Quantitative research is statistical: it has numbers attached to it, like averages, percentages or quotas. Qualitative research uses non-statistical methods. For example, you might perform a study and find that 50% of a district’s students dislike their teachers. The quantity (50%) makes it quantitative research. A follow up qualitative study could interview a small percentage of those students to find out why. The answers are free-form and don’t have numbers associated with them, so that makes them qualitative.
It is probably more common, however, for a researcher to start with a theory that was originally constructed by someone else—giving due credit to the originator of the theory. This is another example of how researchers work collectively to advance scientific knowledge. Once they have identified an existing theory, they might derive a hypothesis from the theory and test it or modify the theory to account for some new phenomenon and then test the modified theory.
At this point, you may be able to derive a hypothesis from one of the theories. At the very least, for each research question you generate, you should ask what each plausible theory implies about the answer to that question. If one of them implies a particular answer, then you may have an interesting hypothesis to test. Burger and colleagues, for example, asked what would happen if a request came from a stranger whom participants had sat next to only briefly, did not interact with, and had no expectation of interacting with in the future. They reasoned that if familiarity created liking, and liking increased people’s tendency to comply (Theory 3), then this situation should still result in increased rates of compliance (which it did). If the question is interesting but no theory implies an answer to it, this might suggest that a new theory needs to be constructed or that existing theories need to be modified in some way. These would make excellent points of discussion in the introduction or discussion of an American Psychological Association (APA) style research report or research presentation.
When you do write your research report or plan your presentation, be aware that there are two basic ways that researchers usually include theory. The first is to raise a research question, answer that question by conducting a new study, and then offer one or more theories (usually more) to explain or interpret the results. This format works well for applied research questions and for research questions that existing theories do not address. The second way is to describe one or more existing theories, derive a hypothesis from one of those theories, test the hypothesis in a new study, and finally reevaluate the theory. This format works well when there is an existing theory that addresses the research question—especially if the resulting hypothesis is surprising or conflicts with a hypothesis derived from a different theory.
Critical social research studies specific oppressive social structures (Harvey, 1990). This type of research attempts to expose problems, evaluate the problems and find their root causes. For example, critical social research could attempt to uncover cases of juvenile crime, racism, or suicide. The main difference between this type of research and other qualitative types is that there is always “a problem” that needs “fixing” going into the study. The research question revolves around an existing, known, problem. Traditional research uncovers problems or issues with interviews, data collection and other QR methods.
DefiningQuantitative and Qualitative MethodsMost attempts to draw clear distinctions between quantitative and qualitativeresearch have floundered in the face of the many counterexamples that canbe found to challenge each categorization.
The demand for integrated research approaches comes from researcherswith a quantitative background (for example, economists working on povertyassessments) as well as from those who have traditionally used more qualitativefield studies (for example, work on resettlement and social assessment).
One of the main disadvantages to qualitative research is that your data usually can’t be generalized outside of your research. For example, if you find that an Asian street gang has a certain hierarchy, then that hierarchy likely exists only within Asian street gangs, and perhaps only in the particular gang you studied.
Sometimes surveys are administered by having a researcher actually pose questions directly to respondents rather than having respondents read the questions on their own. These types of surveys are a form of interviews. We discuss interviews in , where we’ll examine interviews of the survey (or quantitative) type and qualitative interviews as well. Interview methodology differs from survey research in that data are collected via a personal interaction. Because asking people questions in person comes with a set of guidelines and concerns that differ from those associated with asking questions on paper or online, we’ll reserve our discussion of those guidelines and concerns for .
If qualitative research can’t be used to estimate statistics for a , why use it at all? One reason is that while statistics concentrates on specific, narrow areas (for example, population , or ), qualitative analysis paints a wider, complete picture. In addition, phenomena that’s rare receives the same level of attention as more common phenomena. Other advantages include:
Among the very best hypotheses are those that distinguish between competing theories. For example, Norbert Schwarz and his colleagues considered two theories of how people make judgments about themselves, such as how assertive they are (Schwarz et al., 1991). Both theories held that such judgments are based on relevant examples that people bring to mind. However, one theory was that people base their judgments on the of examples they bring to mind and the other was that people base their judgments on how they bring those examples to mind. To test these theories, the researchers asked people to recall either six times when they were assertive (which is easy for most people) or 12 times (which is difficult for most people). Then they asked them to judge their own assertiveness. Note that the number-of-examples theory implies that people who recalled 12 examples should judge themselves to be more assertive because they recalled more examples, but the ease-of-examples theory implies that participants who recalled six examples should judge themselves as more assertive because recalling the examples was easier. Thus the two theories made opposite predictions so that only one of the predictions could be confirmed. The surprising result was that participants who recalled fewer examples judged themselves to be more assertive—providing particularly convincing evidence in favor of the ease-of-retrieval theory over the number-of-examples theory.
But how do researchers derive hypotheses from theories? One way is to generate a research question using the techniques discussed in and then ask whether any theory implies an answer to that question. For example, you might wonder whether expressive writing about positive experiences improves health as much as expressive writing about traumatic experiences. Although this is an interesting question on its own, you might then ask whether the habituation theory—the idea that expressive writing causes people to habituate to negative thoughts and feelings—implies an answer. In this case, it seems clear that if the habituation theory is correct, then expressive writing about positive experiences should not be effective because it would not cause people to habituate to negative thoughts and feelings. A second way to derive hypotheses from theories is to focus on some component of the theory that has not yet been directly observed. For example, a researcher could focus on the process of habituation—perhaps hypothesizing that people should show fewer signs of emotional distress with each new writing session.