An example of a descriptive 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 . 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 [8–10]. 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.