Differences Between Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 15
Words: 3354
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: PhD

There are several differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods though there are similarities too. However, this section focuses on the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods. Generally, during the quantitative research study, the end data is mostly data that is reduced to numbers, which are statistically analyzed. Furthermore, a quantitative research study is used in support of an existing theory. It may also be used to expand an existing theory to enhance understanding of the respective theory. On the other hand, qualitative research study ends results are not numbers. Instead, a qualitative research study involves word description and analysis of the phenomenon. Furthermore, qualitative research may be used to develop a new theory that did not exist in the past (Myers, 2009).

Qualitative research is subjective because it seeks to enhance understanding of human behavior and reasons governing the respective behaviors. On the other hand, in quantitative research, researchers are distinct from the subject matter. This is because quantitative research is objective and seeks to analyze target concepts and precise measurements in answering an inquiry (Bernard and Ryan, 2009).

Qualitative data are presented in form of words, objects, or images. Furthermore, the discussion is mostly presented in form of figures and graphs. On the other hand, quantitative research discussion is mostly presented in form of statistics and numbers (Bernard and Ryan, 2009).

Quantitative research involves data collection methods such as surveys and questionnaires among others. These methods are used in the collection of measurable and numerical data. Generally, qualitative research methods are important in the early stages of a project while quantitative research methods are essential in the latter stage of a research project. This is because the quantitative research methods enhance the knowledge of the researcher on the project expectations (Bernard and Ryan, 2009).

For qualitative research being “inductive”, having “perspective” and more options for study group size are all indicative of the makeup of the process. (Klenke, 2008) Combined with Chang’s suggestions for discovering what to research by “specific-to-general and the general-to-specific approach” as well as “the value of talking to others” can enhance the qualitative research process and create dynamic rich content and outcomes. (Chang, 2008)

Three qualitative research methods

Several qualitative research methods can be used in the qualitative research process. However, the choice of the qualitative research method to use entirely relies on the nature of the study and the topic of study. It is also determined by the expected data and results obtained or generated from the collected data. This section discusses three qualitative research methods that are commonly used in qualitative research methods. They include grounded theory, ethnography, and phenomenology. These qualitative research methods have different approaches to the qualitative research study (Bernard and Ryan, 2009).


This is a qualitative research method that focuses on the reality of the subject description of an event. This qualitative research method emphasizes the description of the subjective reality event on the perception of the study population. Generally, phenomenology may be viewed or said to be the study of a phenomenon (Wolcott, 2010).

For me and my group, crafting our research centered on phenomenology, perspective, and experience of the participants is tantamount.

For a research project, utilizing a phenomenological progression is to embrace the “challenge to look, look again, and keep looking and reflecting to obtain complete descriptions.” (Moustakas, 1994) I am looking for what has meaning and what matters to the participants as recurring themes. By intentionally sifting through the data these themes will emerge. My [ah ha] moment is to let the data speak and percolate; the themes are there they just need time to simmer and reveal. Interpreting Chapter 11, (Klenke, 2008) I was struck with Markow’s statement; “leader effectiveness is contingent upon the leader’s ability to influence follower’s attitudes and behaviors through their self-concept.” (2008, pg. 321) Interesting that I can capture this statement and let it reveal meaning for mentoring.

Grounded theory

This is an inductive qualitative research method. Grounded theory is based on conducting qualitative research-based or grounded on the observed data or data that the research was developed from. The grounded theory uses different sources of data to effectively complete a research process on a study topic. Though grounded theory uses several sources of data in qualitative research, certain sources are commonly used when applying grounded theory in qualitative research. They include surveys, observation, quantitative data, interviews, and reviewing of different records (Woods, 2005).

Grounded theory research has distinctive characteristics that offer advantages or strengths over other methods used in the qualitative research study. First, grounded theory is particularly useful for describing and studying regular, repeated processes (Myers, 2009), especially social influence processes (Klenke, 2008). Therefore, in the mentoring scenario, the team will be able to describe and study the relational processes to understand the benefits and challenges of the social influence that occurs between mentors and mentees. Second, because grounded theory seeks to discover theoretically relevant issues from data rather than from existing theories (Klenke, 2008), the study team will not get derailed by preconceptions about the expected benefits or challenges in the mentoring program. Third, the grounded theory involves breadth and depth of data, so the study team will have ample evidence to back up their findings.

