A Qualitative Approach Is More than Just a Different Research Method: A Review of Its Fundamental
Assumptions and Applicat...
once considered soft by the empirical and quantitative research methods stands as an equally significant
approach.
The rea...
The first assumption is that this world and the relationships that are occurring in it cannot be fully
explained by a scie...
Basic Methods
This paper is going to simply explain the methods that fall into the category of a qualitative approach.
The...
the data collected is as relevant and as valid as possible. However, within the unstructured interview
especially, the par...
quickly and as efficiently as possible. Such a technique can be very difficult to conduct but the results
obtained for nat...
This section is going to analyze the methods incorporated by the qualitative approaches and discuss the
advantages and dis...
Next are the interviews, which are conducted to extract information. This information is usually
extracted by an authority...
Boxill, Chambers and Wint (1997) says that there are both advantages and disadvantages to qualitative
research. Advantages...
i) They rely primarily on the subjective assessment in data collection phase. This can lead to
serious flaws and biases in...
quantities and where the research authority of the former is in the hands of the participant and that
they can shape the r...
References
Boxill, I., Maueen, C. and Wint, E. (1997). Introduction to Social Research. 1st
Ed.West Indies: Canoe
Press.
D...
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A Qualitative Approach Is More than Just a Different Research Method: A Review of Its Fundamental Assumptions and Application in the Education Research

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The various research methods that are in utility today have actually faced a great degree of evolution over the years. Research today is an indispensible tool for further development and progress and it is interesting to note that this tool is under the phase of constant progress and development as well. In fact, it would not hurt to say that research is a tool which can be further divided in various sections or parts as per the requirement of the situation. What kind of research is undertaken then decides the right kind of research tools that need to be used. For example, if a correlation or a calculated causation effect needs to be analyzed, then a quantitative experiment or an observation would be utilized. However, if the research is about the opinion of the people and their behaviors, then the right approach would be to conduct a qualitative research.

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A Qualitative Approach Is More than Just a Different Research Method: A Review of Its Fundamental Assumptions and Application in the Education Research

  1. 1. A Qualitative Approach Is More than Just a Different Research Method: A Review of Its Fundamental Assumptions and Application in the Education Research Introduction The various research methods that are in utility today have actually faced a great degree of evolution over the years. Research today is an indispensible tool for further development and progress and it is interesting to note that this tool is under the phase of constant progress and development as well. In fact, it would not hurt to say that research is a tool which can be further divided in various sections or parts as per the requirement of the situation. What kind of research is undertaken then decides the right kind of research tools that need to be used. For example, if a correlation or a calculated causation effect needs to be analyzed, then a quantitative experiment or an observation would be utilized. However, if the research is about the opinion of the people and their behaviors, then the right approach would be to conduct a qualitative research. If the history of the qualitative approach needs to be discussed then, Flick (2009) writes that the qualitative research has actually found its way to the broad daylight of educational research through psychology and other social sciences. Wundt in 1928 was one of the first to use a descriptive method alongside the traditional experimental methods in his folk psychology (Flick, 2009) and that roughly at the same time, an argument between a more graphic conception of science which was oriented towards induction and case studies, and an empirical and statistical approach began in German sociology. After wards, the descriptive measures of research started being utilized in the American and Polish sociology and biology. It was not until 1970s however, that the qualitative methods found themselves to have an equally important position in the research methods as the quantitative methods. Delyser and Herbert (2010) note that in a particular sense the history of the qualitative approach to research can be traced in geography with the publication of first book that explicitly focused on geography. Then as the extent of social sciences progressed, the use of the qualitative research also became more frequent. As of today, qualitative approach to research is utilized in woman studies, consumer behavior, marketing, psychology, sociology and various other fields. Today the qualitative approach to research which was
  2. 2. once considered soft by the empirical and quantitative research methods stands as an equally significant approach. The reason for personal interest in the qualitative approach are many however, the one that is particularly significant for me is the fact that the qualitative approach to research is multi dimensional. Unlike a direct correlation or causation relationship between a numbers of predefined variables, a qualitative approach makes it possible for the researcher to explore the avenues of reality that are not visible to bare eye. The depth that the qualitative approach gives to any case being studied does not have a second. This does not by anyway mean that the importance of the empirical and quantitative approaches have been undermined however. Principles of the Qualitative Approach Flick (2009) says that, “The qualitative research is oriented towards analyzing concrete cases in their temporal and local particularity and starting from people’s expression and activities in their local contexts. Therefore, qualitative research is in a position to design ways for social sciences, psychology, and other fields to make concrete the tendencies to transform them into research programs and to maintain the necessary flexibility towards their objects and tasks.” There are some basic features that separate the quantitative approach of research conduction from the qualitative one. This section then is going to talk about the main features of the qualitative research and then compare it briefly with the quantitative approach. The idea of this section is not to pass a judgment as to which approach is better than the other. Instead this section of the paper is going to present the facts of the qualitative approach as to what is being assumed by the researcher when he or she is choosing a qualitative approach for a particular project rather than a quantitative one, what methods qualify as being the part of the qualitative approach and finally, what are the basic methods for analyzing the results gathered by the approach of research under question. Assumptions The first aspect of this section as mentioned above will be the assumptions that are undertaken by the researcher when he or she is adopting the qualitative approach.
