Research Methods In The Social Sciences

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Research Methods in the Social Sciences

Research Methods in the Social Sciences


The objective of this paper is to explain the differences in data and knowledge that can across when studying a topic using quantitative and qualitative methods. Alan Bryman (1992, 505) has discussed the increasing attention that has emerged about the differences in results and findings gained through various research methodologies. He has questioned the integration of findings of research study through different methodologies, namely quantitative analysis and qualitative research. Furthermore, he states that the two methods are fundamentally different, both of the research topic in question, and of the nature of human knowledge and understanding in general (Bryman 1992, 505). Bryman seeks to explain the kind of the fundamental difference in the forms of data, which is collected using quantitative and qualitative methods.


According to Guba and Lincoln (1982, 233), they have distinguished the nature of the knowledge gained through quantitative methods as rationalistic, while qualitative methods produce what they term naturalistic knowledge. This is closely related to the approach of Evered and Louis (1981, 385) who claim that a quantitative approach takes a view of a subject using the established frameworks of mathematics, and statistics to understand observations. On the contrary, a qualitative approach studies the topic of the research internally, using the language, references, citations and points of view that have already been established within an area of study. In their own words,

'Inquiry from the inside is characterized by the experiential involvement of the research, the absence of priori analytical categories, and an attempt to understand a particular situation. Inquiry from the outside calls for detachment on the part of the researcher, who typically gathers data according to a priori analytical categories and aims to uncover knowledge that can be generalized to many situations,' (Evered & Louis, 1981, 385).

Ideographic and Nomothetic Data

Burrell and Morgan (1979, 1) have named quantitative method as a functionalist approach, and qualitative method as an interpretive approach. They look to struggle with the fundamental philosophical questions which support, but are rarely asked of, the social sciences. These questions look to answer if reality has an individual presence or is only a creation of the mind; the extent to which experience is important before understanding a subject can be claimed. Furthermore, questions related to human free will and determinism; and if science is necessary or supportive to humanity at all, and if direct experience may be a better benchmark for measuring and increasing knowledge. Burrell and Morgan (1979, 1) also helped in identifying some of the data or knowledge that can be obtained through the use of different methods. They characterize the data of the qualitative method as ideographic in nature. It means data or knowledge that is specific and symbolic of a finding. The experiences of political personalities or other subjects might provide ideographic knowledge relating to historic events for example. Likewise, diaries maintained by individuals, stories and their experiences, and their observations, all provide ideographic data that might ...
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