Academic Study Skills for Social Scientist
There are two different research paradigms in educational research namely, quantitative and qualitative. Scholars who apply these paradigms either refer to themselves as quantitative or qualitative researchers. However, these researchers regard themselves as “purists” and therefore a qualitative researcher would remain embedded to his/her field, and vice versa since the axiological as well as the epistemological assumptions are different in these research fields. However, there has been an increased application of the mixed research methods especially in education since the data obtained from one methodology may not be sufficient enough to understand problematic areas. Evidence has shown that when data is obtained from the two methodologies it is more valid, reliable, consistent, and stronger and seems to be more extensive as compared to data obtained from single-method studies.
This paper will look into different research paradigms applied in sociology; these are quantitative, quantitative and mixed research methods. Further, the paper will compare, contrast and highlight weaknesses and strengths of the identified methods. Finally, the paper will discuss the ethical aspects that need to be taken into consideration when conducting a research in the field of sociology.
Quantitative Research Methods
In the field of sociology, quantitative research method is referred to as methodical empirical investigation relating to social phenomena through statistical, computational or numerical data methods. Its goal is to develop, as well apply mathematical concepts, hypothesis and theories in relation to phenomena. The measurement technique in this methodology is analogous to quantitative research as it attempts to establish the basic relationship between the mathematical concepts and empirical observation. Quantitative data is referred to as any data presented in numerical form, and it includes percentages, tables and statistics. In general, this implies that a quantitative researcher aims at obtaining answers to a particular narrow question and he/she gathers information from the participants in a form of numerical data in order to provide an answer to the underlying question. Further, the researcher would use statistics as a data analysis tool. The main objective of the researcher is to use the numbers to obtain unbiased results that could be used to generalise a bigger population under the study (Newman & Benz, 2006).
The idea of quantitative research is based on intentionality, validity and reliability in order to generate relevant knowledge using observations and infer a prediction. In general, quantitative research is broadly used in such social sciences as sociology, psychology, gender and political science, health and human development, economics, community health. However, application of quantitative techniques in mathematical sciences, for instance, in physics, can be considered quantitative in nature although it differs in context. Nonetheless, in social sciences the concept involves empirical methods originating in philosophical positivism and the history of statistics which is distinct from qualitative research techniques (Bamberger, 2000).
Qualitative Research Methods
Qualitative research concentrates on practice as well as process as opposed to outcomes. In general the technique primarily focuses on the occurrence of a process rather than the outcome of that process. The rationale of the qualitative research is based on perceptions and experiences of participants and relates them depending on the manner in which they provide a meaning in their lives. Qualitative research is also referred to as field research; normally the technique entails fieldwork where a researcher collects the data through observation and maintains a record on behaviour and occurrences of subjects studied in their natural surroundings. Qualitative research methods make use of direct observation where the researcher conducts a study on people in their natural setting through observing their interactions and behaviour. Similarly, the method employs in-depth interviews in order to obtain reliable information from participants of a study (Mason, 2006).
However, the researcher uses a set of well formulated questions that require to be asked in a specific order during an interview. In this process, the interview flows just like a normal conversation whereby respondents dictate the direction of the interview. Additionally, the technique employs a participation method where the researcher is able to observe certain behaviours of the population through direct participation and aims at achieving first-hand experience. Also, the qualitative research method uses immersion as one of its techniques of data collection. In this method, researchers immerse themselves into a particular environment and lives with the participants for a reasonable period of time (Newman & Benz, 2006).
Qualitative versus Quantitative Research Methods
Qualitative research techniques are multifaceted; an analysis is supported by processes and implications that are not proved through an experiment or estimated using mathematical measurements. However, a quantitative research concentrates and is based on mathematical concepts and methods, for instance, frequency, statistics, quantity and amount. Therefore, a qualitative research method is a comprehensive, focused and profound process that aims at deriving meaning from social science. Qualitative techniques provide basis for comparison between situations, frameworks, cases over a certain periods of time. The technique does not base its comparison on standardised measures rather it use logic of comparative methods, attempting to understand different dynamics, mechanisms in a holistic manner and to make a comparison at the analysis level (Mason, 2006).
Strengths: Quantitative Research
In quantitative research, a noteworthy strength is that the subject of the research is not affected by the researcher since he/she is not directly involved with the studied subject. Therefore, this is significant as the responses from the participants are not affected by the outside researcher. Nonetheless, the strength has been challenged by other researchers since it is evident that there is no influence that is supposed to take place in relation to research in spite of the technique used (Bamberger, 2000).
