Postgraduate Tips II

Is qualitative research more difficult to conduct than quantitative research?

Question:

Is qualitative research more difficult to conduct than quantitative research?

Dr Stephen Whitehead

Neither methodology is ‘easy’, they both demand a particular rigour and dedicated approach. The difference is that with quantitative research the researcher can hide behind the data, the statistics.

Not so with qualitative.

Qualitative research, done properly, requires good emotional intelligence, empathy, intuition, insight and the maturity to manage and control the interviewing process, especially when interviewing people who hold powerful/sensitive positions and/or who are well versed in how to handle interviews.

I am not intending to demean quantitative research. For one thing, I couldn’t do it. I just don’t have the head for figures and stats which such a methodology requires.

But if you are the sort of researcher who seeks to get behind the statistics and into the very heart of the subject - the subjectivity and identity construct of the person(s) you are interviewing, then qualitative is the only way to go and for that you’ll need the skill set I’ve identified above.

If you are producing qualitative research, a thesis based on this methodology, then you’ll be required to add reflective insights into how the process of undertaking the research felt for you. Not just how you got the data, but the felt experience of doing this research.

That is why you cannot hide in qualitative research.

You need to declare yourself in the research process from the outset. You are part of the research for the simple reason that it is your subjectivity and analysis which is uncovering ‘reality’.

What determines which methodology is best for your research?

Answer: the key research questions, and these directly relate to the thesis aims and objectives.

If you have a good head for statistics then frame your thesis around questions which can be ‘answered’ via quantitative methods. If you hate stats and prefer nuance, depth and insight, go for qualitative methods.

Some brave folk do both – and in the same study.

Dr Stephen Whitehead


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