, 2002). A preoccupation with methods on their own account obscures the link between the assumptions that the researcher holds and the overall research effort, giving the illusion that it is the methods themselves, rather than the orientations of the human researcher, that generate particular forms of knowledge(p. 499).
When applied to case studies and other phenomenological studies, qualitative research may provide some potency and insight to otherwise statistically insignificant events.
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