Social research as defined by Scale is a ‘practical activity aimed at answering a research question by means of a research strategy, a research design and a method of data collection and analysis'(2006). The research strategy, design and method alludes to whether the researcher chooses to follow a quantitative or qualitative research method. Both qualitative research methods, emphasising objective measurement and statistical, mathematical and numerical analysis (Muijs 2010), and qualitative research methods, consisting of a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible (Denzin and Lincoln 2011:3) have advantages and disadvantages usually on a case by case basis. The statistical nature of quantitative research and data analysis would be more suitable for cases where it is possible to undertake surveys, questionnaires, structured interviews and by analysing documents for statistics. However, the descriptive and opinion based nature of qualitative research methods would be more appropriate for research questions where interviews, focus groups and open-question surveys can be applied. The differences between the two methods of conducting research projects makes each of them equally advantageous but also with limitations, all of which will be explored throughout this essay.
Qualitative research displays advantageous factors for conducting social research for topics which require a more in-depth study. Sutton and Austin describe qualitative methods of research as ‘help(ing) in clarifying a less well understood problem, situation or context'(2015:226). The benefits of this with regard to social research, when considering Scale’s definition of social research, would produce information of the ‘less well understood problems'(Sutton and Austin 2015:226) that are presented to society, therefore society can make improvements to these contexts by changing social policy. The methods in which qualitative research is conducted are explored by Mahoney as he conveys the most common forms of data collection are ‘interviews, focus groups, reflective journals, field notes'(2007:69-70). The forms of data collection mentioned by Mahoney aid the qualitative research process, especially when considering a deeper understanding of the topic being researched. Patrick conducted interviews when researching ‘the lived experiences of welfare reform in the UK'(2014:705) which revealed the actual experiences of people living on welfare. Patrick found from carrying out interviews the reality of life on welfare which, she discovered, contradicted the government declamation that individuals end up relying on welfare due to ‘lifestyle choice’. The fact that Patrick was able to dispel the common assumption of ‘lifestyle choice’ as the leading factor of welfare reliance, portrays an advantageous quality of qualitative research methods, as by interviewing members of society who are actually experiencing the topic being researched, she was able to gain a more in depth understanding of the actuality of the situation. Mahoney supports this by stating that ‘qualitative evidence extracts depth'(2007:66). Furthermore, Mahoney delineates the advantages of qualitative evidence to Participatory Action Research (PAR) research teams when he states that ‘qualitative evidence… vigorously analysed, makes it possible fir PAR teams to uncover, expose and consider the complexities within their community'(2007:66). Mahoney’s statement considering the advantages of qualitative evidence, bare comparisons with Patrick’s findings as well as Sutton and Austin’s opinions on the positive features of qualitative research; all of these academics convey the depth of understanding achievable by qualitative research and the ability to view complexities from conducting this form of research.
The quantitative methods that can be undertaken collect data for a social research project are outlined by Taylor as ‘surveys or questionnaires'(2005:256) along with structured interviews and analysing analytics are also methods of collecting quantitative data. Taylor conveys an advantage of quantitative research explaining that ‘quantitative research employs the deductive method and is value free'(2005:243). The ‘deductive method’ mentioned by Taylor could be advantageous for a social research project as the data collected and the results would be easier to interpret than qualitative research results. Taylor’s ‘deductive method’ theory correlates with Williams explanation of the advantages of quantitative research methods. Williams outlines some of the advantages of quantitative research methods as a ‘research method to create meaning and new knowledge'(2007:66). Williams uses Creswell to support this statement as Creswell believes that ‘quantitative research maintains the assumption of an empiricist paradigm'(2003:66). Both Williams and Creswell express that the scientific quality associated with the quantitative research method is conducive to social research as it provides easy to interpret data, clearly laying out to social organisations how they can improve the situation investigated through the quantitative social research.
Moreover, the deductive and empiricist form that quantitative research adopts mentioned by Williams, Creswell and Taylor is supported further by Punch who states that ‘quantitative data enable(s) standardised, objective comparisons to be made'(2013:307) which is a positive element of the research form of quantitative research. The objectivity of quantitative research can be beneficial to social research as the researcher can easily read and interpret their findings from collecting methods such as surveys and questionnaires as expressed by Taylor (2005:256). The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) exemplifies multiple research topics which it analyses and presents in a quantitative way, for example: the CSEW found from their survey that ‘there was an increase of 19% in the number of sexual offences recorded by the police in the latest year ending June 2017 compared with the previous year (up to 129,700)'(2017). The data presented by the CSEW can be easily interpreted due to the factual nature of quantitative research. The advantages of this are such that the information can be easily understood by the general public. Conclusively, with the support of Williams, Punch, Taylor and Creswell, the significant advantages of quantitative research are the easy to interpret nature of the research and research analysis as well as the ‘deductive and value free’ factor of tis type of research.
