Ahmad-quantitative and Qualitative Methods in Communication Research

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)








    MONASH ID : 2409 1669



    This paper attempts to discuss quantitative and qualitative research approaches within the

    broad field of communications research. In the light of looking for possible similarities and

    differences between this two methods, it will briefly look at their historical development of

    both methods, the paradigms and interpretative frameworks, discusses major advantages and

    limitations and possibly looking at the new trend that combines both quantitative and

    qualitative data in a single research project in an effort to reconcile both methods.


    Research is a process of asking questions and looking for answers. However, on a deeper

    level, leads us to understand that it involves a systematic exploration, well-structured

    questions, producing new information and reassessing old information (Bertrand & Hughes

    2005: 5-6). Methods are the actual techniques you use to collect evidence, such as surveys

    and experiments (Balnaves, Donald & Shoesmith 2009:279). Media research evolves over

    time, significantly changes due to changes of media roles and influences in society. The

    changes also were influenced by evolution of social science models.

    Historically, quantitative research dominated the first part of the 20th century (Balnaves,

    Donald & Shoesmith 2009:278). This early form of research originates from the study of

    natural sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics and geology. This study was concerned

    with investigating things that can be measured and observed and hence measurements were

    made objectively so that it could be repeated and replicated by other researchers.

    Quantitative approaches use statistical designs or mathematical analysis for gathering and

    analyzing data (i.e. survey, experiments). The questions often involve how many, how often,


    how much and answers were often found in the relationship that exists between elements in a

    topic. It is often used when there is a lot of known about a topic and there is a need to better

    predict and specify causes and effects (Kayrooz & Trevitt 2005: 110-1, Alasutaari 1995: 8).

    As the time progresses, the researchers have growing interest on the study of social sciences

    such as in the area of sociology, anthropology and psychology. This study involves the study

    of human behavior and the social world inhabited by human being. They also found that

    human behavior is difficult to be measured using numbers. Some things cannot be justified

    numerically but rationally. While quantitative research allows us to understand what and how

    but it could not really explain why. So this leads to a new methodology called qualitative

    approach. It is a text-based or non-mathematical analysis and interpretation of information. It

    aims to identify the who, what, when, why and how of certain phenomena. It emerges to

    measure human attitudes and behaviors. This type of approach also allows the researcher to

    be close to the individuals perspective because they can be immersed in the details of the

    data via interviews, focus groups and observation (Kayrooz & Trevitt 2005: 110-1, Balnaves,

    Donald & Shoesmith 2009: 278, Jensen 2002: 255).

    Both approaches, often being discussed and debated whether one is more superior to the

    other. However, both are used to understand media and communication in modern and

    postmodern society within the context of professional, commercial and academic research

    context (Bertrand & Hughes 2005:2).


    The first feature that separates quantitative and qualitative research is the theoretical

    perspectives that are related to communication research which is the epistemological


    premises. Epistemology concerns with the nature, ways of knowing how knowledge is

    created (Gunter 2000: 1-2, Balnaves, Donald & Shoesmith 2009:279). Quantitative research

    often connected to a positivist epistemology while qualitative research with critical

    epistemology. Neuman defines positivism as an organized method for combining deductive

    logic and empirical observations of individual behavior (in Gunter 2000:2). Explanation of

    human behavior must be supported by facts and these facts can be measured. The critical

    epistemology on the contrary reveals social science is fundamentally different than hard

    science that it requires the interpretative approach through the study of texts, meaning and

    context. People convey subjective experience through text and this subjectivity is important

    to explain human social life (Gunter 2002: 1-5).

    The second feature lies on the ontological questions the nature of phenomena

    communication researchers seek to know (Gunter 2002:1). The non-actional theory is related

    to quantitative research which means behaviors are determined and influenced by past

    pressures. This involves the researcher to study events and factors that affect certain behavior

    which is within the context nave realism and the logic of what has happen is the reality by

    itself. Qualitative research concerns with actional-theory that assumes individual creates

    meanings; they have intention and make real choices. Subjects can be imperfectly

    misunderstood and probabilistically apprehendable (Bertrand & Hughes 2005:12).

    Next feature to observe is the data and observation collection. Quantitative methodology

    employ large, replicable sample which is representative of the entire population being

    researched. The quality of research is affected by the effectiveness of data processing,

    analysis and interpretation. The orientation of the research is written from the outsiders

    perspective to ensure it is credible. Qualitative research by contrast an in-depth exploration of

    what makes people tick on a particular subject: their feelings and perceptions so it seeks


    much smaller samples, not necessarily representative of a population but indicative instead.

    The researcher often wears the insider hat, trying to get them intimately involved in focus

    group discussions, one-on-one interviews and the main purpose is to understand and explain

    from the actors own frame of reference (Kayrooz & Trevitt 2005:114, Jensen 2002:254-


    The final feature is the analytical and interpretative approach, which has been described in

    many ways such as deduction versus induction (Jensen 2002:259) measurement versus

    meaning (Jensen 2002:255) production of observations and unriddling versus purification and

    unriddling (Alasuutari 1995:13-20); average effects versus individual effects ( Mahoney and

    Goertz 2006:229). There articles discuss the difference between these two approaches from

    the epistemological, ontological and methodological features. This is primarily important as it

    functions as the super-structure in the research and it guides how the researcher thinks.

    Ultimately, deciding which approach to be used will determine methods, preferences,

    contexts and furthermore mode of analysis to be undertaken and how findings will be



    Be it quantitative or qualitative approaches both have their own advantages and limitations.

