The qualitative research method has been used in investigating cultural and social phenomena throughout the 20th century in disciplines such as anthropology, education, and sociology. Within this research methodology, there are a number of established and systematic approaches to research, such as a bibliographic study, conversion analysis, case study, discourse analysis, grounded theory, among many others. The selection of any of these approaches in investigating a phenomenon depends on the phenomenon and research questions.
In order to arrive at a useful and accurate understanding of the phenomenon under investigation, researchers need to approach the investigation with an open stance. All predetermined biases and expectations must be recognized and diminished to the achievable extent. In the process of performing research to validate arguments, practitioners often use various methodologies for data collection and analysis. Among the methods available include quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods for data collection and analysis. Of the three approaches, the oldest is the quantitative approach, while the most recent is the mixed-method approach.
In this section of the report, the discussion will attempt to provide information on the three methods and provide useful insight as to when they are most appropriate or factors to consider in applying either method. It has been reported that among the important points that should be kept in mind when selecting an appropriate method include; any assumptions made about what constitutes a claim on knowledge, general procedures used in research or inquiry strategies, and detailed data collection procedures, otherwise known as methods. The different approaches view these elements in a different way, and thus, this section will attempt to provide information to indicate what conditions give preference to one method over another.
As previously mentioned, elements, namely claims on knowledge, strategies implemented in inquiry, and methods, have a major influence on the selection of the approach to the study. These three elements are conceptualized by the researcher or team carrying out the study. The claim on knowledge selected by the researcher posits certain assumptions about how and what will be learned during the inquiry. For instance, if the researcher selects a Constructivist approach to knowledge, it follows that the strategies of inquiry and methods used to be able to assist in meeting the goals of such an approach. A constructivist approach suggests bringing about understanding, several contributing factors, historical and social construction, and generation of theory.
The discussion presented will seek to provide basic information on the different types of research methods utilized in various studies. According to Black, it is part of human nature to make attempts to explain the phenomena occurring within our environment. The methods used to make such explanations may be based upon common sense or science. The difference between the two is that the scientific approach relies on the systematic approach to make observations that can be replicated by another individual or group to achieve the same results. However, a common-sense approach relies on random observation likely to produce different results when applied by different groups.
A quantitative approach to research is an approach that, first and foremost, is backed by empirical evidence. As opposed to random data and evaluation, such an approach would suggest that data collection is direct and through the use of tested and known criteria or tools. In the implementation, these approaches will include classification as an essential aspect of data collection. The process of collection of data, therefore, is assumed to have been tested using a scientific hypothesis that can allow the researcher to conclude on the validity of the findings.
It is likely to assume that a quantitative approach is somewhat similar to reading a manual to assemble a toy airplane or any other instruction manual. This is not the case. Although a quantitative approach to research is systematic in nature and relies on the use of known scientific tools or procedures, the process of selecting the appropriate tool for each instance is essential in ensuring the validity of the results. It has been reported that even with the use of quantitative methods, studies often fail to produce defensible results owing to poor planning before undertaking irreversible actions in the study. It is essential to ensure all prior steps are completed properly before collecting data. Therefore the planning stage is crucial and has a significant effect on the results obtained during the execution stage.
Some of the activities that constitute the planning stage include; selection of research questions, hypothesis, and identification of variables, determination of the research structure to follow, identification of sample and population to study, selection of design instruments, and selection of a statistical test to resolve hypothesis. In the execution stage, the activities to be performed include; planning and collection of data and the analysis of data to draw conclusions on the study.
Some additional considerations include; assessing that hypothesis and the research question are logically related, ensuring the sample is best representative and most consistent with the hypothesis, the instruments of measurements are best suited for the study, and the above is consistent with intended statistical tests. After the collection of data in a quantitative study, the data will be analyzed using known procedures to provide results. The data may be weighed using a scale that measures variance or another mathematical or statistical formula. The results of such calculations are therefore taken to be proof of the validity of the findings of the study.
