Discuss the main differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection and analysis in management research. Your answer should make reference to the philosophical assumptions which underpin these methodological approaches. Introduction Whenever a decision is made to undertake a piece of research a method for conducting the study is required. In scientific research the techniques typically used for data collection and analysis are those which allow the evaluation of data to test a predetermined hypothesis (Zikmund, 2000).
An example of this is a laboratory-based experiment where the researcher can be in full control of all the variables involved and can therefore be sure that any change in the phenomena under investigation is a direct result of an identified and controlled stimulus. In marketing research however, which is usually reliant on some aspect of human influence, it has been proposed that such a uniform, rigid approach is not appropriate: “There is never a single, perfect research design that is the best for all marketing research projects, or even a specific type of marketing research task. (Malhotra and Birks, 2000: p. 70) The aim of this assignment is to critically evaluate the quantitative and qualitative approaches to research, specifically focusing on the marketing perspective. To do this, consideration is firstly given to the basic differences between the qualitative and quantitative approaches, considering the seemingly opposing theoretical paradigms from which they have originated. Subsequently the development of the marketing discipline is examined with a specific focus on how and why different research methods have been employed in the field. Attention is Page 1 of 1 iven to the need for marketing to address both the issue of verifying existing hypotheses, and the requirement to develop new theory. As there appears to be no ideal research method for use in marketing it would seem that what is important is being critically aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches available. Finally, therefore, the notion of pluralism, or methodological triangulation, is explored as such an approach is often used to exploit the strengths and minimise weaknesses in research design through the combination of two or more research methods, often from opposing theoretical paradigms.
Basic differences between quantitative and qualitative research Qualitative research can be defined as: “…the collection, analysis and interpretation of data that cannot be meaningfully quantified, that is, summarised in the form of numbers. ” (Parasuraman et al, 2004: p. 195) Whereas quantitative research can be defined as: “…the collection of data that involves larger, more representative respondent samples and the numerical calculation of results. ” (Parasuraman et al, 2004: p. 195)
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Historically it has been considered that science based disciplines such as mathematics and physics are especially suited to quantitative research methods. Such methods are considered to be objective and lead to numerical, absolute outcomes, which can be verified through repetition and further testing (Zikmund, 2000); in other words the knowledge is external to the knower (Milliken, 2001), and therefore is available be found by whoever conducts the necessary research (Cunningham, 1999).
This view of natural science can be considered to fit within the positivist paradigm, where a paradigm can be thought of as theoretical framework for looking at a situation and a basis upon which phenomena can be analysed and interpreted Page 2 of 2 (Gill and Johnson, 2002). Kuhn (1970) supports the need for paradigms on the basis that they bind disciplines together, and without them there would be no valid position from which to undertake research. Deshpande (1983) suggests that the acceptance of a particular theoretical aradigm is typically followed by a choice of a specific set of research methods that appear to fit within it. This is perhaps exemplified by the significant use of laboratory experiments in pure scientific disciplines. Within the social sciences however there has been a long-standing debate surrounding which philosophical standpoint, or paradigm, it is appropriate for research methods to be derived from (Milliken, 2001). Cohen et al (2000) consider there to be two major, apparently contradictory, views relating to how research should be conducted within social science.
The first aligns social science with natural science and therefore implies that research in the field should be directed towards the search for universal laws which regulate individual social behaviour. The second focuses on the human element of social science research, with recognition of the notion that people are not inanimate objects and therefore cannot be treated as such. Aligning social science with natural science arguably implies that data collection and analysis is best performed from a positivist standpoint.
As research methods favoured by positivists tend towards those reliant on quantification (Gill and Johnson, 2002), it would follow that in management research the focus should be on quantitative research methods. Research conducted from the positivist viewpoint is usually considered to be reductionist in nature, and is often termed hypothetico-deductive, as it aims to derive a result in relation to a predefined hypothesis (Zikmund, 2000).
