Qualitative v quantitative

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Qualitative v quantitative

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

    'Discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative approaches to the socio-

    cultural study of sport.’

    When considering your research project the biggest consideration must be what approach to take, quantitative or qualitative. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and both have their ambassadors.

    Quantitative research is seen as scientific. A term like scientific is inevitably vague and controversial but in the minds of many researchers and writers on methodology it entails a commitment to a systematic approach to investigations, in which collection of data and their detached analysis in relation to a previously formulated research problem are minimal ingredients (Byman 1989). Quantitative researchers generate data, usually to test a hypothesis, through a number of methods including questionnaires and structured interview, which will be discussed later.

Leedy 1989, pg173 put it like this:

    “We can express with numbers what is impossible to state in words. You

    cannot pile up words and deduce an average from them. You cannot

    take the square root of a sentence. It is impossible to square a word, a

    phrase or a paragraph.”

Quantitative research is generally used in large-scale research to “discover

    relationships among phenomena in order to explain, predict and possibly control

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

    their occurrence.” (Walliman 2001). For example, in the socio-cultural study of sport,

    questionnaires may be distributed amongst a large number of 60-70 year olds to discover trends in their leisure activities.

    The data received will generally then be presented in graphs and tables. These have become easier to produce with the development of home computers. In order to be able to produce such statistics, questions in quantitative research will usually be

    iclosed or use the Likert scale. Questions may be open, allowing the respondent to

    answer in their own terms, but the answers will then have to be coded. By „coding‟ is

    meant the assignment of numbers to each answer category so that common answers can be aggregated (Byman 1989).

    Whereas quantitative researchers are not interested in human feelings but about measurable behaviour (Holloway 1997), qualitative research is based on the premise that individuals are best placed to describe situations in their own words. Qualitative research generally involves going into a situation and undertaking participant observation and/or asking open questions to gain an impression of the situation.

    Qualitative research is increasing in use in a wide range of academic and professional areas. It develops from aspects of anthropology and sociology and represents a broad view that to understand human affairs it is insufficient to rely on quantitative survey and statistics, and necessary instead to delve deep into the subjective qualities that govern behaviour (Holliday 2002). Weber stressed that social science concerns itself with the qualitative and that we should treat people we study „as if

    they were human beings‟ (Holloway 1997). Some even consider qualitative research to be more of an art than a science with the researcher telling the stories of individuals in a coherent manner (Shelton-Reid 1997).

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

    Quantitative research is seen as useful and valuable, but is considering limited by qualitative researchers as it may neglect the participant‟s perspectives within the

    context of their lives (Holloway 1997).

    There are two main beliefs around quantitative and qualitative research, sometimes likened to the beliefs of evolution v creation. Holloway (2002) writes:

     Quantitative research is based upon a belief that reality can be

    measured by the right research instruments. It maintains that there is a

    normality that we can fathom and understand, and master by statistics

    and experiment. The universe is organised in such a way that can

    become clear to scientists…The qualitative belief that the realities of the

    research setting and the people in it are mysterious and can only be

    superficially touched by research which tries to make sense is


    Qualitative research can be referred to by a number of terms including, but not limited to, „naturalistic inquiry‟ (Lincoln & Guba 1985), „field research‟ (Burgess 1984) or „ethnography‟ (Hammersley & Atkinson 1995).

    Both qualitative and quantitative research has their distinct advantages and disadvantages. Quantitative researchers argue that research is a science. In any science it is important that the experiment can be replicated in order to test the findings. Quantitative research lends itself better to this as the exact same questions can be asked to different groups and the results checked by others for authenticity (Denscombe 1998).

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

In qualitative research, on the other hand, the researcher‟s self is inevitably an

    integral part of the analysis. The researcher‟s identity, values and beliefs cannot be

    entirely eliminated from the process (Denscombe 1998). How one qualitative researcher perceives a social situation might be in stark contrast to another, making replication of studies difficult. “How can we be sure that the qualitative researcher

    really has interpreted reality through the eyes of his or her respondents? Is it not possible that the qualitative researcher has substituted his or her own understanding, one which would be fairly alien to the subjects themselves?” (Bryman 1989).

    For example, when Redfield (1930) studied a Mexican village he found co-operation and harmony but when Lewis (1951) revisited the study his conclusions of the society were of conflict. The seventeen years between the two studies could be the reason for the variation in findings, but it cannot be discounted that the researchers may have understood the society differently due to their own personalities.

Van Maanen and Kolb (1985) write:

    “The fieldworker‟s understanding of the social world under investigation

    must always be distinguished from the informant‟s understanding of this

    same world…To argue that we have become part of the worlds we

    studied, or that we understand them in precisely the same way as those

    who live within them do, would be a grave error.”

    Some researchers have given their respondents an account of their findings for their assessment. This can be useful but also has its limitations. Put simply, “whenever we

    observe something we make errors; period, no exceptions” Dane (1990).

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

    Quantitative researchers limit these errors by distancing themselves from their subjects and allowing them to answer without interference.

    However, this distance between the researcher and the subject can cause problems. When devising a questionnaire for quantitative research it is essential to make the questions clear and unambiguous since there is no interviewer to help the respondent if a question is not understood (Bryman 1989). Pilot studies help foresee any problems, but questions can still be misinterpreted.

    Further, Bryman (1989) argues that respondents may be influenced if they read the whole questionnaire before starting to answer the first question, perhaps making answers more consistent than they would otherwise be.

