Quantitative research relies heavily on statistics, numbers, tables and other mathematical tools. It might include scientific experiments, or clinical trials, data collection using questionnaires, surveys or interviews that can be transcribed and coded in order to get a comprehensive picture of a social phenomenon using by interviewing samples of the population. Surveys are staples of quantitative researchers. The survey can be conducted in a variety of ways, each of which have certain drawbacks.
Have you ever been asked to take part in a survey? What was your response to the person trying to conduct the survey? Would you necessarily be honest in your responses? This, of course, is assuming that you were asked to be a part of a market research survey conducted on the street. Most people are so busy going about their business that they often don’t have time to answer an interviewer’s questions. So how relevant is this type of survey and what does it imply about the results gathered?
How can interviewers ensure that there is a representative sample in terms of age, ethnicity and gender, for example?
Using a questionnaire also poses problems. If you want to conduct a large-scale study, you might consider posting the questionnaire to specific addresses. However, there is no guarantee that your chosen respondents will complete your questionnaire and send it back to you. More often than not, unsolicited mail goes straight into the waste paper bin.
Of course, you could devise an online survey and email it to targeted respondents, but again it will probably end up in the spam box or will be sent to trash, without the intended recipient ever opening the email.
Then there are telephone interviews which are equally problematic. No one likes cold-callers and so the phone is put down unceremoniously in most cases, unless there is a lonely elderly person on the end of the phone who may not be in the right age group for your target sample. Also, the cost of telephone calls can make this kind survey very expensive.
Using questionnaires or surveys, however, are often the preferred methods of data collection for quantitative studies.
If you use these methods of data collection, you may find that you need to employ several people to help you with the coding of responses.
It is all very well to come up with an interviewing tool but then you have to decide on what closed questions you need to know the answers to. It will not be possible to ask open-ended questions because of the diverse answers that will be given. This means that your data will not be as rich as it might have been if you had more time to conduct your study and if you had many interviewers to assist in your data collection.
On the other hand, qualitative research tools do yield some rich data, but samples tend to be small, so the findings might not be generalisable.
Interviews are usually highly structured in quantitative research studies and the researcher doesn’t deviate from his or her standard set of questions. When conducting interviews in this way, much information may be lost.
The face-to-face interview gives the researcher time to establish some kind of rapport with the respondent, and this could mean that he or she is more cooperative. In fact, it is these kinds of interviews that produce the highest, and most interesting response rates in surveys. They are useful because any misunderstandings can be cleared up immediately as long as the interviewer is allowed to ask follow-up questions and probe ambiguities. However, the downside to such interviews is that they aren’t really feasible with large samples and perhaps time is of the essence.
Using Skype to conduct interviews can help enormously as long as respondents are online. The cost of such interviews is minimal, and interviewers and respondents can interact face-to-face, if both agree to do so. One drawback of the telephone or Skype interviews is that only respondents with telephones or Skype can participate in the survey, which might mean that they are from one of the upper social classes.
Perhaps you could consider Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI), which entails the interviewer going along to the scheduled interview with a laptop or small computer and entering responses directly into his or her laptop. Although this saves the interviewer carrying hundreds of printed questionnaires around, it can be expensive to set up.
In fact, there is no best way to gather either quantitative or qualitative data.
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