However, this third advantage of grounded theory “is at the same time its main disadvantage” (Myers, 2009, p. 112). Grounded theory will require the study team to become immersed in the data at a detailed level. This means, especially for novice researchers, that it can be “difficult to ‘scale up’ to larger concepts or themes; it can be difficult to see the bigger picture” (p. 112). Also, a limitation of grounded theory research is that “no researcher can obliterate all previously learned theories” (Klenke, 2008, p. 187). It can be difficult “to line up what one takes as theoretically plausible with what finds in the substantive field through an emergent fit” (p. 187).


Ethnography is among the commonly used qualitative research methods. However, ethnographic research is used in the qualitative investigation of cultures. Ethnographic qualitative research method involves collection and description of relevant data that is intended to be used in theory development. Though the qualitative research method is commonly referred to as ethnographic, it is also known as ethnomethodology (Wolcott, 2010). Ethnographic research techniques can be used in the understanding of different cultures. Several studies have applied ethnographic, for instance, the study of culture to enhance understanding of their perception of different diseases, and how such diseases affect their cultural framework (Yin, 2009).

Ethnography is “a description and interpretation of a social group or systems” (Klenke, 2008, p. 200). Ethnography is also “the study of a culture or cultures that some people share” (Chambliss & Schutt, 2010, p. 263). Ethnography, therefore, is justified for the determination of the impact of mentoring program on the culture of trust-building because the team is being asked to explore the company’s culture. This method is further justified because the goal of ethnography is “to create a vivid reconstruction of the culture studied” (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, p. 234). Furthermore, “ethnographic research questions usually concern the link between culture and behavior and how cultural processes develop over time” (Klenke, 2008, p. 200). In the study to determine the impact of mentoring programs on the culture of trust-building, the study team is being asked to explore, as a result of the mentoring process, the link between culture and behavior and how the culture changes over time (Yukl and Tracey, 1992).

Ethnography research has distinctive characteristics that offer advantages or strengths over other methods of the qualitative research study. First, one of the most valuable aspects of ethnographic research is its depth (Myers, 2009). As Myers suggests, “The profound strength of ethnography is that it is the most ‘in-depth’ or ‘intensive’ research methods possible” (p. 98). In the determination of the impact of the mentoring program on the culture of trust-building, the study team will be able to go deep into the mentor and mentee experiences to understand the program’s impact on trust-building. A second advantage or strength is that ethnography often leads the researcher “to question what we ‘take for granted” (p. 98), which means that ethnography provides vital information that challenges our assumptions. In the determination of the impact of the mentoring program on the culture of trust-building, ethnography might uncover new or surprising insights into the trust-building aspects of the company’s culture or into mentoring as a leadership development practice (Williams and Monge, 2001).

However, ethnography research as a method for qualitative research study also has a few disadvantages or limitations. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is the time required to perform ethnography. Because “extended participant observation means that at least a year is devoted to an ethnographic study” (Klenke, 2008, p. 200), understanding the impact of the mentoring program on the trust-building nature of the culture may take a considerable amount of time. Second, there are “no particular methodological techniques associated with ethnography other than just ‘being there” (Chambliss & Schutt, 2010, p. 263). This might be a significant limitation if the study team is not well-versed and experienced in the use of ethnography as a method. A third limitation is that ethnographic research lacks breadth and only leads to in-depth knowledge of particular contexts and situations (Myers, 2009). In this case, however, this limitation of ethnographic research is not significant because the company does not appear to be interested in generalizing the study findings beyond their context.

Qualitative Interviewing is the more human of the research methods because the researcher is the instrument and the Interviewee is the living breathing content. The data then has to be recognized as coming from a “subjective human experience”. (Klenke, 2008) The pros are that results net richer deeper content and cons are results and outcomes are subject to interpretation.