Conversely, an approach to research which embraces human individuality and places emphasis on how people perceive and give meaning to their own Page 3 of 3 socially created world, can be considered constructivist (Hunt, 1994), and phenomenological (Gill and Johnson, 2002). The focus from this standpoint is therefore on understanding, interpreting and building theory rather than objectively testing, deducing and verifying an existing hypothesis. Such an approach can be considered inductive in nature and therefore favours the adoption of qualitative research methods. ollows: “…the most telling and fundamental distinction between the paradigms is on the dimension of verification versus discovery…quantitative methods have been developed most directly for the task of verifying or confirming theories and…qualitative methods were purposely developed for the task of discovering or generating theories. ” (Reichardt and Cook, 1979: cited in Deshpande, 1983: p. 105) This can be explained further as At the extreme of the inductive spectrum lies the concept of grounded theory developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967).
Here the researcher builds theory based entirely on the data obtained in a particular study without the influence of predetermined knowledge or preconceived hypotheses. Taking deduction to the extreme hypotheses can only ever be tested, raising the question of how it is possible to obtain a hypothesis in the first place. This presents a number of dilemmas with regard to research in the field of management, including whether it is more appropriate to test existing hypotheses or to develop new theory.
The theory-testing versus theory-generation debate is particularly significant in the field of marketing as, due to the relative youth of the discipline, marketers are faced with the challenge of both obtaining and maintaining respect and credibility for the work that has been done so far (Bartels, 1983); and continuing to generate theory needed to develop a coherent, holistic body of knowledge which will clear up marketing’s existing “theory mess” (Gummesson, 2002: p. 349). Page 4 of 4
Development of research in the field of marketing The discipline of marketing, which came about as a departure from economics not long after 1900, originally had no identity of its own. There was no predetermined framework for its development, nor any real expectation of what it should, or could, become (Bartels, 1983). The way the discipline started to develop however led to a belief that it had “…meritorious scientific character” (Bartels, 1983: p. 34), which subsequently influenced ideas about the way in which credible research in the field should be conducted.
Consequently approaches to research in marketing have historically been dominated by deductive processes (Hyde, 2000). Milliken (2001) supports this with the observation that within the marketing literature there has been little attention paid to qualitative research. If marketing was universally accepted to be akin to a pure science then this may be an acceptable situation. It has been suggested however that, rather than being a science, marketing is actually an art which belongs both to the world of business and the school of humanities (Halliday, 1999).
It was noted by Deshpande (1983) that in the early 1980s there were only four major textbooks dealing with the metatheoretical issues in marketing, and it can therefore be understood that “…self conscious reflection on theory construction in marketing is of fairly recent origin. ” (p. 104). Peter (1982), supported by Deshpande (1983), argues that the dominant philosophical approach applied in marketing is that of logical empiricism. Such a positivist approach forces a “…search for causality and the assumption of determinism” (Hunt, 1994: p. 7), which directs those conducting marketing research towards hypotheticodeductive methods for the verification of existing theories rather than development of new ones. Page 5 of 5 Goulding (1999) suggests that the popularity of the positivist paradigm may be down to the more transparent rules which it projects with regard to the basis of hypotheses and their testing, resulting in a clearer picture of what is accepted to be known and what remains unknown or untested.
As marketing is a relatively young discipline, quantitative methods have therefore been regularly favoured over qualitative methods in an attempt to establish credibility and respectability (Bartels, 1983). Bass (1993) unreservedly supports quantitative research and the scientific view of marketing, on the basis of the need to make general laws and principles which can be widely applied. To emphasise his position further Bass (1993) repeatedly refers to the discipline as not as “marketing” but as “marketing science”.
