In a previous blog, we discussed an initial step to choosing between a quantitative or a qualitative study: determine if your topic can be studied quantitatively. If you search through the literature and cannot find any instruments or measures that you can use to conduct a quantitative investigation of your topic, a qualitative study may be the best choice for you. However, if you discover that your topic can be studied quantitatively, this does not automatically mean that a quantitative study is the best choice. Here we discuss some additional issues to consider as you decide on a methodological approach.
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Perhaps the most important issue to consider is: what are you specifically trying to learn about your topic? Do you have specific hypotheses or predictions that you want to test? Do you want to determine how the concepts or variables in your topic are related to each other? Do you want to see if there are differences between specific groups of people on the variables of interest? These are the kinds of aims that a quantitative study can address. On the other hand, you might be more interested in finding out how or why a particular phenomenon happens. Or perhaps you want to know what thoughts, feelings, and experiences people have in regards to your topic. These aims are more in-line with a qualitative study.
Another issue to consider is: what kind of study is most feasible to conduct? In general, quantitative studies are easier to conduct, but require more participants than qualitative studies. Specifically, data collection in quantitative studies tend to require less time commitment from participants, and the data analysis can be conducted relatively quickly. However, quantitative studies can require anywhere from about 50 to several hundred participants depending on the type of analysis you plan to perform. If you have access to a large number of potential participants, a quantitative study may be a good option for you.
In contrast, the data collection and analysis in qualitative studies tend to be more intensive and time-consuming, but far fewer participants are needed. A typical qualitative study, at minimum, requires in-depth interviews with the participants; the interviews then need to be transcribed, reviewed, and coded. It is worth noting that, unlike quantitative studies in which statistical analyses are conducted automatically using computer programs, qualitative analysis is conducted manually by the researcher. Computer programs such as NVivo can help facilitate qualitative analysis, but ultimately the analysis comes from the researcher. However, an advantage of qualitative studies is that only 10 to 20 participants are typically needed. Thus, a qualitative study may be best for you if you will not have access to a large number of participants.