Quantitative or Qualitative Research: Two Perspectives (part 2)

As I pointed out in the previous post, research can be either quantitative or qualitative, and can even have aspects of both.  These two approaches not only differ in their orientation of reality, but also in their objects of study, and their methods of analysis and generalizability.

Qualitative researchers view reality from the interpretivism perspective, which means they believe that reality is a co-creation between all those involved in a specific event or occurrence.  Quantitative researchers, on the other hand, come from the positivism perspective.  This perspective dictates that reality is separate from the self, and can therefore be viewed with objectivity.  These differing mindsets influence the way researchers approach their objects of study.

 Object of Study – Quantitative researchers have the goal of generalizing their findings to the population from which their sample came.  In this way, their research is believed to add to knowledge about a population that really can’t be studied in its entirety.   These researchers study variables, how those variables interact, and how those variables may or may not influence other variables.  This is necessary if they are to be objective in a reality that is separate from themselves.

These variables necessarily represent observable behaviors, because what can’t be seen also can’t be measured.  Think of how latent variables (or constructs), are unseen and therefore not directly measureable, but can be inferred from the measurement of other variables that can be seen.  For example, graduate student development can’t be directly observed, but it can be inferred from cognitive, affective, and professional skills development. 

But for qualitative researchers, it is the unobservable that is responsible for the co-construction of reality.  Participants (people) make assumptions, interpretations, and meaning of their reality according to whom they are with and in what situation they are involved.  In other words, reality cannot be reduced to a set of measureable variables because the entire context must be taken into consideration in order to make sense of the phenomenon that is being studied.

Since the context is so important, it wouldn’t make sense to gather a sample from a population because all of their various contexts would be different.  Instead, the qualitative researchers study phenomena by using cases.  The case may be one person, or it may be one group of people who are experiencing the same general situation.  And I say “general” because each person will construct that situation differently.  Through conversation and the common experience, the researcher learns how that case constructs the reality of that situation, keeping in mind how the researcher him/herself adds to that experience.

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