Research and Content Analysis

Fig. 1.1

An example of a descriptive study


Fig. 1.2

An example of an exploratory study


Fig. 1.3

An example of a predictive study

1.2 Comparison Between Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Philosophy underlies research. It is the foundation of research and determines studies’ epistemology, ontology and methodology [5]. Quantitative methods are based on a positivist research philosophy whereas qualitative approaches are based on a naturalistic research philosophy. An assumption of positivist philosophy is that reality is fixed, directly measurable, and can be understood, i.e., there is just one truth and one reality. In contrast, naturalistic researchers assume that reality changes and can only be understood indirectly through the interpretation of people.

The different philosophical bases have also led to divergent ontological viewpoints, i.e., the way that reality is considered in a research approach. Quantitative research is characterised by objectivism while qualitative research is constructivist, with the inherent assumption that reality is the product of social processes. Epistemology describes how researchers know what they know (in terms of the possibilities, nature, sources and limitations of knowledge in the field of study). Methodology refers to the kinds of research instruments and frameworks that will be applied in a study. In research rooted in positivist philosophy, quantitative methods are used, i.e., methods capable of ‘objectively’ measuring variables and testing hypotheses. Thus, data collection techniques are applied that provide ‘hard data’: numbers that will be used to report results in quantitative form [6, 7]. In contrast, in qualitative research open data or descriptions of people’s experiences and perspectives are analysed [810]. Qualitative methods can be applied to analyse all types of written material to provide answers to diverse types of research questions, which cannot be addressed simply by measuring physical phenomena (although such measurements may provide important complementary information).

1.3 Quantitative and Qualitative Research Processes

Qualitative and quantitative research have different characteristics because they are based on distinct philosophies. For example, a qualitative study (inductive research) is used when a researcher does not have knowledge—or has partial, unstructured and/or insufficient knowledge—about a certain phenomenon [4, 11, 12]. This type of research can also be used to study a certain concept, theory or practice from a new perspective. In contrast, quantitative research has a strong theoretical background and requires the researcher to set study questions and hypotheses. The purpose of qualitative research is to describe or explore human experiences and perspectives. It is important to note that the purpose will never be the explanation or prediction of a phenomenon, as qualitative research does not possess the tools necessary to make connections between concepts. Qualitative methods are used to create concepts, even if certain scholars have argued that the use of axial coding within the grounded theory approach can identify connections between concepts. This is a key difference between qualitative and quantitative research, as quantitative studies are undertaken to explain and/or predict events by analysing data with statistical methods. A further goal of qualitative research is to avoid generalising the findings, and it is important to note that considering the transferability of research results (see Chap. 5) is not the same as generalisation. This is a clear distinction from quantitative research, as quantitative methods are used to produce knowledge that can be generalised.

Quantitative and qualitative studies also have distinct research processes (Figs. 1.4 and 1.5). Both types of studies have a starting point. When a researcher begins a quantitative study (see Fig. 1.4), they will consider earlier knowledge, i.e., previously published data or earlier theories. For this reason, every good quantitative study will include a comprehensive literature review, which is preceded by a careful and defined literature search. The starting point for qualitative research (see Fig. 1.5), on the other hand, can just be an idea that a scholar would like to study. The theoretical background can be very weak and there may not be any previous literature that supports the concept under study. It is important to emphasise that the open, or theoretically free, starting point requires an experienced researcher. In quantitative research (Fig. 1.4), the study questions and hypotheses are based on a theoretical framework while objective measurements are based on earlier knowledge. In contrast, the research questions in a qualitative study (Fig. 1.5) are based on the starting point of research but do not include a hypothesis. Furthermore, the data collection methods used in qualitative research are open or half-structured, but never structured. As such, they can span interviews, observations or any written material (diary entries, meeting minutes or other documents). The research questions in a qualitative study can also be changed during the research process. For example, one previous qualitative study was conducted to assess how the renovation of an intensive care unit environment—which took a lot of money and effort—affected people’s perceptions of the environment. The researcher set the research question as: what are next of kind of experiences of the intensive care unit environment? However, when she started her data collection and open interviews, she realised that participants were unable to talk about the intensive care unit environment. They might answer “it is nice but my husband is seriously ill and I do not know whether he will survive.” The researcher realised that the participants were unable to concentrate on the environment around them because they were more concerned with their loved ones’ health. After interviewing six participants, she realised that she was not getting answers to her research question, but rather answers to the question: what are your experiences when your relative/loved one is in the intensive care unit as a patient? As a result, she modified her research question. This approach is allowed in qualitative research and happens often when the study has an open starting point and open data collection method. As such, qualitative research guidelines advise researchers to analyse the data close to the time of data collection so they have the possibility to revise their research question(s). In a quantitative study, the researcher will make conclusions based on the results, just as in qualitative research. The researcher will strive to discuss the presented research in light of what has been previously published in both qualitative and quantitative studies; however, this is not always possible in qualitative research as there may not be a theoretical framework—or any previous knowledge—of the studied concept.


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Apr 18, 2020 | Posted by in NURSING | Comments Off on Research and Content Analysis

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