Research can be a complex matter, it varies across several
disciplines and adopts a multitude of methods and concepts. Its purpose is to
gather knowledge and use it to create data, some methods are numerically
focused, using numbers and equations to prove a hypothesis, and some are more
concerned with the experience of individual people and how they view the world
around them. Both of these methods are juxtaposed yet share a myriad of
commonalities. Even among quantitative research there is an element of
qualitative data, for example, in defiance of numbers ultimately being
objective, researchers still must choose those that are included in the data
and those that aren’t, justifying why some are more significant than others is
qualitative.

The purpose of qualitative data is to delve into the details
and specificities of an individual/group’s experience, to describe and analyse
the culture and behaviour of humans and to see the experience from their point
of view, to see through the eyes of the subject, allowing researchers to gain
access to information from hidden populations (Maher, L. Derrtadian, G. 2008,pp170).
Through this type of research, we can learn to understand underlying opinions
and motivations. Qualitative research allows for a close relationship between
the researcher and the subject, which can provide a rich and deep understanding
of the data collected. Qualitative researchers are usually immersed in
longitudinal studies, sustaining close relationships with the participants
(Adler 1986, pp312). Qualitative researches tend to favour an approach without specified
hypotheses as it allows them to discover unexpected topics that may become
important features in their research. Cohen’s (1978) study of Whalsay had
intended on looking specifically into two topics of concern, however after he
had started the field research, he found that his formulated problems were irrelevant,
and discovered other, much more connected and important issues of interest.

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Qualitative research is based on detailed answers to open
ended questions, observations and stories based on memory and therefore takes a
considerable amount of time to analyse, which means that it usually consists of
a smaller number of participants over a longer period of time.

There are many different approaches to conducting
qualitative research, for example a researcher could conduct an interview,
which would consist of an interviewer and participant(s), the interviewer
asking open ended questions with the aim of obtaining information that would
relate to their particular study, gathering information from the participant’s
facial expressions, gestures, and verbal responses to questions. Ethnography is
another popular method within qualitative research, which helps the researcher
to understand how people see the world, the researchers can then develop
theories about society as an outcome, irrespective of preconceived ideas prior
to research. Observations, commonly used in schools and workplaces is the
viewing of a particular trend or phenomenon in its original setting, with the
aim of gathering data for a study. Focus groups, often used to stimulate
conversation about a topic of interest to the researchers, among a group of
randomly selected people, using this research to gather information on public
opinion of a trend or issue. Case studies, these are in-depth, often
longitudinal studies of one individual, social group, institution, or any other
social component of society, this is one of the most commonly used methods
within qualitative research. Content analysis is the identification of
specified characteristics of contents of information. This may be the best
method in terms of truth as it provides the same depth and richness of
information, from diaries, documents, records etc as they are with no knowledge
of being used in research studies, however, because of this they may not be
able to provide a direct answer to a researcher’s questions. Qualitative
researchers often adopt an Interpretivist approach as they view subjective
research as the best way to achieve a rich understanding (Clarke 2009 pp.28-36)
Interpretivism involves a subjective interpretation of the people being
studied, it allows the interviewer to see an individual’s views through their
personal perspective. Individual perspectives are very important within this
concept.

When immersing oneself into qualitative research, a
disadvantage to the research may be that researchers can become so absorbed in
the research that they lose awareness of their role as a researcher and adopt
the participants’ perspectives. There is a problem here of reliability, in qualitative
research there tends to be an extreme subjectivity in terms of data analysis
which could allow the researcher to interpret the findings in a particular way
to achieve certain results. There is also the risk of collecting information
that is meaningless to the research at hand, which is detrimental to the
efficiency of the research as it is time and budget consuming. Interviews for
qualitative research are usually face to face, in a room alone, or in a group.
This may affect how a person answers questions and how truthful they are, they
do not have the same cover of anonymity as they would with other methods such
as questionnaires.

The role of quantitative research is usually preparatory,
there is a distant, often anonymous relationship between the researcher and the
subject. It is typically to prove or disprove a theory, not to discover
emergent concepts in research. The research strategy is structured and often
includes a set number of questions that do not vary, for example, in
questionnaires, structured interviews, Longitudinal studies, experiments,
official statistics, legislation, police records etc which therefore creates
hard and reliable data which is easily replicable and repeatable. The method of
conducting the research and questions asked are set from the start of the
research, this means that it is constant in its structure and allows for a
replicable study/experiment. Quantitative data typically goes hand in hand with
the concept of Positivism (Clarke, C 2009 pp.26-38), this concept favours
quantitative methods such as structured interviews and questionnaires, and
emphasises on replication and encourages objectivity within research.

When studying groups, quantitative methods often choose
larger, randomly selected participants, as larger samples reduce the margin of
error and produce more accurate results. These samples of the public can range
from local or national to global, and allow the research to be easily
applicable to other groups within one society or across multiple. The anonymity
of questionnaires and other methods of collecting data allow participants to be
honest in answering questions without fear of judgement or ridicule, many people
may choose not to participate in studies if they know their identity will be
shown to the researcher and/or other participants, especially if the research
includes personal questions. However, many aren’t aware that their data is
being used in surveys i.e National statistics for populations, salaries,
poverty etc. Quantitative data is useful in identifying factors that influence
an outcome, cause and effect relationships such as, what is the relationship
between household income and educational attainment? It is valuable in
identifying change, such as perceptions of gender compared to the previous generation.
As well as describing how much or little there is of something, or where
something is the most popular.

Quantitative methods are very precise and provide a clear
understanding of what the research was set out to provide, however there is no
understanding of social meanings or reasons behind certain data. This method is
closed and strictly planned which disallows for opportunity for adjustment
during the research or experiment period. Some social situations are to complex
or fluctuate too often for a numerical explanation. Because quantitative data
only uses numbers and a limited about of words, it usually provides less
detailed accounts of human perception, which limits the results. The research
is usually carried out in controlled laboratory conditions which are artificial
and unnatural, this may not produce authentic results and therefore
disadvantage the research. Predetermined answers in questionnaires do not
necessarily reflect how a person feels about the topic in question, only the
nearest estimate, this creates easily analysable data however does not give a
true overall view. It can lead to a structural bias where the statistics mirror
the researchers’ views rather than the subjects’.

The differences between the two approaches have a profound
impact on how researchers conduct their studies. Brannen, J. (1992 pp.3-37)
argues that qualitative and quantitative paradigms overlap as well as differ,
and to some extent are informed by similar logics of enquiry, however researchers’
training and skills are impacted by the decisions they make concerning methods
of research. To create a combination between qualitative and quantitative data
seems to be the perfect solution to the downfalls of each method, by bringing
together the strengths of the two, an almost faultless method is created. Qualitative
research is seen as useful in the preparatory stages of research projects to
suppose hypotheses and theories, which can then be tested more meticulously
through quantitative methods. Ensuring a more accurate, yet deep understanding
through multiple combined methods, collecting both mathematic and rich social
data.

The distinction between the two methods are often vague,
large amounts of qualitative information can now be processed quickly with the
assistance of new technology, and detailed quantitative information can be used
to discover meaning and understanding. Making mixed method research much more
of an attractive concept. 

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