Despite this apparent favouritism of qualitative research, for establishing integrity and credence, it has been suggested that marketing as a discipline has failed to develop a coherent theoretical foundation due to the inappropriate selection and use of methods within the framework of logical empiricism (Leone and Schultz, 1980). criticises how qualitative research is implemented. Gummesson (2001) also He questions whether or not it is ppropriate to make a jump from a subjective answer given by a person, perhaps in the form of a questionnaire response, to hard facts about the population being studied, and furthermore if a model being selected for use in marketing research can be an appropriate proxy for the particular situation being studied. Gummesson (2001) instead advocates an interactive approach to research in marketing based on “…a humanistic, hermeneutic and phenomenological paradigm. (p. 40). Deshpande (1983) is in agreement with this and proposes that, rather that the incorrectly using quantitative research methods, the shortfall in theory development in the field may lie in the inappropriate adoption of a quantitative paradigm where a qualitative one would be more appropriate: “If we ignore the qualitative paradigm, we also by definition exclude the principal systematic means of theory generation. ” (Deshpande, 1983: p. 106) Page 6 of 6
The dominance of logical empiricism in marketing has therefore been seen as potentially detrimental to the discipline, because the successful development of an appropriate holistic and sound body of theory is necessary for the credibility of the field in both management and academe (Bartels, 1983). Hunt (1994) however observes that scholars in the field of marketing, particularly those reviewing papers for publication in academic journals, may themselves be responsible for the lack of theory generation by being over critical when reviewing the work of those who attempt to make an original contribution.
According to Gummesson (2001) this behaviour reinforces the belief that to build a publications record, and a respectable reputation, marketers are being encouraged to test existing theory using quantitative methods rather than generate theory through qualitative investigation. This, it has been suggested, has resulted in there being no development in general management marketing theory over recent decades, leaving marketing as an array of disjointed theories and ideas founded on arguably obsolete principles Gummesson (2001).
The lack of credibility given to qualitative research techniques in marketing from the academic perspective does however appear somewhat ironic given that such methods are widely adopted in marketing research in industry (Deshpande, 1983). Although it may appear that qualitative marketing research is a relatively recent revelation, Deshpande (1983) argues that this is not the case. He observes that there was significant interest in the topic in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the early 1980s, Fern (1982) suggested that the reason one specific qualitative technique, focus groups, had failed to gain prominence was a lack of empirical testing, which would allow the theory development necessary to acquire credibility. In other words a qualitative technique struggled to generate recognition because it could not satisfy the positivistic evaluation criteria needed to do so. This is perhaps indicative of the historical power of positivism in marketing academia in determining what can be accepted as credible Page 7 of 7 nd what cannot, regardless of whether or not techniques are accepted in the commercial environment. Malhotra and Peterson (2001) suggest that for marketing to move forward in the twenty-first century it is necessary to bridge the gap between the academic and commercial positions. There is evidence of increasing acceptance of qualitative methods in marketing research, especially in managing research as the marketplace evolves. For example Kozinetz (2002) developed “netnography” as a technique for gaining insight into online communities based on a combination of the principles of ethnography and focus groups.
Quantitative techniques it would appear still have their place in marketing research too, despite the criticisms levelled at them. The SERVQUAL questionnaire for example, originally developed by Parasuraman et al (1988), relies on the collection of data which can be statistically manipulated to determine levels of service quality. Notwithstanding the substantial criticism it has received (see Buttle, 1996), it is still being used in marketing research today (see e. g. DeMoranville and Bienstock, 2003).
What it would consequently appear important to recognise is that both quantitative and qualitative methods have their place in marketing research; neither is sufficient on its own, and there is potentially for significant advances to be made if marketing researchers acknowledge this (Deshpande, 1983). Triangulation and methodological pluralism There is a place in marketing research for both qualitative and quantitative research. There is also a significant risk that overly staunch advocates of a single paradigm will forego the quality of their research by valuing the methodological choice above the aim of the particular
Page 8 of 8 study (Bartels, 1983). From a marketing research perspective the importance therefore lies in recognition of the relative advantages and disadvantages of both the qualitative and quantitative research and the understanding of the strengths and weakness of particular methods. Cahill (1996) supports this with the recognition that qualitative and quantitative techniques can be complementary, and Milliken (2001) suggests that the reality of a real research situation demands compromise between the seemingly opposed philosophical standpoints on which the methods are based.
