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Is qualitative always the best option?

Your research question determines your methodology, not the other way around. Let's find out more.
There’s a lot of debate in research of are you a qualitative or a quantitative researcher? And I think a good researcher is both and uses both when it’s appropriate. We had different questions that we were trying to answer to get an overall view of what we were looking at. We couldn’t just do it with one method. I definitely see that they complement each other. So qualitative is sometimes strengthened by having the numbers. And the numbers are often strengthened by having the stories of people’s experiences. So I think choosing the approach to your study design is really dependent on the question that you’re answering. And so different questions will lend themselves to different approaches, as will different contexts.
So I think you first have to sit down and really think clearly about– what’s my aim, what’s the objective? And based on that then, you say, OK, well, what’s the context? So what does the set-up look like? What am I measuring? And then based on that, you can say, well, what analysis methods do I need? So it really is all the base, I think, or the foundation, of all those decisions is having a really clear research question. I never think the methodology should overshadow the research question. What you want is a methodology that solves the question for you, whatever that is. But the most important thing is that the research method you choose matches the question you want to answer.
The value of using different methods– qualitative versus quantitative– both methods answer a different question. They answer a different type of question. You just have a really good question that you want to answer, and then you fit the project around the question. The question always comes first. Everything else comes later.

Your research question determines your methodology, not the other way around.

So, in answer to the question ‘is qualitative always the best option?’ it’s a no. It all depends on the nature of your research problem. Once you have decided what you want to know, you can tailor your research design to best capture the information you need.

Keep in mind, neither qualitative nor quantitative approaches do everything. They use different methods for gathering information and analysing it, because they examine different kinds of data. Depending on the aim of your research and what it takes to answer your particular question, you may choose to use qualitative methods, quantitative or a combination of both to collect data.

What’s your research question?

Do you already have a research topic you’re interested in or a specific problem you’ve decided to investigate? Or are you starting from scratch?

For those of you who have not completed the first course in this series, ‘Why Research Matters’, you might like visit step 1.7 in that course ‘Why does research matter?’ and watch this video for inspiration.

If you’re still thinking about a potential area to research, do some brainstorming now. Decide on one issue in your workplace, school or wider community that interests you. The question can be anything you like that has practical or theoretical significance. For a qualitative research project, it will need to be a ‘why’ or ‘how’ problem that seeks to understand a particular phenomena.

Your task

Post your research topic ideas using the comments link below. In your response, briefly tell us how you think a qualitative research approach could help you uncover some or all of the data you need and what challenges you might face.

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Why Experience Matters: Qualitative Research

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