Another strength of quantitative research is that the data is always available in publications due to its rules, templates, ubiquity, regulations, as well other available materials that can be obtained by the researchers in a form of copies for the purpose of their research design. This implies that the quantitative technique is consistent in its procedures for researches that are regarded causal-comparative, for instance, quasi-experimental. Similarly, quantitative researches are termed as replicable and usually the tools applied in quantitative research can be employed in conducting other researches as a result of the rigors of creating instruments that effectively determine a particular construct which can be applied in different social or educational contexts while also being valid and reliable (Newman & Benz, 2006).
Strengths: Qualitative Research
Qualitative techniques concentrate on descriptions and narratives rather than giving an outcome they tend to discuss in the process. Therefore, quantitative technique improves the understanding of an individual facilitated by its in-depth investigation of particular groups since its objective is not based on explaining the reality but to gain an understanding of the reality. Given that quantitative methods are not traditional, their histories are comprehensive and provide a firm foundation for quality studies in the qualitative paradigm. Similarly, this research method is valuable for describing multifaceted phenomena since the data is usually gathered in a naturalistic setting. Also, the methodology incorporates local participation, as well as the requirements of the respondents and those who are conversant with the study. It gives the respondents an opportunity to contribute towards investigating the occurrence of phenomena and enable them to know why they occur (Mason, 2006).
Additionally, qualitative technique facilitates the investigation of dynamic processes. Through the investigation of the issue affecting the society, the technique forms a basis for intervention, restoration, as well as reconciliation between the researched and the researcher. Following the investigation of phenomena, the research would impact positively on lives of the research participants (Punch, 2005).
Strengths: Mixed Methods Research
One of the strongest aspects of the mixed research is that it provides a workable solution and bridges the gap between quantitative and qualitative researchers. Mixed methods employ both qualitative and quantitative research methods in order to help the researcher come up with logic and consistent findings on the phenomena. Another noted strength of the mixed research is based on its purpose, which is imperative. Moreover, while using the mixed method the researchers can base their research on a significant theory with an important purpose (Mason, 2006).
Weaknesses: Quantitative Research
A notable weakness of quantitative research, as opposed to qualitative research, is its complex nature, which is difficult to understand and read. The statistical aspects of a quantitative report may be technical and complicated for an average reader to comprehend. This is because the quantitative technique of data collection uses statistics and mathematical aspects in data analysis that cannot be understood and interpreted by everyone. Similarly, the quantitative technique has been criticised especially in the United States since it focuses on statistical significance and does not put into consideration the significance of the matter at hand (Newman & Benz, 2006).
Weaknesses: Qualitative Research
One of the weaknesses of qualitative research as opposed quantitative method is that it is characterised by narrative reports that contain too much information but fail to provide enough evidence. Further, since the researcher is a part of the study, he or she may be biased as he/she may want to support his/her research hypothesis. Therefore, the researcher may tend to only use the information that is of interest to his/her studied phenomena (Punch, 2005).
Similarly, since qualitative study concentrates on a smaller number of populations, it has been criticised for its failure to integrate a wide range of information during the data analysis. Also, it has been observed that qualitative researchers may tend to express personal opinions more than present the actual findings of the study and may opt to be selective in what they present in their reports. In terms of practicability, qualitative research method is a tedious and time consuming process. Data collection is cumbersome, and it has many opportunities for human error as compared to quantitative techniques that involve putting of data into a software program to get accurate and immediate results (Bamberger, 2000).
As a result of its narrative aspect, there is a possibility of errors occurring at every level of qualitative research. For instance, language is significance in this type of techniques as the researcher collects the data through the word of mouth. Therefore, the meaning and the interpretation of the researcher’s words are very important, and if the researcher is not clear or there is a language barrier then the information provided may not be accurate. Another shortcoming associated with qualitative research is that it is difficult to find academic resources that contain published information on qualitative data than it is to find quantitative reports (Newman & Benz, 2006).