Combining qualitative and quantitative methods presents the researcher with an opportunity to compensate for the weakness in each approach. (Deshpande, 1983), and within the field of marketing there appears to be a significant move towards combining qualitative and quantitative research methods (Milliken, 2001). Perry (1998) emphasises the benefit of case study methodology in marketing and suggests that there is no need to consider induction and deduction to be mutually exclusive when selecting a research method.
He emphasises that realism is the most appropriate paradigm from which to undertake marketing research as it allows the building of new theory whilst incorporating existing knowledge. Strength in method combination does not necessarily have to include qualitative and quantitative approaches. Hall and Rist (1999) present a marketing study based on the triangulation of purely qualitative research methods including focus groups, observation and document examination.
They argue that doing this eliminates the risks of relying on a single method and therefore enhances research quality and strengthens the credibility of qualitative techniques. Page 9 of 9 Methodological pluralism, whilst appearing to offer reconciliation between opposing theoretical paradigms in relation to research method choice, does itself introduce debate and criticism. Gill and Johnson (2002) for example note that embracing realism can be seen as accepting positivism at the cost of phenomenology as it may involve the …operationalization and measurement of social reality (stimuli) and action (response)…” (p. 170). Consequently, combining research methods can itself become part of the argument rather than a solution. Conclusion The decision of whether to adopt qualitative or quantitative methods in management research historically appears to be based on the philosophical assumptions upheld by the individual researcher or the discipline in which he or she is working.
A paradigmatic dichotomy between positivism and phenomenology (or constructivism) would seem to have resulted in a situation where, in some instances, the research methodology choice is deemed more significant than the subject of the particular study. Marketing is a relatively young discipline within the field of management and, as such, is faced with the challenge of obtaining and maintaining credibility.
To do this it has been proposed that it needs to both test existing theory and generate new theory, however the processes required to achieve these two goals can be seem to stem from diametrically opposed paradigms: theory-testing being achievable through deductive methods; and theory generation relying on an inductive approach. This incommensurability has however been challenged with the assertion that what is important is selecting an appropriate methodology for a particular study, rather than fitting a
Page 10 of 10 study to a method. Methodological triangulation has been suggested as a means of achieving this, with a move towards a paradigm of realism where the relative advantages and disadvantages of a number of research methods can be embraced. Whilst at face value this approach may appear to offer a compromise offering the best practical solution to the methodological choice dispute, it also introduces criticism of its own which, in turn fuels the debate further.
The general aim of this discussion, to consider the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods, has itself been conducted from an ostensibly positivistic standpoint. In fact any discussion, comparison or assessment of research methods is arguably starting from a predetermined premise that an objective evaluation is being undertaken (Gill and Johnson, 2002), and can therefore be seen to be embracing positivist ideals.
Taking into account the amount of attention that has been paid to philosophical approaches to management research; the ambiguities that are apparent; the ongoing search for the most suitable and appropriate means for conducting studies; and the motivation to establish and maintain credibility, it would seem unlikely that end to the debate regarding research methods in management is in sight: “Like the earth being round, thus lacking a natural end, the journey in Methodologyland has no end. You search again and again and again, just as the term says: re-search, re-search, re-search. (Gummesson, 2001: p. 29) Page 11 of 11 References Bartels, R. (1983), “Is marketing defaulting its responsibilities? ”, Journal of Marketing, 47(4), pp. 32-35 Bass, F. M. (1993), “The future of research in marketing: Marketing Science”, Journal of Marketing Research, 30(1), pp. 1-6 Buttle, F. (1996), “SERVQUAL: review, critique, research agenda”, European Journal of Marketing, 30(1), pp. 8-32 Cahill, D. J. 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