  3. 3. The first assumption is that this world and the relationships that are occurring in it cannot be fully explained by a scientific, quantitative and empirical approach. The idea behind this is that fact that there are variables that affect a certain occurrence or a certain happening in this universe which cannot be measured. For example, the help nature of a human being cannot be scientifically or quantitatively be argued that a particular amount of tragedy faced by an individual Y would lead to a particular amount of helping behavior in the individual X. The actuality goes much deeper than just the surface relationships and starting from the gender of the two individuals to the previous life experiences, everything can and does play a role in the helping behavior and the help taking behavior of the two individuals. For a more scientific example then, the anatomy of the human body needs a qualitative explanation and cannot always be mathematized. Thus, the first assumption that a qualitative researcher is making is that the world has more depth to its actuality then mere figures and amounts. The second assumption is that probability of a relationship or an incidence and its dynamic nature plays a more important role in shaping the actuality and the reliability of the research results that it is usually considered to play. Where the quantitative approach tries to explain the probability and the dynamic nature through mathematical figures, the individual importance of each occurrence or relationship is compromised. This then leads us to the third assumption taken by the researcher focusing on the quantitative research. This third assumption is that the researcher thinks that individual importance of each case that is being studied is more than or equal to the importance of generalizability. Whereas the mathematical equations and the quantitative approach tends to generalize the forecasting and the analysis for the entire assumed population, the qualitative approach tends to put more emphasis on the case under consideration before making any generalizations or forecasting. Moreover, as already mentioned above, the element of probability is considered intangible and in most cases non measurable by the qualitative approach takers and thus is only talked about in words instead of figures. Finally and obviously, the assumption that a researcher is making, or the belief that he or she has while adopting a qualitative approach is that words play a more important and significant role in explaining a particular phenomena than amounts and figures. The quantitative approach adopters than obviously consider this to be a false belief and consider the power of figures and mathematical equations to be able to better explain a phenomenon.
  4. 4. Basic Methods This paper is going to simply explain the methods that fall into the category of a qualitative approach. The qualitative method of researching falls into the interpretivist philosophy which considers the social reality to not be a part of just the scientific paradigm or a patchwork of relationship between a number of variables. In fact the this philosophy holds that the reality is actually the product of a number of social processes and relationships between individuals. The methods used by qualitative research then are as follows: i) Ethnography ii) Life history iii) Naturalistic inquiry and iv) Narrative inquiry v) Covert observations Ritz and Ryan (2009) note ethnography to be initially developed under anthropology in the twentieth century and was concerned about the documentation of the way of living of people in their natural environment. The idea was to study in depth the actions, norms and practices of the people under the natural conditions and not under the conditions that were created by the researcher like in the case of experimentation. For this purpose, the following methods are adopted in ethnography for data collection for research purposes. i) Unstructured/ structured interviews ii) Case studies iii) Participant observations Looking at the methods stated above then, one can easily deduce that the qualitative approach to a research is more about the participants and the people than the researcher himself. The research through these methods is encouraged to keep his or her subjectivity and pressures away from the data that is being collected. Covert observations than hold to be one of the greatest assets of the qualitative approach even though they tend to raise ethical dilemmas, which will be discussed later in the paper. Henceforth, the discussion will take one method of data collection at a time. The first method then is interview. In this, the researcher carefully plans the focus and the aim of the research and the interview and the questions that are asked are just to provide a rough direction to the interview to make sure that
