Quantitative methods have their strengths and weaknesses. Discuss.
Quantitative methods, like all social research methods, have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. This essay will attempt to critically assess those characteristics and draw a comparison between quantitative methods and qualitative methods. The quantitative versus qualitative debate is an interesting topic in Sociological studies. In Miles and Huberman's 1994 book Qualitative Data Analysis, quantitative researcher Fred Kerlinger is quoted as saying, "There's no such thing as qualitative data. Everything is either 1 or 0". To this another researcher, Donald Campbell, asserts, "All research ultimately has a qualitative grounding". This essay will look at both sides of the argument and provide a balanced conclusion.
Social research methods in general can be divided into two main branches or schools, quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research involves measuring quantities of things, usually numerical quantities, while qualitative research involves the analysis of data such as words(e.g. an interview), pictures or objects. These different research methods are used by sociologists to gather data. Both methods have their limitations and differences, which run deeper than the obvious distinction between quality and quantity. Quantitative research is depicted as the traditional scientific approach to research, driven by the positivist tradition which places considerable value on rationality, objectivity, prediction and control. Advocates of the quantitative approach could therefore be described as objective scientists. Qualitative research differs in that it emphasizes the importance of looking at variables in the natural setting in which they are found. Interaction between variables are important and the interviewer is an integral part of the investigation. There are many researchers who favour one method over the other, based on methodology or their particular discipline or research tradition.
There is another major difference between the two disciplines, and that is quantitative methods being deductive, while qualitative methods are inductive. What this means is that in quantitative research, a hypothesis is required before research may begin, whereas in qualitative methods, the researcher may only know roughly in advance what he/she is looking for. The role of the researcher is in fact very different in the two methods. In quantitative research, the researcher is ideally an objective observer who neither participates in nor influences what is being studied. In qualitative research, however, it is thought that the researcher can learn the most by participating and being immersed in a research situation. These basic underlying assumptions of both schools of thought guide the types of data collection methods employed.
All research whether quantitative or qualitative are based on assumptions about what can be considered as valid research, and what research methods are deemed appropriate. When conducting research about peoples religious beliefs, quantitative methods such as a social survey may be deemed an appropriate choice. If you were doing a behavioural study however, qualitative methods would likely be favoured. Some researchers argue that quantitative methods are superior because they are objective and free from bias. What is implied here though of course is that quantitative research reports reality, which is dependant on the test subjects answering the questions freely and truthfully. Qualitative research is influenced by the researcher's political views. It could be argued that such freedom has no place in social science. Similarly it could be argued that this allows qualitative research a degree of flexibility which is lacking in quantitative research. This is not a balanced argument because outside the social sciences quantitative research is favoured. For example, Government studies tend to opt for quantitative research because...
References: Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods (Oxford University Press, 2001)
John J Macionis & Ken Plummer, Sociology (Pearson, 1997)
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