    But questionnaires do have their obvious advantages also. They are cheaper than interviews, especially if the respondents are geographically dispersed. For example, it would have cost Rousseau (1977) much more in her study on job satisfaction if she had hired interviews for her 201 respondents or more time if she had conducted the interviews herself. Postal questionnaires are considerably cheaper, even when postage costs for their return is considered.

    Further, posting questionnaires eliminates the effect of the presence of the interviewer. Sudman and Bradbun (1974) suggest that characteristics of interviewers, such as their age, appearance, race, gender and social class, have been shown by research to have an effect on the preparedness of respondents to answer questions in the interview situation and on the nature of the answers they provide. Respondents may reply with „socially desirable‟ answers (Thomas and Kilmann, 1975). This effect is reduced when the researcher is not present.

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

In the eyes of many commentators, the most fundamental drawback of

    questionnaires is that they generate a much lower response rate than interview-based research. Unless completing the questionnaire is intrinsically rewarding, the response rate can be depressingly low (Gray 2004). This may introduce an element of bias as respondents and non-respondents may differ from each other in terms of characteristics (Bryman 1989). Gillham (2000) advises that questionnaires should be limited in length to four to six pages to maximise the response rate, but this obviously limits what you can ask.

    Quantitative research of this nature lacks one important feature: flexibility. In a qualitative study of the culture of sport, a researcher is able to capitalise on chance remarks or unexpected events that propel a new line of investigation. Further, respondents to written questionnaires may give flippant, inaccurate or misleading answers, but the researcher is not in a position to detect this through body language (Gray 2004).

    Bryman (1989) argues that quantitative researchers typically set the parameters of what is interesting and important to them, rather than their subjects. This limits the research to a pre-decided aim and other important issues may be overlooked. Qualitative research scores well in terms of the way it deals with complex social situations (Denscombe 1998). It is better able to deal with the intricacies of a situation and do justice to the subtleties of social life.

    However, one cannot assume that respondent‟s answers are always accurate just because they have come during an interview. Holliday (1994) confirms this whilst listening to an interview in an Egyptian university. The lecturer confided in him that

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

    some of her answers were bogus as she had not wished to disappoint the researcher by saying that she could not answer most of the questions. This was part of a nation-wide survey carried out by a US curriculum agency, upon which policy decisions in educational aid were based.

Once research is complete, many find quantitative results easier to analyse. Large

    volumes of quantitative data can be analysed relatively quickly, provided adequate preparation and planning has occurred in advance (Denscombe, 1998).

    Interpretations and findings are based on measured quantities rather than impressions, which are easier to present in statistical format.

    Denscombe (1998) warns that with qualitative date researchers may be led towards oversimplifying results in the quest to identify themes in the data and develop generalisations. The researcher may feel pressured to underplay, possibly disregard, data that „doesn‟t fit‟. Inconsistencies can be frustrating when they inhibit a clear generalisation, but they are a feature of the complexities of social life.

    Even if generalisations can be deemed from qualitative research, it may be difficult to establish how far the findings from small-scale studies can be then generalised to other similar instances. It is possible to gauge how far the findings relate to other instances, but such generalisability is still more open to doubt than it is with well conducted quantitative research (Denscombe 1998).

    In conclusion, the approach to research is inevitably affected by the topic you are studying. It may be possible to merge both quantitative and qualitative research together in some circumstances. Arguably, quantitative research may be more affective in the study of sport to create statistics.

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

    Word Count: 1,892


    Bryman. A (1989) Research Methods and Organizational Studies. Loughborough: Routledge

Burgess, R.G. (1984) In the Field. London: Allen & Unwin

    Dane, C. F. (1990) Research Methods. Mercer University: Pacific Grove

    Denscombe, M (1998) The Good Research Guide. Buckingham: Open University Press

    Gillham, B. (2000), Developing a Questionnaire. London: Continuum.

Gray, D. (2004) Doing research in the real world. London: Sage

    Hammersley, M. & Atkinson, P. (1995) Ethnography: Principles in Practice. London: Tavistock.

Holliday, A. (2002) Qualitative research. London: Sage

    Holliday, A. R (1994) Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Holloway, J (1997) Basic concepts for qualitative research. Bournemouth: Blackwell Science

     rdLeedy, P. D. (1985) Practical Research: Planning and Design, 3 edn. London: Collier MacMillan.

    Lewis, O. (1951), Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlán Revisited. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 164

    Lincoln, Y.S. & Guba, E.G (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills: Sage Redfield, R (1930), Tepoztlán: A Mexican Village. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.164

Rousseau, D. M (1977), Technological differences in job characteristics, employee

    satisfaction, and motivation: a synthesis of job design research and sociotechnical

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    Shelton-Reed, J. (1997) Narrative in sociological writing. Sociology seminar at the University of Surrey, 30 January.

    Sudman, S., and Bradburn, N. M (1974), Response Effects in Surveys. Chicago:


    Thomas, K. W., and Kilmann, R. H (1975), The social desirability variable in organizational research, Academy of Management Journal: Vol 18

Sean Wozencroft SJ208 Research Methods

    Van Maanen, J., and Kolb, D. (1985), The professional apprentice: observations on fieldwork roles in two organizational settings, in S.B. Bacharach and S.M Mitchell, Research in the Sociology of Organizations. Greenwich: JAI Press. 154, 161-5

Walliman, N (2001) Your research project. London: Sage

     i A Likert scale is a type of psychometric response scale often used in questionnaires, and is the most widely used scale in survey research. When responding to a Likert questionnaire item, respondents specify their level of agreement to a statement. For example, respondents reply to a statement such as „ice cream is good for breakfast‟ with „Strongly agree‟, „Agree‟, „Neutral‟, „Disagree‟ or „Strongly disagree.‟ (

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