Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative

The social sciences include branches such as: anthropology, economics, history, political science, psychology, and sociology. Social research is inquiry into human exchange and is carried out empirically, that is, through observation in the field. In fact, it is the length of time one spends in the field that enhanced the validity of research (Kirk & Miller, 1986).

Empirical social research is divided into two categories, although almost all contemporary projects use a mixed methods approach. The two categories are: (a) quantitative and (b) qualitative. Quantitative research (QN) focuses on numbers and answers questions about what and how many. QN researchers will rely on software analyses of numerical data displayed in graphs, patterns, and relationships of correlation. An example of such software may be MAXQDA. Qualitative research (QL) focuses on quality, especially as experienced in a human context. Rather than numbers, QL looks at the meaning of symbols and answers questions about how and why.

Although two different approaches, they have commonalities. How are they the same? Both:

  1. Are empirically based, that is, through observation done in the field
  2. Rely on precedent literature to provide theoretical constructs from which meaning is derived
  3. Utilize valid and reliable* step-by-step methods and processes
  4. Ground results in the data
  5. Respect established ethical norms for human subject research

However, quantitative and qualitative research are different in several significant ways. Those differences include:

  1. QN offers an “etic” perspective, that is, the view from an outsider; QL offers an “emic” perspective, that is, the view of an insider
  2. Therefore, QL takes more labor and time because getting the insider view requires building relationships of trust
  3. QN starts with hypotheses that are crafted into research questions where an independent variable (a predictor – grafted on the “x” axis) is acting upon a dependent variable (a responder – grafted on the “y” axis). In other words, it is deductive. Here is an example of a quantitative research question: “To what degree does listening to music impact the grades of high school students?” Note that the research will answer questions related to “what” and “how many” but will not explain “why” or “how”. In QN research the variables are controlled and the steps are rigid.
  4. QL starts with the assumption that a theory will emerge from data that will be collected. It is inductive. The data will construct the meaning. Insights are gained by observing what naturally occurs in the settings of human exchange.
  5. QN write ups tend to be shorter, whereas a QL write up for a PhD dissertation may be as long as 300 pages. QL approaches to inquiry may include: ethnography, case study, or narrative description of the life of a cultural hero.
  6. The goal of QL research is an in-depth understanding, whereas QN research may simply be finding a statistical trend.

How does empirical social research relate to business processes across cultures? Global Perspectives is able to show the way.

*Validity and reliability are highly technical terms in research that are important in demonstrating credibility and permitting generalizations. Kirk, J. and Miller, M. (1986). Reliability and validity in qualitative research. Newberry, CA: Sage.

Leave a Comment