Three quantitative research methods

Several quantitative research methods are used in quantitative research hence obtaining the required quantitative results or data. However, this section highlights three commonly used quantitative research methods, they include population, Alleman Mentoring Activities Questionnaire, and Leader-Member Exchange – LMX – MDM (multidimensional scale) (Wolcott, 2004).


This study will test the hypothesis of mentoring and leadership development.

The survey will be delivered to female faculty and administrators of a small private non-profit college “to determine if there were core mentoring behaviors, and then, if justifiable” to determine if mentoring enhances leadership development “to enable professionals to assess their interpersonal competencies as mentors.” (Cohen, 2003) This cross-sectional self-administered survey method is viable for this research because the number of survey recipients will permit quick turnaround and analysis (Van Maanen, 1988). The survey will be developed utilizing a web-based instrument administered online and sent via organization e-mail addresses. The total number of female survey recipients will not exceed 250 and privacy will be secured by a no-name process with identification limited to age and previously mentioned demographic data. Access to the female population will be provided by the human resource department captured in an excel file with only the e-mail address provided to provide some anonymity. Because the survey population is limited to a single organization and limited to only female employees there is no need for stratification (Stringer, 2007).

Alleman Mentoring Activities Questionnaire – AMAQ

In exploring the impact mentoring has on leadership development the AMAQ is a good fit as it measures general mentoring activities and can be applied to a variety of organizations. (Gilbreath, 2008) “Alleman and Clark define a mentor as a ‘person with greater, experience and/or expertise who teaches, counsels, inspires, guides and helps another person to develop both personally and professionally’” (Gilbreath, 2008, p. 381) This instrument was designed to assist with the review of the quality and frequency of mentoring as well as distinguishing between mentoring behaviors and other organizational relationships. (2008)

Psychometric properties

“The AMAQ reports high internal consistency reliability, with an alpha of.97 for the entire instrument and alpha’s ranging from.87 -.93 for the scales. The overall degree of agreement among expert raters of item content was high (85%), indicating that the items represent mentoring behavior.”

(2008, p. 383) Because the scale is categorized into five sections, “own behavior report as a mentor, own-behavior report as a protégé, observed behavior of one person toward another, report of what a good mentor word do in a hypothetical situation, and plans or expectations for future mentoring relations, validity estimates are moderate at r=.47 for career benefit,.53 for personal benefit, and.56 for personal development. (2008) (Actual survey items were not available)

Leader-Member Exchange – LMX – MDM (multidimensional scale)

In Atwater and Carmeli’s article on leader-member, they define the LMX-MDM as “a key view of leadership that emphasizes the quality of the relationship between leader and follower.” (Atwater, 2009, p. 266)

Utilizing the LMX-MDM in this study of the impact of mentoring on the leadership of the female employee in higher education I can take a look at the leader as mentor and the follower as a mentee to emphasize the influence the significance this dynamic has on female leadership in higher education. By using the LMX-MDM, which adds scales for contribution, loyalty, affect and respect to the basic LMX scale, I am looking for deeper results of the mentor/mentee relationship. They (Atwater, 2009) go on to say that varying interactions between the follower and the leader are the “central” theme behind the LMX-MDM, therefore utilizing the LMX-MDM in this research should bring to light data on mentor/mentee relationships. Just as Atwater and Carmeli that if the relationship between the leader and follower “is of high quality” (2009, p. 268) then so to the mentor/mentee relationship where sharing of knowledge, experience and insight will be of high quality (Stangor, 2011).

As someone who principles herself as a pragmatist, I can relate to the grounded theory approach. The assumption of letting the research tell the story comes to mind, especially when you have little to go on. It may eliminate bias because the researcher will have to permit the research process to simmer and reveal. Metaphorically rinse and repeat the “concepts, categories, and propositions.” (Klenke, 2008, p. 189) While the grounded theory is a rinse and repeat process where the researcher is waiting for the unknown, the ethnographer watches deliberates and participates in the research to craft results based on observation of behavior, language, and interactions within a cultural dynamic. (Klenke, 2008)

For this discussion and as interpreted from Klenke, phenomenology is what you see and experience is what you get. With Narrative Analysis I appreciated Klenke’s three underpinnings of claims, 1) human’s organized experience into narratives, 2) stories told to depend on past and present experience, values, the listeners of the stories, and the context in which they are told, and 3) is the multiple voices. (Klenke, 2008). I was able to enhance Klenke’s chapters on the methodologies by re-reading Patton’s chapter on Qualitative research and evaluation methods. (Patton, 2002) It works well to support and develop a stronger understanding of the methodologies, for example by reviewing the three kinds of data, interviews, observations, and documents (p.4) back to the surface in my mind I can more easily benchmark the methodologies within the context needed.

