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What Is The Distinction Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research?

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- Tom Butcher What Is The Distinction Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research? The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is commonly made. Quantitative research is sometimes referred to as statistical or sometimes (somewhat sloppily) as empirical research. Qualitative research is sometimes referred to as the sociological approach to research. Elsewhere the distinction is often made between certain research methods as either being Qualitative or Quantitative. For example Interviewing, Participant Observation and Documentary Analysis are often referred to as Qualitative research methods. The use of Surveys and Statistical data is referred to as Quantitative. These distinctions do have a fair degree of truth to them. However as we will see later they do not hold true in all cases. What are commonly thought of as used in purely Qualitative research can be part of Quantitative research programmes and vice versa. In this lecture we are going to look at this distinction between qualitative and quantitative research. After looking at brief definitions of each we are going to look at what the goals of social research are. This will allow us to reflect on how both qualitative and quantitative research strategies can be employed to achieve those goals.


is usually primarily deductive. By contrast Theory advancing research is usually described as inductive. The classic conception of such research is of in depth case studies leading to an understanding of a social phenomenon from which new theories, ideas or concepts are generated. So whereas for deductive research the theory comes first and observation is collected to test the theory. For inductive theory advancing research - first we collect data or investigate a subject and formulate theory from that. It is often not possible or desirable to address all or most of these goals tegether in one piece of research. For example the different stage of data collection creates difficulties if we attempt to both test and develop theory in the same piece of research. Relation of 7 Goals to Qualitative / Quantitative distinction. TABLE Qual Quant Identifying Broad Patterns Primary Testing Refining Theory Secondary Primary Making Predictions Secondary Primary Interpreting Significance Primary Exploring Diversity Secondary Secondary Giving Voice Primary Advancing New Theory Primary Secondary So the goals of qualitative research are primarily to advance new theory, interpret the significance of individual events and giving voice to particular groups. In contrast Quantitative research is primarily about Testing theory, identifying broad patterns and making predictions.


Flexible - Because of the way theory can emerg during the process it provides a flexibility to the research. It allows that we may have missed something very relevant to the subject that we are researching and for that to emerge during the research. QUantitative research requires much more specification of what is relevant at the beginning of the process. We need to know what theories to test, what data to collect, what questions to ask on a survey and so on. Interpretaion of meaning. Because qualitative research is concerned with the meaning people attach to action it creates a difficulty of how do we know our interpretation of the meaning of their behaviour is correct. Weber argues that on way is through the concept of VERSTEHEN - understanding. That because we are human we can empathise with other people. This is an interesting approach but seems rather haphazard. However often we do rely on these kind of judgements. The differences in the Qualitative and Quantitative are summarised in the table below. Quant Qual Role of Qualitative research Preparatory Means to explore actor's intentions Relationship Between Researcher and Subject Distant Close Researchers Stance in Relation To Subject Outsider Insider Relationship between Theory and Research Confirmation Emergent Research Strategy Structured Unstructured Image of Social reality Static and External to Actor Processual and Socially constructed by actor Nature of Data Hard, Reliable Rich. Deep

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