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Qualitative Versus Quantitative Methods in Education Research

Essay Topic: ,

All educational (and other) research falls into two broad methodological categories: qualitative and quantitative (Lincoln & Denzin, 1994; Charles, 1998; Merriam, 1998; Holliday, 2001). “Research that relies on verbal data is called qualitative research, while research that relies on numerical data is called quantitative research [emphasis original]” (Charles, p. 30).

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Various opinions exist, depending on one”s viewpoint, experience, or preference, about which of the two major approaches to education research, qualitative or quantitative, is better.

In my own opinion, neither quantitative research in education nor qualitative research in education is inherently “better” or “worse”; one”s research method must spring from the design and content of the project itself. To decide on one research method or another, based on other reasons, seems to me both artificial and possibly harmful to the project. I believe that both of these methods are inherently, equally useful depending on how and why they are used, and on what is expected from the project by the researcher and others.

According to Charles (1998), the original impetus for any educational research project, either qualitative or quantitative, springs from an initial recognition of a particular problem or concern, perhaps previously unidentified or insufficiently researched: A concern is identified for which there is no ready answer.

The concern may have arisen because of a need, an interest, or a requirement, or a commissioned work, and may have been present for a long time or may have arisen unexpectedly. For example . . . ducators have identified a disturbing pattern of academic achievement in . . . schools-students from certain ethnic groups seem to progress more rapidly than others, despite the educators” efforts to provide equal educational opportunities for all. (p. 10). We would use qualitative research . . . to investigate and describe the after-school activities of . . . high school students newly arrived from El Salvador.

We would try to document carefully who did what, and the data thus obtained would be mostly verbal, acquired through observation, otation, and recording. On the other hand, if we wished to assess the language and mathematics abilities of those same students, we would use quantitative research. . . . administer tests that yield numerical scores we could analyze statistically. (Charles) Qualitative research in education involves using research methods that might include observation; interviewing, or shadowing of research subjects, and/or interpretation of data, from an individual, non-empirical perspective.

Quantitative research, on the other hand, uses methods like statistical surveys; questionnaires with results are broken down by percentages, and interpreted on that basis, and other empirical (rather than interpretative) methods. It is also possible, within some education research projects, to combine qualitative and quantitative research into one project, for example, by doing both statistical surveys of minority high school students on their feelings about access to college-preparatory and advanced placement courses, and personal observations of minority students within their high schools.

I see considerable merit within both educational research methods, and have read a number of both qualitative and quantitative studies that I have found worthwhile and helpful. Therefore, I believe that it depends on one”s project design, and one”s goals for the project, whether one should select either a quantitative or a qualitative research method, or perhaps a combination of both methods, to best achieve one”s goals for an educational research project.

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