To be honest, before Tracey’s lectures I didn’t really know much about qualitative research and what it involves. I found the lectures and seminars so useful over the past two weeks.
Qualitative methods are a way of escaping the mayhem of numbers of statistics. Qualitative methods attempt to explain behaviour in a detailed way and concentrates on evaluating individual experiences. These methods are used to analyse text, speech or conversations. Data collection generally takes place in the natural setting not a testing room or laboratory. Qualitative methods are a flexible way to approach data which means that they are helpful in generating theories. Qualitative methods are thought to be an easy way out from the statistics and maths but people do not always realise how difficult and time consuming it can be. For a fifteen minute interview it would take two hours to transcribe. Transcribing is a tough task as it is. I have a little bit of expensive with transcription codes from doing English A level so I know even at that level it is difficult. There are many ways to collect data in qualitative research, such as; interviews, focus groups and observation. Interviews can be structured or semi structured. Semi structured interviews are more flexible and allow the conversation to move to what the participant wants to talk about but the researcher may have probe questions to move the interview back to what the researcher is looking for. Interviews can be difficult as the researcher needs to be an active listener. Focus groups are like a form of interview but in a group. There will be a moderator with a group of participants. These focus groups generate rich data through group interaction. They do follow a structure set by the moderator but can alter depending on group discussion but like with an interview the moderator can pull it back on topic. Also it is the moderator’s responsibility to ensure all members of the group play a part in the discussion. Focus groups are useful for generating broad data themes. Observations are another form of data collection with qualitative research. Observations can be expensive and time consuming. They aim to describe and explain social behaviours from the perspective of the participants within the context as they are generally conducted within normal situations. Each type of data collection is more suited to certain situations.
Quantitative methods are seen as more scientific because of the way the data is approached. It is a more controlled process in all stages (eg. Data collection and analysis). The setting is also more controlled as they are commonly conducted in labs. Quantitative methods apply numbers to variables and constructs in order to statistically analyse them afterwards. This is a key reason why quantitative methods are considered to be more scientific because generally there is a more concrete answer, whereas, with qualitative research it is very much down to the researcher’s judgement and interpretation. Another reason why quantitative research is considered to be more scientific is because the experiments are replicable because the methods are very structured. Qualitative methods are very flexible so experiences with this kind of research are more of a one off. The write up of the data in quantitative and qualitative research is similar. For a qualitative research write up it is essential that the research question is specified (as it is in quantitative research). It is also essential to clearly explain which type of data collection was used and the method of transcription. Analysis of data needs to be clearly explained in both types of research, however, in qualitative research you have to ensure you have explained why you have used the method you have used.
A good way to get in depth research that is still considered very much scientific is to use half way house methods which combine both quantitative and qualitative methods.
Qualitative methods are increasingly becoming more scientific over time. Quality control within a qualitative research is essential to ensure an experiment steps into the scientific world and does not float around in a sea of opinions. Quality control refers to the reliability and validity of the experiment. In other words are the measures stable over time and to what extent that something measures what it is intended to measure.
I can understand why people say that qualitative methods are less scientific than quantitative methods, however, I believe qualitative methods is more descriptive and could be more beneficial in discovering how people feel and cope in various situations. I also personally find qualitative methods more interesting but admittedly it sounds like a mammoth amount of work but well worth it in the end. This amount of work, to me, justifies that it should be classified as scientific as there is definitely a lengthy process in data collection, analysis and evaluation in qualitative research. These are similar steps as in quantitative research, I believe the main difference is that in qualitative research there is not a right or wrong answer (it is down to individual interpretation) whereas in quantitative there is a more clear cut answer. Another key difference is that numbers are not used in qualitative research, however, in a half-way house qualitative research and data can be quantified to be analysed in a quantitative way suggesting that it must be scientific if it can be analysed in the same way.