  5. 5. the data collected is as relevant and as valid as possible. However, within the unstructured interview especially, the participant has a significant amount of authority over the results of the research which are usually in the hands of the researcher in a more structured and quantitative approach. The idea behind giving this much importance to the participant is to let him or her speak to such an extent that the details and the main points can be plucked out of it. The more he or she opens up and tries to focus on the topic through details, the more depth and insight the researcher than gets of the social reality. The second method of qualitative data collection is the case studies. Dul and Hak (2007) say that case study research is presented by some as a strictly exploratory research strategy in which nothing can be proven, most often by referring to the alleged impossibility to generalize. For a more precise definition Dul and Hak (2007) quotes Yin (2003) to say that, “A case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real life context, especially when the boundaries between object of study and context are not clearly evident. It copes with the technically distinctive situation in which there will be many more variables of interest than data points, and as one result relies on multiple sources of evidence, with data needing to converge on a triangulating fashion, and as another results benefits from the prior development of theoretical proposition to guide data collection and analysis.” In simple terms, a case study is the most descriptive study that can be conducted on a particular object in a particular time. Obviously the past trends and facts can be studied and thus be utilized to reach inferences however, a case study does not seek to reach generalizations and that that part is left to the subjectivity of the reader. In a participant observation, the researcher becomes the part of the social group that is being researched. Mostly, a participant observation is done is study the behaviors and norms of a particular social group, given a particular social setting in a particular time. The findings of these observations then can be generalized to similar scenarios if they exist anywhere else in the world. The point of the participant observation is to minimize the demand characteristics and modified behaviors to surface because of the actual participants knowing that a research is being conducted upon them. Moreover, when the research becomes the participant of the research itself, then the collection of the data and the modification in the behavior of the research itself have to be recorded. In this, memory also plays a major role in the accuracy of the data being collected. This means that since the researcher (he or she) may be subject to a modification of beliefs and outlook, everything that happens needs to be stated as
  6. 6. quickly and as efficiently as possible. Such a technique can be very difficult to conduct but the results obtained for naturalistic observations such as this cannot be compared to or found by any quantitative technique. Coming from ethnography then, is the method of life history in the qualitative methods of research. Under this, the researcher may find out through scientific means the life history about a particular reality or might use methods that have been mentioned above. An example of the scientific research under life history might be studying of the ancient civilizations where through carbon dating, and other tests, the features of an object can be understood and then reality be inferred from it. Another way can be to conduct interviews and case studies regarding the topic to understand in depth the reality. Of the naturalistic observation, participant observation is a category. Another category of participant observation is the covert/overt observations. In the covert observation, the researcher either uses deception or hidden information collecting tools such as video cameras or microphones. Even though such measures do raise considerable amounts of ethical concerns, they are very useful when it comes to collecting data that is closest to the reality of a social situation. The research adopting a qualitative research then, as evident from the techniques mentioned above has a clear preference for words rather than the figures. The qualitative approach considers the naturalist observations of data to be of more importance than the data that is artificially created in a science lab. The reasons for this have been mentioned in the assumptions of the section. The basic features of the qualitative research are that it is focused more on understanding the complex realities through observation and description rather than through mathematical equations or statement of quantities. Using qualitative approaches in educational research As mentioned in the previous section, a number of qualitative techniques are available today for the researcher to utilize and establish findings of a social or a universal reality. The methods that form the part of the qualitative approaches have been named and briefly explained in the previous section. This section is now going to talk about the uses of the qualitative techniques in further detail and especially with respect to the educational researchers. Educational researches form an integral part of the development process of a nation and therefore, the research tools used for this purpose need to be picked extremely carefully.
