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Qualitative and Quantitative research methods represent two distinctly different ways of approaching research.

Introduction

Social research methods derive their epistemological foundations from those of sciences as it is recognised that social research is fundamentally a scientific enterprise.  Though the subject matter differs, social sciences share with other scientific disciplines in terms of their basic propositions, methodologies and the logic of enquiry. Four different strategies are adopted for different purposes of research viz., experiments, surveys, field research and the use of available data. The experiments are conducted usually by psychologists while sociologists carry out surveys. Anthropologists rely on field research while the existing data is used for analytical purposes by historians, economists etc. While different strategies are adopted for different purposes, all the methods have an underlying commonality in their methods that are built upon a common epistemological edifice.

But qualitative research methods also face the problem of reliability and validity of their data. The ultimate aim of social research is to achieve objectivity. Objectivity is unbiased observation and is a combination of overcoming inter and intra subjectivity. Reliability is defined by Kirk and Miller (as quoted in Perakyla, 1997, p. 203) as the 'degree to which the finding is independent of accidental circumstances of the research'. Perakyla (ibid) says 'in ethnographic research the reliability of research entails whether or not the ethnographer would expect to obtain the same finding if he or she tried again in the same way'. As Silverman (1993: 146-8) observes, checking the reliability is closely related to assuring the quality of field notes and guaranteeing the public access to the process of their production.

Similarly validity of research is identified by Kirk and Miller, Silverman et al (as quoted in Perakyla, 1997, p. 207), as that 'concerning the interpretation of observations; whether or not the researcher is calling what is measured by the right name'. Validity in quantitative research has an underlying assumption that the raw observations have some back ground issues or aspects that they represent. Thus the responses collected to questionnaires in quantitative research represent the underlying attitudes and values of the respondents. But in qualitative research, especially in conversation analysis, the responses are to be analysed at their face value and not for the underlying processes. This adherence to the naturalistic description of the interaction at times raises the problem of validity and raises the issues of tranparence of analytical claims, validation through next turn, etc.Reliability and validity in quantitative research are achieved through scaling techniques as described earlier during observation. And during analysis, they are achieved by conducting several statistical significance tests, through several iterations of the data.

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