    Quantitative approaches offer polish, precision and for academic purposes, a potential to

    publish that qualitative approaches cannot. Quantitative component in your research appear to

    add status and credibility (Kayrooz & Trevitt 2005: 114-115).


    Quantitative research uses traditional statistical and mathematical methods for measuring

    results conclusively. It uses standard format so there are chances to be replicated by other

    research. It enable people to summarize huge information and while provide good

    comparison over time. The positivist approach believes in objective reality and discovery

    through valid methods so they will study characteristics or features of individuals in order to

    explain a phenomenon. There a potential of small degree of error and high degree of

    precision. These features will become components for variable and further explain causal

    relationships. Most importantly this technique answers the question of validity and reliability

    of a research.

    However, the limitation of quantitative research is that some methods for example

    experiment may lack meaning, it might not be able to address its social significance but

    merely statistical evidence (Alasutaari 1995:10). Apparently it may not explain why a

    phenomenon actually happens. There is also a question of external validity, of which to

    explain if the phenomenon really happens in real life because some results are based on a

    controlled setting (Gunter 2002:225).

    Qualitative method assumes that there is a relationship between attitude and behavior in

    regards to human science. It complements the quantitative methods in the sense that it

    provides explanations of complex phenomena, but is also beneficial in evolving or creating

    conceptual bases or theories, and in recommending hypotheses to explain the phenomena

    (Jensen 2002: 254-259). Besides, the value of any qualitative research is to provide valid

    results which are only possible after extensive research. It allows a researcher to go deeper

    into trivial matters which helps to develop greater understanding of media and

    communication (Alasutaari 1995: 13-20).


    The challenge of qualitative method is the fact that it is highly theoretical and sometimes

    individual; the outcomes cannot be representative to a population that quantitative methods

    can address. The scope is sometimes to narrow and observations might involve a high degree

    of interpretation. There is a possibility of data overload so longer time is needed to interpret

    the results. There is a problem in explaining validity and reliability of the information due to

    element of subjectivity. Furthermore, as the researcher need to be deeply involved in the

    research, there is a strong possibility of biasness to explain a phenomenon. (Mahoney &

    Goetrz 2006: 229)


    Future media studies research will increasingly become focused on each others cultures and

    media and how we might better understand and interact with them. Qualitative research

    methods are often combined with quantitative methods in modern media research. For

    example focus groups may be combined with survey research. It came under different name

    but reflect the same concept which is called multi-methods, multi-strategy, mixed methods

    (Bryman 2006: 2-3). A combination of methods does have some advantages for example it

    provides guidance for other researchers of what they researchers has to do or have done and

    gave various perspectives over the same issue.

    However Bryman (2006) argues that a combination of approaches is not necessarily better

    because it can result in deleterious effects on designs and resources, other academics shared

    their own opinions on multi-method approach. A combination of approaches should increase

    our confidence in our own and others findings. It is also believed that these two methods


    although carry competing frameworks can strengthen a study and serves as a continuum of

    research (in Kayrooz & Trevitt 2005:113).

    It also provides a more complete picture of the phenomenon under study. However, as

    different paradigms carry different assumptions about reality and knowledge claims, it is

    really important to understand and evaluate each method that is best to approach a particular

    communication study.

    Hammersley (1996) explained three principal forms pertaining to combination of quantitative

    and qualitative methodologies which are facilitation, triangulation and complementarity (in

    Jensen 2002:272). Facilitation is treating both methods in sequence. For example, before a

    researcher conducts a quantitative survey, they first will conduct a qualitative pilot study.

    Triangulation is among the most popular methods to address aspects of validity and

    reliability. It is a strategy used to gain several perspectives on the same phenomenon using

    experiments and observations. Complementarity is the least common methodology and most

    challenging because it combines different approaches for different aspects of the same

    research questions.

    It is interesting to find that multi method approach can be very unpredictable. There is a

    mismatch between rationale given for combining methods and how they were used. It is quite

    possible when the researcher is dealing with the wealth of data that might generate

    unexpected findings. This was based on content analysis over two hundred article on social

    sciences that employed this methodology. (Bryman 2006:15-16) It also suggests that this

    method is still open more for exploration in the future as the media evolves and paradigms

    might shift again.



    Communication researchers use a variety of paradigms to organize how they understand and

    inquire into communication. The differences later carry out in their research tasks.

    Communication research is fascinating, the fact that it deals with the way human mind works,

    the way we convey messages and the process of communication is evolving to become more

    sophisticated and complex each day.

    This article has looked at the rise of both methodologies in communication research, covering

    the historical perspective, the epistemological and ontological premises, discussed the

    advantages and limitations of both methods and a possible reconciliation between the two.

    There are some questions that cannot be answered using a single method. A mix of methods

    can be used to assess different facets of complex outcomes or impacts, yielding more breadth,

    depth, and width in the portrait than one method alone can. Perhaps that opens up to

    possibilities that methodologies in communication research will continue to develop in search

    of holistic answer to the perplexities of mankind.

    (2,020 words)



    Alasuutari, P. (1995) Qualitative and quantitative analysis as a continuum, Researching Culture: Qualitative Method and Cultural Studies. Sage: London: 130-132. Alasuutari, P. (1995) What is qualitative research? Researching culture: qualitative method and cultural studies. Sage: London: 6-21. Balnaves, Donald and Shoesmith (2009) Ch.14 in Media theories and approaches: a global perspective. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke: 278-292 Berger, A. (2000) On quantity and quality in media research, Ch.1 in Media and Communication Research Methods: an introduction to qualita...


View more >