Theses and Dissertations: A Guide to Planning, Research, and Writing

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Quantitative-versus-qualitative methods: As these terms are generally used,
quantitative research involves amounts, which are usually cast in the form of
statistics, but qualitative research does not involve amounts in any strict
sense. Here are titles of projects that might be categorized under each type:

Germany’s Economic Growth, 1950-2000
Rural and Urban Educational Achievement in Oregon
Amounts of Public and Private Finance for Welfare Programs
Generational Height and Weight Comparisons–Japan and the USA
The Growth of Tourism–Florida and Alabama
Short-Term Effects of Three Antidepressant Drugs

The Philosophical Foundations of Psychoanalysis
Silverado–The History of a Frontier Town
A Theory of Political Participation
One Week in the Life of a Deaf-Mute
Judaic Foundations of Islamic Doctrine
The Present-Day Relevance of William James’s Pragmatism

Professors who locate themselves exclusively in the quantitative camp demand
that students’ research involve the compilation of data in the form of amounts.
Hence, they reject historical chronicles, philosophical analyses, a line of
logic leading to a conclusion, a comparison of the qualities of different societies,
the detailed description of an individual’s or group’s style of life, and the
like. Furthermore, adherents of quantitative studies sometimes prefer studies
that focus on rather large numbers of people, schools, cities, or political
constituencies so that broadly inclusive generalizations can be drawn from the
research results. Such adherents thus disapprove of studies focusing on one
autistic person (singlesubject research) or only a few subjects (three autistic
children, two schools, four candidates for political office, five neighborhoods)
whose results cannot, with confidence, be generalized to a wide range of people
or events. Proponents of quantitative studies tend to prefer such research methods
as controlled experiments and surveys that employ interviews, tests, systematic
observations, questionnaires, and quantitative content analysis. (For arguments
supporting the quantitative position, see the following references: Howell,
1997; Shavelson, 1996.)

In contrast, professors who subscribe strictly to qualitative methodology tend
to belittle research that involves what they may refer to as “no more than
number crunching” which they feel oversimplifies complex causes, dehumanizes
evidence, and fails to recognize individual differences among people, among
environments, and among events. Advocates of qualitative studies tend to favor
such research techniques as historical and philosophical analyses, descriptive
observation, case studies, ethnography, and hermeneutics. (For rationales supporting
the qualitative stance, see: Bogdan & Knopp, 1992; Denzin & Lincoln,

There are, in addition to the foregoing two polar positions, a great many faculty
members who will accept a wide array of research approaches, quantitative and
qualitative alike. We would count ourselves among their number because, in our
opinion, the quantitative-versus-qualitative controversy is really off target.
The issue, in our minds, should not be: Are quantitative methods better than
qualitative, or vice versa? Instead, the issue should be: Which approach-quantitative,
qualitative, or some combination of both–will be the most suitable for answering
the particular research question being asked? This point of view, which respects
the contributions that can be made by all sorts of methods, is the one we espouse
throughout this book.

However, to be practical about your own situation as a student pursuing a degree
in a particular department, what we as the authors of this book believe about
the quantitative-qualitative debate is really not important. What is important
is how well your own beliefs match those of the advisors with whom you might
conduct your research. Thus, a useful twofold question to ask is: Which research
methodologies do the potential members of my research-project committee prefer
or even accept? And how well do my own preferences match the opinions of those
professors? In effect, establishing a good match promotes efficiency, effectiveness,
and goodwill in your work with advisors.

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