Qualitative or Quantitative ?

Praveen S and Shivrinder Pal
Monday, October 10, 2022

There is a group of researchers (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Schwandt, 1989) who believe that qualitative and quantitative approaches as incompatible and their view is based on underlying philosophical nature of each paradigm , while the other group of scholars  (Patton, 1990; Reichardt & Cook, 1979) believe that the skilled researcher can successfully combine approaches as this group focuses on the apparent compatibility of the research methods, enjoying the rewards of both numbers and words. In this essay I will explore more the views of the second group that many of the research questions can be addressed equally by both the approaches i.e. Qualitative and Quantitative.

I believe that the main difference between qualitative and quantitative research paradigms are based on the underlying assumptions of research rather than on data and analysis. Usually we say that quantitative research tends to be confirmatory and deductive while qualitative research tends to be exploratory. But there are many examples where quantitative research classified as exploratory and deductive hypothesis is used to confirm the qualitative research. So therefore the debate of differences between both the researches seems to be philosophical rather than methodological.

Irrespective of qualitative or quantitative research, the researchers have to first start with their research question, which they are planning to study. Forming a good research question is an important task. In both type of research the research question must be able to represent the reality and add to the existing knowledge of science. Once the research question is formed then both methodologies are required to design their research plan. A  research design is the logical sequence that connects the data to a study’s initial research questions and ultimately its conclusion and hence this is most important to have a good and plausible research design. The research design in both the methodologies require, what the researcher wants to determine and what is the best way to do it. Research design also consider the feasibility of the research in terms of time, money and efforts. In both the methodologies the research design guides how the data collection and its analysis needs to be carried out. In both the methodologies the researcher needs to decide, how the reports or findings will be represented and how the study will contribute to the knowledge and what will be its implications of the practice and future research.

Now started with data collection, the various techniques used to collect the data are individual interviews, group interviews, focussed interviews, panel discussions, surveys, observations, online tracking and techniques, social media monitoring, secondary data etc. while the researchers may differentiate these techniques used by a specific methodologies ( for example secondary data and choice based surveys are usually associated with quantitative research and open ended interviews and questionnaires are usually attached with qualitative research), but I believe that all the data techniques can be used for both the methodologies. It all depends on the design and the method collection. A good data collection design can provide the data where the qualitative data can be quantified and the quantitative data can be represented in language and words. Now with the advancement of technologies there are tools and software which can synthesize the data in both the directions. So rather than the methodology it depends on the skills of researcher that how best he can implement his data collection design. For example A researcher is trying to find out the monthly income of the employees in an organization. Based on the type of research question he can collect the data by asking the direct and open ended question like “ What is your monthly income” (qualitative way) or he can provide the range to respondent to choose the one (Quantitative method). Data collected by either way can be used for type of research after synthesisation.

Now the analysis of data in both the methodologies have the same purpose. It tells us what data is speaking about our research question under study. There may be a difference between tools and software to estimate the analysis but the purpose in both the methodologies are same. Even qualitative and quantitative analysis can be produced using the same data. Suppose we are collecting the response from the viewers of the movie in terms of their different emotions after watching a movie. The data can be used for qualitative analysis and what all different types of moods viewers has expressed or we can go the quantitative way to check which mood has been expressed more as compare to other moods.

Based on what is the purpose of researcher and the research question even the outcome can be represented using the qualitative or quantitative approach from the same analysis. Outcome in terms of numbers can be represented in the form of language to provide the inside meanings of the analysis and similarly the outcome in terms of words can be synthesized to give the outcome a numerical form for easy understanding. Scatters plots coming out of quantitative data can be a good source of qualitative exploring and in the same way using factor analysis the qualitative outcome can be reduced into numbered dimensions to use for quantitative analysis.

Therefore by using above points we can say that even though the underlying dimensions (ontological and epistemological) are different for qualitative and quantitative methodologies but both the paradigms have to follow the same methodology in research. There may be difference in software or tools to achieve the desired research outcome but researches has to follow the recommended guidelines and steps in same way for both of methodologies. For instance if we speak about the validity in quantitative or qualitative approach, the researcher has to established validity in both the cases. While validity is an important task in quantitative research form the beginning itself as researcher should focus on generalizability, replicability  etc. , the guidelines are now even got established in qualitative research also. The terminology like precision, credibility, trustworthiness and transferability are used to validate the results in qualitative research