Weaknesses: Mixed Methods Research
In terms of mixed methods design, it is essential to note that mixed method designs are not the most appropriate choice for all researches. Therefore, the nature of the matter to be investigated should determine the most suitable approach to be used. In spite of it being suitable for research questions, it may be hard for a single researcher to conduct both qualitative and quantitative researches either simultaneously or in succession. Therefore, for the researcher to be able to apply both methods successfully he/she should be conversant with both methods and he or she should know how to integrate both methods. Similarly, mixed methods research may be time consuming and costly. Therefore, if the researcher wishes to obtain desirable results he or she must conduct the research appropriately; the latter must be planned carefully and the method must be supported by a clear justification that can be defended by the researcher. While mixed methods researchers may provide logic and consistent findings in regard to phenomena, the method may be demanding in the context that it calls for flexibility from the researcher to identify and be adaptive to needs of the phenomena under the study (Mason, 2006).
Ethical Consideration in Sociological Research
In the recent past, social science research has been concerned with ethical issues. This is due to the complexity of its investigations which include cultural, economic, political and legal issues. As a result of this complexity, social science research must consider moral integrity to guarantee the validity and trustworthiness of the research findings and processes. Any research that incorporates human subjects is supposed to show respect for ethical concerns through seeking approval from appropriate institutions that support human ethics before its commencement. Ethical issues have become a fundamental aspect in social research. It is obligatory for every social researcher carrying out a research that involves human subject to seek for ethical clearance. The ethical principles outlined by the National Statement require that all studies carried in relation to human subjects need to be respected, they should reduce harm, must benefit the human subjects, as well as treat all the participants in an equal way (Newman & Benz, 2006). For instance, in Australia, the implementation of the standards of ethics is based on the “2007 National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research”. The framework of voluntary participation demands that people should not be forced to participate in research. Additionally, the framework documents that the procedure of data collection from participants needs informed consent; that implies that prospective research participants must be aware of the processes and risks associated with research and must accord their consent to participate (Punch, 2005).
When interacting with human subjects, ethical research forms an indispensable part. Research is a methodical approach of gathering and analysing the data so as to enhance our understanding on the phenomenon of our interest and communicate our investigation to bigger population. Therefore, researchers have ethical compulsions to consider in their process of inquiry especially when conducting interviews, focus groups, case studies, observations as well as historiography. Hence, the researcher should collect relevant information concerning the studied phenomenon without interfering with freedom, rights or privacy of their respondents. Therefore, a number of ethical concerns must be considered when conducting research related to human subjects. Privacy forms imperative aspects in relation to ethics. Therefore, the researcher is not bound to breach the respondents` privacy. Any information provided by the respondents should be kept confidential by the researcher and should only be used for the purpose of the research. Hence, researchers are supposed to be guided by ethics while collecting data from the respondents and avoid any scenario that would harm or interfere with their privacy (Newman & Benz, 2006).
Similarly, misrepresentation also forms another aspect of ethical concern and implies that a researcher is not supposed to suggest false interest. For instance, the researcher is supposed to restrict him or herself to the area of study, and not suggest one thing but study another one. Similarly, the researcher’s comments or the process of investigation should not be intended to hurt the feelings of the participants or distress them. When conducting a research, researchers should be guided by ethics rather than bias. Therefore, their research should be based and supported by facts as opposed to bias regardless of whether it is purposive or subjective. Hence, any form of bias should be kept aside while conducting a research in order to collect reliable information which will be useful for the research. On the other hand, the aspect of danger of invisibility is another ethical concern. Researchers are not supposed to put their respondents in a compromising situation which may result to danger. Therefore, researchers must be guided by ethics to treat the respondents with respect and avoid any situation that would lead to problems (Punch, 2005).
In conclusion, quantitative and qualitative research techniques have both strengths and weaknesses. However, if researchers can make proper use of these methods based on the value judgement it may result into logic and consistent findings on phenomena under study. However, if a researcher opts to use both methods due to their shortcomings, it leads to a more concrete study as compared to a study where just a single method was applied. The combination aspect of these methods is what creates a fascinating alternative to a singular research technique. Unlike qualitative and quantitative research methods, the mixed methods research is inductive and deductive in nature; it is subjective and objective in nature and in general the method is wholly practical and appropriate to be used by many researchers since it gives them an opportunity to study the area of their interest.
Bamberger, M. (2000). Integrating quantitative and qualitative research in development projects. Washington, DC.
Mason, J. (2006). Qualitative research: Mixing methods in a qualitatively driven way. London: SAGE Publ
Newman, I., & Benz, C. R. (2006). Qualitative-quantitative research methodology: Exploring the interactive continuum. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois Univ. Press
Punch, K. F. (2005). Introduction to social research: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. London: SAGE Publ.