  7. 7. This section is going to analyze the methods incorporated by the qualitative approaches and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in as much detail as possible owing to the limited word space and limited time. The benefit of organizing the methods of the qualitative approaches in its advantages and disadvantages is that a researcher reading this paper then will be able to make a calculated judgment about what method he or she should use for his or her study. Moreover, this will also allow me to understand the debate between the quantitative and qualitative approaches better. The starting is going to be with the naturalistic observations. As mentioned earlier and as implied by the term itself, in a naturalistic observation, a researcher observes the reality that is naturally occurring. This means that the situation that is occurring or the reality that exists is not because of any stimulus given into the situation by the researcher like in the case of a controlled scientific experiment. The first and the foremost criticism on the qualitative approaches then comes through this way and considers the fact that qualitative approaches are strictly stuck to the realities and stimuli that exist in the society today and that they do not consider the possibilities of new stimulus. Simply stating, the criticism is that the qualitative approaches are not scientific enough to be relied upon. To a very large extent, the criticism is true and thus there holds to be a disadvantage for the researchers and those who follow the results. The disadvantage being clearly stated out is that the results of a quantitative approach are not as reliable and sure as those of a scientific research. There is a guarantee that given a certain set of assumptions that the scientific researcher takes and then produces a result, the same results will reproduce as long as the same assumptions and conditions hold. Those who support the qualitative approaches then say precisely that since there is no guarantee of the assumptions being taken to hold, as far as the social reality is concerned, there is then no guarantee that the results of the scientific findings are generalizable and credible. As far as the advantages of a naturalistic observation are concerned however, the first holds that there is no other method to take the place of naturalistic observation when it comes to collecting the amount and quality of data that can be collected through naturalistic observation. The first reason is that the researcher is solely observing with the maximum focus being placed on the originality of participant behaviors and beliefs. The researcher does not provide a stimulus because he or she is interested in finding out what the truths in the actual settings are. Thus, as far as the depth and originality of data is concerned, there is no parallel of naturalistic observations (holding true especially for the sociological and psychological studies in the field of education).
  8. 8. Next are the interviews, which are conducted to extract information. This information is usually extracted by an authority on the topic or by a person who has been affected by a particular reality in the society. The advantage of conducting an unstructured interview is obviously the amount of data that can be retrieved and that otherwise in not possible to be retrieved. The researcher through an unstructured interview gives a chance to the participant to open up and give up as much information as possible. Especially in the cases of psychological studies and those of sociological realities and topics such as women rights, such unstructured “talks” are of significant importance. One advantages of this is that the participant eases in his or her position and this greatly minimizes the demand characteristics or the sociological pressures that the participant might be facing and thus keeping the truth from the researcher. As the truth opens up then, it becomes increasing helpful for the researcher who can afterwards separate the relevant information from the irrelevant one. One notion then exists that no information that is retrieved out of a social reality is irrelevant and especially in the cases of topic such as domestic violence and child abuse, all the information that is extracted has some implication or the other. The disadvantages of the unstructured interviews are also hidden in the advantage of them. The separation of the relevant information from the irrelevant one can sometimes be of great difficulty. Moreover, once the researcher has collected all the information (both relevant and irrelevant) and its time to separate the important from the unimportant, the subjectivity of the researcher comes into play. Even though the researcher is considered to be a learned and expert person, subjectivity always does exist when it comes to choosing between two things. And even with the utmost care, the probability that the relevant information would be wasted always exists. The next disadvantage of qualitative measures is the ethical issues that come into play because of the technique of data collection. If some social situations, letting the participants know of the true intentions of the research would bias the results and therefore deception has to be practiced. However, deception turns out to be a major ethical constraint which might mar the overall value of the research. Moreover, in participant observations, confidentiality turns out to be a major ethical constraint as well. When a researcher covertly enters a social group and deceives those who are already present, a major ethical issue emerges as it is, leaving confidentiality aside. However, when the researcher starts knowing personal information, usable or not for the research purposes, the confidentiality and privacy to which every human being has a right to is sacrificed.
  9. 9. Boxill, Chambers and Wint (1997) says that there are both advantages and disadvantages to qualitative research. Advantages of the qualitative research approach are as follows: i) It allows for an in depth assessment of issues being researched. Such depth is not approachable by the traditional quantitative researcher especially when it comes to social realities and social sciences. ii) It allows for investigation of highly sensitive issues. Issues such as abuse, violence and discrimination cannot be studied quantitatively and even if the quantitative researchers could come up with a as to study these issues through numerical explanations, it would not only be extremely rude and insensitive to do so but would also yield very less information as compared to the one that might be retried through a descriptive analysis. iii) It allows for comprehensive subjective evaluation based in interpersonal interaction over an extended period. Interpersonal interaction and terminologies such as sentiments, emotions, desires and weaknesses have little or no space in the scientific