Field (2013) states that both quantitative and qualitative methods are complimentary at best not competing approaches to solving the world’s problems. Although these methods are quite different from each other. Creswell (2014) explain how these two, quantitative and qualitative methods, can be combined to study a phenomenon through what is called a “Mixed Method” Approach, which is out of scope for this discussion. Simply put, quantitative methods are utilized when the research contains variables that are numerical, and qualitative methods are utilized when the research contains variables that are based on language (Field, 2013). Thus, each methods goals and procedures are quite different
Goals and procedures
Quantitative methods derive from positivist, numerically driven, and epistemological (Joyner, 2012). Quantitative methods use closed-ended questions, i.e. hypothesis, and collect their data numerically through instruments (Creswell, 2014). In quantitative research, there is an emphasis on experiments, measurement, and a search of relationships via fitting data to a statistical model and through observing a collection of data graphically to identify trends via deduction (Field, 2013; Joyner, 2012). According to Creswell (2014), quantitative researchers build protections against biases and control for alternative explanations through experiments which are generalizable and replicable. Quantitative studies could be experimental, quasi-experimental, causal-comparative, correlational, descriptive, and evaluation (Joyner, 2012). According to Edmondson and McManus (2007), quantitative methodologies fit best when the underlying research theory is mature. The maturity of the theory should tend to drive researchers towards one method over the other, along the spectrum quantitative, mixed, or qualitative methodologies (Creswell, 2014; Edmondson & McManus, 2007).
Comparatively, Edmondson and McManus (2007) stated, qualitative methodologies fit best when the underlying research theory is nascent. Quantitative methods derive from phenomenological view, the perceptions of people (Joyner, 2012). Qualitative methods use open-ended questions, i.e. interview questions and collect their data through observations of a situation (Creswell, 2014). Qualitative research focuses on meaning and understanding of a situation where the researcher searches for meaning through interpretation of the data via induction (Creswell, 2014; Joyner, 2012). Qualitative research could be case studies, ethnographic, action, philosophical, historical, legal, educational, etc. (Joyner, 2012).
Commonalities and differences
The commonalities that exist between these two methods is that each method has a question to answer, an identified area of interest (Creswell, 2014; Edmonson & McManus, 2007; Field, 2013; Joyner 2012). Each method requires a survey of the current literature to help develop the research question (Creswell, 2014; Edmondson & McManus, 2007). Finally, there is a need to design a study to collect and analyze data to help answer that research question (Creswell, 2014; Edmonson & McManus, 2007; Field, 2013; Joyner 2012). Therefore, the similarities between these two methods exist on why research is conducted and at a high level the what and the how research is conducted. They differ in the particulars of the what and the how research is conduction.
The research question(s) can either become a centralized question with(out) sub-questions, but in quantitative research is driven by a series of statistically testable theoretical-hypothesis (Creswell, 2014; Edmonson & McManus, 2007). For quantitative methods data analysis, statistical tests are done to seek relationships, with hopes of testing a theory-driven hypothesis and providing a precise model, via a collection of numerical measures and established constructs (Edmonson & McManus, 2007). Given the need to statistically accept or reject theoretical-hypothesis, the sample size for a quantitative methods tend to be greater than those of qualitative methods (Creswell, 2014). Qualitative research is driven by exploration and observations to test their hypothesis (Creswell, 2014; Edmonson & McManus, 2007). For qualitative methods data analysis, there should be an iterative and explorative content analysis, with hopes to build a new construct (Edmonson & McManus, 2007). These are some of many other differences that exist between these two methods.
When are the advantages of quantitative methods maximized
Based off of Edmondson and McManus (2007), the best time to use quantitative methods is when the underlying theory of the research subject is mature. Maturity consists of extensive literature that could be reviewed, the existence of theoretical constructs, and extensively tested measures (Edmondson & McManus, 2007). Thus, the application of quantitative methods will help build effectively on prior work which will help fill in the gap of knowledge on a particular topic, whereas qualitative methods and mixed methods would fail to do so. Applying quantitative methods to a mature theory is reinventing the wheel, and applying mixed methods to it, will uneven the status of the evidence (Edmondson & McManus, 2007).
- Creswell, J. W. (2014) Research design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed method approaches (4th ed.). California, SAGE Publications, Inc. VitalBook file.
- Edmondson, A. C., & McManus, S. E. (2007). Methodological fit in management field research. Academy of Management Review, 32(4), 1155–1179. http://doi.org/10.5465/AMR.2007.26586086
- Field, A. (2013) Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics (4th ed.). UK: Sage Publications Ltd. VitalBook file.
- Joyner, R. L. (2012) Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Guide (3rd ed.). Corwin. VitalBook file.