Research can be carried out using many different methods. The structure of a study is affected by the research methodology used. The decision on a specific methodology reflects the researchers assumptions about the world, or at least about the environment to be researched (Dobbin & Gatowski, 1999).
The two widely recognized general approaches to a research method are quantitative and qualitative research, but there are actually three choices to consider: qualitative, quantitative, or a mix of both.
In qualitative research, the researcher recognizes that any situation can be seen from different perspectives. Such perspectives can seem to be so divergent as to be irreconcilable, yet can also be equally convincing. Hence qualitative research is primarily subjective, in the sense that it recognizes differing perspectives. The universe being studied is assumed to be dynamic, and the researcher does not assume to resolve universal laws from gathered data. Instead of specific measurements, it seeks explanations, and does not assume that what is discovered can be universally replicated (Olson, 1995). The researcher recognizes that the results of actual research never exactly corresponds to any given paradigm.
Quantitative research is primarily objective (where the measure of objectivity is the confirmability of results) (Dobbin & Gatowski, 1999). It attempts to discover laws that explain relationships in a measurable way. The assumption is that reality can be explained through the discovery and understanding of universal laws (Olson, 1995).
Quantitative research deals with numbers and anything measurable, whereby it attempts to discover any universal “formulas” that can be used to explain the relationships of entities under study. Its goal is to discover whether a predefined theory holds true, either through experiments or surveys (Olson, 1995).
The observer is always related to the observed, and this the qualitative methodology recognizes. In the qualitative method, the question becomes “what is the nature of the relationship?”, as opposed to “is it the case or not?” of quantitative research.
An argument for quantitative research is that it is a truly “scientific” methodology, in that it is entirely objective and (almost) free of bias. An argument against quantitative research is that it tends to obscure the nature of social phenomena, because it ignores subjective, non-measurable factors, which is what qualitative methods focus on (Olson, 1995).
There is a problem with this parsimonious paradigm. Some issues can be seen as either right or wrong, but there are other possibilities. An issue may be “bad” in more ways than it is “good”, or vice versa. (The subject of euthanasia, for instance, is very contentious because of differing ideologies, which can all have their valid points.)
It is important to realize that the demarcation between quantitative and qualitative research is a demarcation between ideals. Attempting a practical application of this demarcation is what accounts for a lot of confusion.
Qualitative and quantitative methods should not be considered mutually exclusive. Qualitative methods might be used to interpret the numbers produced by quantitative methods. Quantitative methods can be used to produce confirmable expressions from qualitative research results (Olson, 1995).
Hence it cannot be said that one methodology is “better”. Both quantitative and qualitative research have been successfully used in many fields of study. There is value in combining both qualitative and quantitative methods.
The choice of qualitative or quantitative (or a mix of both) is… subjective. When considering research, it is best not to immediately adopt a research methodology and discard the other—they can go hand in hand. The selection of the appropriate methodology should first concern practical factors such as availability of resources and the researcher’s skills.
Dobbin, S. A.,.and Gatowski, S.I. A Judge’s Deskbook on the Basic Philosophies and Methods of Science.
Retrieved January 22, 2006, from University of Nevada, Reno Website: http://www.unr.edu/bench/chap04.htm
Olson, H., Quantitative “versus” Qualitative Research: the Wrong Question. Retrieved January 22, 2006, from