researches unless these are tangibly and numerically measurable. For example, IQs are regarded as good measures for the intelligence of a person, however whereas as nature debate argues that intelligence in inborn, IQs can actually be improved by taking the same test, or similar tests more than once. Thus, even though useful to a very large extent, quantitative measure fail to explain some concepts which cannot be directly measured. iv) The qualitative approach can be moderated regarding location, schedule, content, pace and continuity, therefore allows for greater flexibility. v) Qualitative approaches can be applied to a number of fields of investigation. There are no bounds as to how much data can be collected through observations and how many fields can be targeted. As big is the universe, the process of qualitative research might never end. vi) Qualitative approaches can stand on their own and form a complete data gathering techniques, or can be used at different phases of investigation vii) Qualitative approaches allow for concurrent observation by interested parties with input where applicable. viii) qualitative approaches can often be implemented without multiple human resources Boxill, Chambers and Wint (1997) then mention the disadvantages of the qualitative approaches as follows:
  10. 10. i) They rely primarily on the subjective assessment in data collection phase. This can lead to serious flaws and biases in the overall results of the data which the quantitative approach easily avoids since numbers and quantities cannot technically be stated in a biased state. ii) they allow only limited extrapolation to the general population. Finding the generalizability for the overall population is one of the core aims of conducting a research in the first place which the utilization of qualitative techniques does not incorporate. It is a good thing that each individual entity holds specific importance when it comes to the qualitative research however, the importance of making a generalized conclusion cannot be overlooked. The point then remains that an in depth study of one person, which cannot be generalized to the overall society, is of very little practical value. iii) Qualitative approaches utilize much smaller unites than quantitative techniques iv) They seem deceptively easy to organize, implement and analyze however this can lead to major misunderstandings. Just observing and then reporting the facts may seem to be an easy job however, the subjective analysis of the situations without letting the personal biases come in can not only be difficult but also very tiring. v) Qualitative approaches can be costly on a per capita basis. vi) Qualitative approaches have relative lack of formal theoretical and operational guidelines, which limit the respectability, afforded its methods and are not yet well known (or accepted) as a bona fide, formal research technique by the wider scientific community. There is and should be no doubt about the fact that scientific research and experimentation stills holds a very important position in the educational and research world and therefore even to substantiate some qualitative results, researchers seek to use numbers and empirical evidence. Conclusion The paper focused on the principles, assumptions and the advantages and disadvantages of the qualitative research methods. Compared to the traditional scientific research methods, qualitative approaches are relatively new in nature and in time line and even though they were in existence for a very long time, they have formally been included as a part of the research methodologies around the 1970s. The basic difference between a qualitative approach and a quantitative one is that where the former is about describing and explaining in words, the latter believes in the usage of numbers and
  11. 11. quantities and where the research authority of the former is in the hands of the participant and that they can shape the research to whatever direction they choose (consciously or unconsciously) to, the latter derives authority and direction from the researcher him or herself. As far as the advantages and the disadvantages of the qualitative approaches are concerned, it is to say that they are fit for the requirements and thus should be used accordingly. In the complex world that has now developed, it is impossible to conduct a research without incorporating the benefits of both the types of research approaches into the conduction. By finding the perfect complementing combination of the two can the research obtain the maximum value of the research and also provide the maximum value to the society. Nonetheless, a major disadvantage of the usage of qualitative approaches is that they are subject to researcher’s biases and prejudices because it is up to the researcher to interpret and analyze the data. Both are subject to the personal mindset of the researcher. And then again, in case of discussion, there is a probability of the original information being distorted. But, assuming that the researcher while conducting the research can separate the personal beliefs and mindsets from the analysis of the research qualitative approaches can lead to greater originality of the research considering the fact that the qualitative approaches do not allow for (or allow very little of) external or artificial stimulus. The aim is to study mostly the natural settings and the societies that exist within them. This is why the interview conducted in a quantitative research is well structured and properly directed (researcher given direction) and the qualitative research is unstructured so as to allow maximum flexibility for the participant to speak (a participant given direction). Finally, the difference between the quantitative and the qualitative approach is the fact the in the former both the physical and the mental distance of the researcher from the setting and the participant is great whereas in the latter, the research is considerably close and thus have a stronger social role to play. The conclusion however cannot be reached as to which method is better than the other. The choice of the type of research tools is dependent on the aspect that is being researched upon and the results that are expected to be achieved. For a physics study of light or speed, a qualitative analysis would make no sense and similarly, for a case of peer pressure, quantitative approach might be absurd.
  12. 12. References Boxill, I., Maueen, C. and Wint, E. (1997). Introduction to Social Research. 1st Ed.West Indies: Canoe Press. DeLyser, D. and Herbert, S. (2010). The SAGE handbook of qualitative geography. 1st Ed. California: SAGE Publishers. Dul, J. and Hak, T. (2007). Case Study methodology in Business Research. 1st Ed. UK: Elsevier. Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to the qualitative approach. 4th Ed. California: SAGE Publishers.

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