On the other hand, practitioners may also opt to use qualitative techniques to accomplish their study objectives. To shed some light on these techniques, it may be appropriate to look at a short analogy. In the construction industry, more often than not, when a significant building project is about to be undertaken, there is a process where the proprietors invite architects to submit their designs for the project. These designs are often based on abstract concepts that vary between architects. These concepts are largely influenced by the personal preference or style of the architect and have little to do with building economics and other relevant considerations. However, depending on the design that gets chosen, the architect gets to supervise all the construction work and mostly receives all the credit in relation to this building.
In a similar fashion, Qualitative approaches to research design are mainly concerned with individual accounts of attitudes, motivation, and behavior. As opposed to a quantitative approach that will provide statistical or mathematical findings in support of an argument, this approach tends to provide reports abounding with conclusive information. Some of the information that will be included in such a report includes; perceptions of individuals, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, feelings, or views.
The report will overall establish how the connection between these concepts comes together to bring about behavior, contradictions or how their influence in selection between choices. This approach to research is particularly popular when people constitute the main unit of research. However, the data and conclusions drawn from this approach do not necessarily reflect on the perceptions of individuals, but rather they reflect the perceptions of clusters and the attitudes or behavior based on interviews conducted.
It has been reported that Qualitative studies are appropriate for exploratory studies, and the findings can be used to direct towards more structured or quantitative studies on the subjects. These types of studies are viewed by some as a more appropriate solution as opposed to opinion polls to examine causal processes. These proponents argue that the use of qualitative study does not suggest that all explanations can be reduced to accounts from the individual. Instead, they argue that even though the individual definition of a situation can not define an entire social process, it is an essential element within the entire social process.
In light of the larger conceptual nature of qualitative research methods, sequential design methods are not appropriate to use during the design stage of the study. Such methods are rigid and can not effectively accommodate the iterative nature of qualitative research. Qualitative research may change any concept of design in the course of the study in response to new developments. This suggests an almost automated nature to the study where if any change is experienced, the effect will cause ripples affecting each and every process of the study.
Just as with quantitative research, this approach also requires the team to have some initial point of reference such as; goals of the study, questions the study aims to answer, methods that will be utilized in the study, and validity of the study. In addition to these components, there are numerous factors that can influence the study, including resources available, researcher’s skills, ethical standards, perceived problems, research setting, and data and conclusions drawn from research. It goes without saying that a study that is largely conceptual must therefore require that the researcher be well versed with techniques or issues that can assist in proving the hypothesis for the study to be effective. Some commentators on this technique have compared it with a rubber band in that it exhibits much flexibility but may also be very weak.
Our final method to discuss in the section is the mixed method of research. As mentioned by Creswell, this method has only been significantly considered as an option for research for about the last twenty years. Prior to this, the dominant methods used in the research were either quantitative or qualitative. The reasons behind this increased use are mainly; there has been an increased amount of literature available on their use and effectiveness and increasing pressure from governments and private funding agencies who are laying greater emphasis on research approaches that utilize mixed methods. In addition to this, computer-assisted qualitative data programs such as CAQDAS are allowing qualitative researchers to obtain quantitative measures from qualitative data.
Mixed methods, as the name suggests, involve a combination of research methods in a single study. The study may choose to incorporate two different qualitative or quantitative methods or even incorporate a qualitative and quantitative method in accomplishing the study. An in-depth interview and participant observation constitute qualitative techniques that may be merged in a single study. In the case of quantitative methods, the researcher may merge a survey and an experiment in the course of the study.
When a mixed method is applied to a study, the results allow the study to benefit from the methods of both concepts. For example, a study that selects a qualitative and quantitative approach will thus be able to use the words and narrative to support the factual data. There is a tendency when mixed methods are applied to paint a better picture with the results. Another reason for their use is the concept of triangulation, which, when effectively applied, helps in validating the study findings. Triangulation refers to the use of more than one method in a single study. Basically, some proponents of this methodology have provided some reasons for preference, including validating the results is easier, making the entire study complementary, allowing the study to achieve richer results, initiation, and expansion.