Comparison of qualitative & quantitative research






a systematic subjective approach used to describe life experiences and give them meaning

a formal, objective, systematic process for obtaining information about the world. A method used to describe, test relationships, and examine cause and effect relationships.


To gain insight; explore the depth, richness, and complexity inherent in the phenomenon.

To test relationships, describe, examine cause and effect relations


  • Soft science
  • Focus: complex & broad
  • Holistic
  • Subjective
  • Dialectic, inductive reasoning
  • Basis of knowing: meaning & discovery
  • Develops theory
  • Shared interpretation
  • Communication & observation
  • Basic element of analysis: words
  • Individual interpretation
  • Uniqueness
  • Hard science
  • Focus: concise & narrow
  • Reductionistic
  • Objective
  • Logistic, deductive reasoning
  • Basis of knowing: cause & effect, relationships
  • Tests theory
  • Control
  • Instruments
  • Basic element of analysis: numbers
  • Statistical analysis
  • Generalization


    Specific qualitative approaches




    Purpose, goal - to describe experiences as they are lived



    • examines uniqueness of individual's lived situations
    • each person has own reality; reality is subjective


    Research question development



    • What does existence of feeling or experience indicate concerning the phenomenon to be explored
    • What are necessary & sufficient constituents of feeling or experience?
    • What is the nature of the human being?





    • No clearly defined steps to avoid limiting creativity of researcher
    • Sampling & data collection




    • Seek persons who understand study & are willing to express inner feelings & experiences
    • Describe experiences of phenomenon
    • Write experiences of phenomenon
    • Direct observation
    • Audio or videotape


    Data analysis



    • Classify & rank data
    • Sense of wholeness
    • Examine experiences beyond human awareness/ or cannot be communicated





    • Findings described from subject's point-of-view
    • Researcher identifies themes
    • Structural explanation of findings is developed



    Grounded theory


    Purpose - theory development



    • Used in discovering what problems exist in a social scene &how persons handle them
    • Involves formulation, testing, & redevelopment of propositions until a theory is developed


    Method - steps occur simultaneously; a constant comparative process



    • Data collection - interview, observation, record review, or combination





    • Concept formation
    • Concept development - reduction; selective sampling of literature; selective sampling of subjects; emergence of core concepts
    • Concept modification & integration


    Outcomes - theory supported by examples from data





    Purpose - to describe a culture's characteristics





    • Identify culture, variables for study, & review literature
    • Data collection - gain entrance to culture; immerse self in culture; acquire informants; gather data through direct observation & interaction with subjects


    Analysis - describe characteristics of culture


    Outcomes - description of culture





    Purpose - describe and examine events of the past to understand the present and anticipate potential future effects





    • Formulate idea - select topic after reading related literature
    • Develop research questions
    • Develop an inventory of sources - archives, private libraries, papers
    • Clarify validity & reliability of data - primary sources, authenticity, biases
    • Develop research outline to organize investigative process
    • Collect data


    Analysis - synthesis of all data; accept & reject data; reconcile conflicting evidence


    Outcomes - select means of presentation - biography, chronology, issue paper



    Case study


    Purpose - describe in-depth the experience of one person, family, group, community, or institution





    • Direct observation and interaction with subject


    Analysis - synthesis of experience


    Outcomes - in-depth description of the experience



    Data collection

    • Interview with audiotape & videotape
    • Direct, non-participant observation
    • Participant observation
    • Field notes, journals, logs


    Reliability & validity - rigor

    Use of researcher's personality

    • Involvement with subject's experience
    • Live with data collection until no new information appears


    • Researcher suspends what is known about the phenomenon
    • Keeping an open context
    • Set aside own preconceptions


    • Process of actually looking at phenomenon
    • Focus all awareness & energy on topic
    • Absolute concentration & complete absorption in phenomenon

    Can use > 1 researcher & compare interpretation and analysis of data


    Data analysis

    • Living with data
    • Cluster & categorize data
    • Examine concepts & themes
    • Define relationships between/among concepts

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