The Qualitative Research Method – A Brief Tutorial
Researchers often find that certain research topics cannot be reduced to mere numbers. As a result, they are left contemplating whether to use qualitative rather than quantitative research methods, or perhaps even a mixed study. Contrary to popular myth, qualitative methods can be equally, if not more challenging, than quantitative methods. On the other hand, researchers may also think that quantitative methods are more applicable to their particular study. Maybe they are more comfortable with surveys, quantifiable data, and statistical analysis. Regardless, choosing the appropriate research method for a research study can often leave one feeling lost and overwhelmed. So, what are those factors that should be taken into consideration when trying to determine whether to use qualitative, quantitative, or a mixed-method research study?
In order to effectively answer this question and decide between the two different methods, it is necessary to give brief descriptions of each type of research method.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research
There are several differences between qualitative and quantitative research designs but, first, let’s briefly discuss each in turn.
Qualitative research is a research method that involves gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data by observing what people say or do. Contrary to quantitative research which involves calculations and measures, qualitative research refers to the characteristics, meanings, concepts, definitions, and descriptions of certain concepts.
Moreover, qualitative research is subjective and utilizes highly different methods of gathering data than quantitative research methods, with the former primarily using in-depth interviews as well as focus groups. This type of research is open-ended and usually contains a small sample of people although each participant is usually analyzed in depth. Research participants are usually asked to answer certain questions and the interviewer explores and looks into their responses (or behaviors in particular situations by observation) to identify their particular outlooks, opinions, perceptions, and feelings about a certain topic or idea relevant to the study. Then, the researcher will determine the degree of agreement existing among the participants and can draw the necessary conclusions.
It also should be mentioned that the quality of the results for a qualitative research study usually depends on the researcher’s experience, skills, and sensitivity. Qualitative research is also more often than not less costly than quantitative research and is very effective in getting information about people’s responses and views about a certain idea, topic, or phenomenon.
The options involved in quantitative research methods are determined beforehand and usually consist of a large sample of research participants, usually significantly larger than qualitative research methods. By its nature, quantitative research is about objective, quantifiable, and statistically valid measurements. Basically, quantitative research is about objective data, about the numbers, and hence the term ‘quantitative.’
To determine the appropriate sample size, the researcher utilizes certain formulas to see how large the sample size should be in order to acquire reliable and accurate findings.
Usually, researchers search for sample sizes that give findings that have at least a 95% ‘confidence interval’ meaning that if you repeat the study (e.g. survey) 100 times, you would get the same responses 95% of the time. However, many surveys are designed with an even smaller margin of error in mind.
Quantitative research methods consist of surveys, questionnaires, statistical analysis, and more. It is also usually is far more costly than a study utilizing qualitative methods.
Qualitative or Quantitative? Choosing the Appropriate Research Method
In deciding whether to employ qualitative or quantitative research designs, there are a number of factors to consider. But you must keep in mind that one particular research method is not “better” or “easier” than the other. Simply stated, each approach has different theoretical goals for answering research questions and each has its particular strengths and weaknesses.
When determining if qualitative or quantitative research methods are more appropriate for your study, the most important factors that you must take into consideration are your research topic and the overall goals of your study. Your research topic will play a big part in determining your research method. If you desire to collect quantifiable data which will lead to measurable variables, or your study involves confirming or questioning existing theories/hypotheses, then you should consider quantitative research methods. On the other hand, sometimes, large collections of data, numbers, and statistics, will not be the best way to understand the beliefs, meaning, experiences, and perceptions of a certain phenomenon. These goals are more effectively reached if you use qualitative methods of research.
Every research study is based on a theoretical framework. Moreover, every research study involves one of three goals: 1) generating a theory, 2) testing a theory (confirming or questioning reliability and accuracy), and 3) exploring a theory (learning about certain aspects of a theory rather than confirming or questioning this theory). The following table lists suitable research methodologies for each situation. However, it is important to keep in mind that every single study is absolutely unique and this table should not be considered as set in stone.
|To create and develop a theory||What are the most relevant factors linked to the successful implementation of a Facebook advertising campaign?||Qualitative data and analysis. Specific methods may include:
|To test a theory||How effective is the Technology Research Model (TAM) in explaining user acceptance or rejection of Web 3.0?||Quantitative data and analysis. Specific methods may include:
|To explore a theory||What is known about the factors that encourage or obstruct environment legislation in the Michigan Senate?||Mixed data and mixed methods|
Finally, there are several factors that are not directly related to the study itself, but have to do with the situation that the researcher is in. These include your resources in terms of ability to pay participants and time available. It also includes things like your ability to recruit large sample sizes (if needed).
In particular, if cost is a big issue for you, then it is suggested that you conduct a qualitative study (or a mixed-method study if deemed appropriate). Moreover, time can also be a big factor and here it may be helpful to conduct a qualitative study as well. However, if you are able to research a large sample size, then you may want to conduct a quantitative study.
But, in the end, when trying to choose between qualitative and quantitative research methods, you must take all the aforementioned factors into consideration. To sum up, these factors include:
- Your study’s purpose (e.g. testing a theory)
- Your study’s research topic
- Time available
- Financial resources available
- Your ability to conduct research on a large sample size
Dissertation Genius – When in Doubt, Seek the Advice of an Expert
You’ve studied what each type of research method entails and what each of their characteristics are. You’ve considered your study’s purpose, research topic, available time & financial resources, and ability to conduct research on a large sample size. However, you can still be lost as to which method to choose. Your advisor may not be available when you need him or her and your colleagues probably know far less about research methods and designs than you do.
In this case, simply seek the expert advice of a dissertation/thesis consultant to get on the right track, especially since getting the initial steps of the research study’s process right will set a positive tone for the rest of your study and simplify many of its aspects.
Dissertation Genius is a dissertation and thesis consultancy firm that has helped hundreds of master’s and doctorate students successfully submit their research studies for over two decades. Our consultants are all experts in their particular area of study and each has a doctorate degree in their field of study.
Regarding your difficulties in choosing the appropriate research method for your study, we can help you select a topic and decide whether your topic is more suitable for qualitative or quantitative studies. We help you identify your research interests and overall project goals and, then, using a reductionism approach, we break down the decision process step-by-step so that by the end of the consultation, you will be confident in your understanding of qualitative methods, and will develop the ability to easily explain the rationale of your approach to your adviser, audience, thesis/dissertation committee, and the most skillful qualitative researchers.
To find out more about how one of our consultants can help you, simply contact us and tell us your specific problem, no matter which part of your research study you are having difficulty with. Let us know where you are stuck and allow us tell you how we can help you. It’s that simple.
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