Whilst qualitative research displays some advantageous aspects, the qualitative research methodology bares detriments in the data collection process as well. Firstly, Morgan outlines a disadvantage with a prime method of collecting qualitative data for social research; the focus group and questionnaire. Morgan states that ‘the largest disadvantage is that the two methods are mutually contaminating'(1996:). The commonly used qualitative data collection methods of the focus group and questionnaires Morgan believes directs the group discussion, therefore potentially changing the minds of the participants, therefore the data collected will not be truthful and not useful for the research project. Whittemore, Chase and Mandle detail the potentiality that qualitative data is not always valid due to its subjectivity as well as the potential that the participants have been biased with a method such as a questionnaire before participating in a focus group, marking this as a key disadvantage to this method of data collection and analysis (2001: 522-523). Whittemore et al.’s acknowledgement of the possibility that inaccurate data can be a result of qualitative research also unveils the problematic nature of qualitative research as difficult to interpret due to its subjectivity. Moreover, when analysing the data collected to begin to answer the research question, the qualitative analysis process, due to the subjectivity related with the nature of qualitative research, can be difficult to interpret. For example, when analysing the answers given by a participant in an interview, the researcher may struggle to interpret exactly what the participant is implying, therefore the results displayed in the research report have potential of being incorrect or bias. Auerbach and Silverstein express agreement with this idea when stating that when analysing qualitative research there is ‘a tendency to impose one’s own subjective biases on the data analysis'(2003:84). The ‘tendency’ mentioned by Auerbach and Silverstein is an unavoidable disadvantage to qualitative research and whilst it cannot be avoided, it can be resolved by having multiple researchers moderate the the findings.
Furthermore, the ethical considerations which have to be contemplated when undertaking qualitative social research are far more extensive than those mediated with quantitative research. Adams et al. question the ethical considerations under taken by social scientists, concluding that, it is likely that an ethical issue will be present due to circumstances such as ‘new participants may not have heard the announcement’ as well as participants ‘getting used to the ethnographer'(2007:357). The issue of ethical consideration is significantly more likely to affect qualitative research methods due to the human aspect of the data collection, such as interviews and focus groups.
A further hindering factor of qualitative research would be the fact that it is time consuming to conduct. Conducting interviews, focus groups and collecting as well as analysing data qualitatively can be a significant hindrance to a research project compared with the comparatively less time consuming forms of collecting and analysing quantitative data through retrieving statistics from documents or from a structured interview. Pope, Ziebland and Mays describe the process of analysing qualitative data as ‘time consuming and labour intensive'(2000:114) further supporting the disadvantage of excessive time consumption by qualitative research and analysis.
Whilst quantitatively conducting and analysing research is easy to interpret and understand, Gacitua and Wodon explain that due to the predominantly factual nature of quantitative research data, to completely understand the reason for the research results, one must combine their analysis with qualitative analysis (2001:2). Without doing this, Gacitua and Wodon convey that there will be difficulty in improving any social situation from the research project, as numerical data alone does not provide an explanation for the occurrence social issues. For example, whilst the CSEW’s 2017 report on Sexual Assault cases displayed that sexual assault cases had increased since the 2016 period, the numerical data displayed did not provide an explanation for this increase, therefore the police in this case, will be unable to successfully prevent and reduce the occurrence of this crime in the future. As supported by Gacitua and Wodon, this is the key disadvantage of the quantitative research process and data analysis.
In conclusion, it is evident that the research methods of quantitative and qualitative methodologies have both advantages and disadvantages to their data collection methods as well as their data analysis methods. Williams, Creswell, Taylor and Punch aided in outlining some of the positive features to quantitative research, such as the easy to interpret data of quantitative research projects exemplified through the CSEW’s 2017 report on the rise of sexual assault cases reported. On the other hand Sutton, Austin and Mahoney explored the advantages of conducting qualitative research, outlining that this form of research enables a more in depth study of the research question. The qualitative advantages were portrayed through Patrick’s social research project on the lives of those living on welfare. However, the subjective and hard to interpret nature of qualitative data was conveyed as limiting to social research by Pope et al., Auerbach and Silverstein. Despite the easy to interpret nature of quantitive research methods, Gacitua and Wodon bring to attention the difficulty that can arise when trying to identify the reason for the statistics that are the research results. The advantages and disadvantages of both qualitative and qualitative research methods usually guide social researchers to triangulate when conducting social research as by doing this, the advantages of each type of research method are utilised, with the disadvantages not hindering the process.