COMMUNICATION RESEARCH APG 4409
ASSIGNMENT 1 : ESSAY
QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE
IN COMMUNICATION RESEARCH
HAL MAHERA BINTI AHMAD
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.
THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
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 individual’s 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 DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE
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 naïve 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 outsider’s
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 actor’s 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
ADVANTAGES AND LIMITATIONS
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)
RECONCILIATION OF QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
Future media studies research will increasingly become focused on each other’s 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 other’s 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
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
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.
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