Quantitative research question

Hypothesis: There is a positive relationship between mentoring and the impact it has on the leadership development of women in higher education.

Data Needed

To test this directional hypothesis data will be gathered to measure the relationship between mentor, mentee and the impact on leadership development. These constructs of a theoretical nature will be measured and analyzed from data collected from survey instruments modified to represent the independent variable of mentoring and the dependent variable of the impact mentoring has on leadership development. This will permit the prediction that positive outcomes of mentoring are evident where the leadership development of women working in higher education is concerned. Demographic data such as tenure, current position held, direct reports, and subordinates will be considered as control variables (Stake, 2005).

The research question, the hypothesis, and the variables bring together the opportunity to drill down deeper into the enterprise of higher education and the role and impact that mentoring has on the female member of the organization. To analyze and interpret the data from this study the following steps will be completed:

Analysis of the survey instruments returned including data on the number of instruments that were null for lack of completion and or those not returned. This data may be included in this research as described in detail concerned with respondents and nonrespondents with percentage and data analysis that would be pertinent to the overall study.

Response bias will be analyzed to determine if a change to the overall results is indicated from the nonrespondents through “wave analysis” (Creswell, 2009, p. 152) which analyzes the return of survey instruments and data in the instruments based on the timeline of returns for differentials in data returned.

Descriptive analysis of the data will include pertinent information on the independent and dependent variables including “means, standard deviations, and range for the scores.” (2009, p. 152)

Data from the survey instrument will be analyzed and tested utilizing SPSS software for statistical analysis. Because this study centers on one dependent variable and one independent variable for mentoring with another for demographic data I will use a multiple regression analysis. Multiple regressions will permit the analysis of the interaction or relationship between several independent variables and a dependent variable. When an interaction effect is present, the impact of one variable depends on the level of the other variable.

Qualitative research question

  1. What role does mentoring play in women’s leadership development?
  2. How significant is mentoring in women’s leadership development?
  3. Is there an impact that mentoring has on leadership development?

This research is conducted using a qualitative interview process with a single interviewee responding to an in-formal/formal interview.

This phenomenological study was framed around an interview with a female leader currently working as department chair in a small private catholic college.

The research that Foote and Solem conducted anchored my research questions and the interview that I conducted with Dr. English do well to bring to become those ties that bind the mentor/mentee relationship in higher education for women together, where young inexperienced faculty and mentoring were concerned. Their [Foote] (2009) steps are translated as follows and can be balanced by my key research questions.

Regular proactive meetings – the impact of mentoring on leadership development.

“There are going to be some years when the person is producing and present and, um, active. And there will be other times where the person pulls back and is kind of in retreat and that’s okay because you trust that they are going to come out and produce.”

Engaging diverse groups of individuals within and outside of a department – how significant is mentoring for women in leadership development.

Dr. English pointed out to me in our interview that as a young faculty member she felt that it was important to “rely on people above you to take care of you and show you shepherd you which way you want to go.”

Leadership, resources, and philosophical support for professional development from departments and institutions – what role does mentoring play in women’s leadership development?

“I think the path is organic which means at certain points in my life I’ve just been very intense, and at others, personal issues have arisen, you know, and I’ve had to pull back more, and then it comes forward again, there’s an ebb and a flow in terms of intensity that kind of flow that you trust each other and that that kind of flow is going to be okay. I think that I have to cling to the underlying kind of presence that I do feel amongst certain colleagues that there is a common culture, vision, goal that even if sometimes the upper administration seems to not share those or seems to be moving away from them, that there’s enough groundswell that we, they can take it.”

From a self-reflective perspective (Chang, 2008) I can connect with Foote and Dr. English in that.


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