From day one of a Psychology degree we are taught quantitative methods in statistics. We are taught how to analyse our data using statistical tests and how to interpret the output of t tests and ANOVAs. I can’t speak for every University but for us it seems that qualitative data doesn’t even get a look in until year 2. It’s as though the syllabus is hinting that qualitative methods are easier and so don’t need to be taught until later on in our degree. It’s overshadowed by SPSS and the use of numbers. In actual fact, qualitative research isn’t “the easy method”.
When using qualitative analysis researchers put a lot of effort into interpreting their data, and their results are not necessarily less scientific than quantitative methods. Qualitative methods can provide a number of things that quantitative methods cant including; underlying reasons and motivations, uncover trends in opinions and thoughts, provide a deep understanding on a subject which can provide the basis of further research.
Qualitative research looks to provide a full picture of the subject and can help researchers decide the direction of the research if they are unsure to begin with, so it’s a good place to start. It is recommended by many researchers during the earlier phases of a project. Donald Campbell said “All research ultimately has a qualitative grounding”.
The downside to qualitative research is that it can be very subjective and un-generalisable. It can also be very time consuming and can result in the researcher having a subjective view on the subject, rather than remaining objective and impartial.
To be fair quantitative research does provide certain benefits such as; generalisable results, use of a larger sample, and the final results are conclusive and can recommend a ‘course of action’ in the real world. Fred Kerlinger said “There’s no such thing as qualitative data. Everything is either 1 or 0”. When using quantitative methods, we can use statistical tests to determine how likely our results are down to chance. It also makes experiments replicable and comparable. This method is a lot more objective and allows the researcher to remain impartial. It also allows hypothesis testing and is more efficient in comparison to qualitative methods.
The downside to the quantitative method is that it doesn’t take into account, context which may be important for the results, for example a study about racism in America in the 1950s would show very different results to a study conducted in England in the 1990s, with the same research design.
Overall, I think that qualitative and quantitative methods are strongest when they’re used together. Depending on the research question, sometimes it more appropriate to use one or the other. It is suggested that researchers start with qualitative to decide the direction of their research and then move in more of a qualitative direction. If this is recommended than I think that their should be more of the syllabus dedicated to qualitative methods, allowing students to become more familiar with them. This would allow a more informed decision about which direction to go in when starting their own research in the future.