Qualitative research isn’t as scientific as quantitative methods

Posted on November 19, 2011

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Risberg and Hamburg (2003) said that qualitative methods are not as accurate as quantitative research and suggested quantitative was far more scientific. However, we should first look at what qualitative and quantitative methods involve before deciding which is more scientific.

Quantitative looks at numerical data and uses statistical analysis to make sense of the data. Methods of quantitative analysis include questionnaires, observations etc. Qualitative is a non numerical written analysis that provides rich and meaningful data, often gained from methods like semi structured interviews and case studies. Most qualitative research can be converted into quantitative data as well.

Arguably, because qualitative analysis can be easily converted into quantitative, it is scientific. For example a type of qualitative methodology is content analysis which identifies a theme in the answers to an interview or case study and counts how many of each occurs so it can be coded into statistical data. But the categories used must be reliable, as observer bias may come into play, where the researcher selects irrelevant themes or puts answers into categories that others would not.

Another reason to be careful with qualitative methods is because when using interviews and case studies there is a risk of investigator effects. Meaning that the participant could take a disliking to the interviewing researcher, affecting their answers. This wouldn’t occur in simple quantitative questionnaires as there is no face to face interaction, making it more likely to produce reliable data. But also in questionnaires there could be a misinterpretation of the question or lack of clarity because there is no scope for elaboration on questions, so quantitative can also be unreliable. So which is more scientific? You just can’t win.

Despite both having their problems, it is probably wise to keep in mind that if both methods are used in scientific research then they’re probably just as scientific as each other, otherwise they wouldn’t both be used.

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