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Sport Psychology Research Methods: Qualitative vs Quantitative

Sport Psychology Research Methods: Qualitative vs Quantitative


Qualitative and Quantitative

Qualitative and quantitative research methods are two commonly used psychological research approaches with very different procedures and objectives. It is important for researchers to understand the differences between these two modes of research in order to determine which approach is best suited to adequately address the research question. The greatest distinctions between these two fundamentally different research techniques are the genesis of theory and the role that theory plays in the mechanics of research. In the quantitative technique, the research effort begins with a theory: a statement that tries to explain observed phenomena. The theory is then operationalized (that is, stated in terms that can be statistically tested) through hypothesis. Data is gathered, statistical tests are completed, and the results are interpreted. The results either support the hypothesis or they do not. (Downey & Ireland, 1979)

Quantitative research is experimental and objective whereas qualitative research is explorative and is not in numerical form. Quantitative research is used to identify evidence of cause and effect relationships and is used to collect data from a larger population than qualitative research (Downey & Ireland, 1979). Aliaga and Gunderson (2000), explain that qualitative research is ‘Explaining phenomena by collecting numerical data that are analyzed using mathematically based methods’. It is used to quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviors, and other defined variables – and generalize results from a larger sample population.

Quantitative data collection methods are much more structured than qualitative data collection methods. Data collection methods used in qualitative research includes focus groups, triads, dyads, interviews and observation (Creswell, 2013). Qualitative data is descriptive, which is more difficult to analyze then quantitative data which is categorized, ranked, or in units of measurement. One benefit of qualitative research is the ability to observe, collect, and reach data that other methods cannot obtain. It also provides researchers with flexibility in conveying a story without the constraints of formal academic structure (Creswell, 2013). However, Berkwits and Inui (1998) explain that qualitative research is suspect in its usefulness to provide a generalize foundations for clinical decisions and policies.

Qualitative methods derive from a variety of psychological research disciplines and traditions (Crabtree & Miller, 2012). Different in many ways from quantitative research; yet qualitative research does have a quantitative connection. Qualitative research, also recognized as preliminary exploratory research, is used to capture communicative information not conveyed in quantitative data about beliefs, feelings, values, and motivations that trigger behaviors. They are used to learn directly from the participant what is important to them, to provide the context necessary to understand quantitative findings, and to identify variables important for future clinical studies (Crabtree & Miller, 2012). Qualitative research provides insights into the problem and helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential quantitative research.

Examining Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is primarily used in investigative research to explore a phenomenon. Creswell (2013) explains that qualitative methods should be used to study complex subjects and topics. Some subjects in which qualitative analysis is the methodology of choice include but are not limited to education, biology, behavior, health care, psychology, human resources, as well as societal issues such as cultural and racial issues, social norms and stigmas. The use of qualitative research is appropriate when the researcher wants to answer questions or solve a problem by collecting data to generate a theory or hypothesis.  Qualitative research uses context and a non-judgmental approach to attempt to understand the phenomena in question from the subject’s point of view and is used to capture expressive information not conveyed in quantitative data about beliefs, values, feelings, and motivations that underlie behaviors (Berkwits & Inui, 1998). Qualitative research is a form of inquiry that analyzes information observed in natural settings.

Qualitative Research is also used to uncover trends in thought and opinions, and dive deeper into the problem. Qualitative data collection methods vary using unstructured or semi-structured techniques. Some common methods include focus groups (group discussions), individual interviews, and participation/observations. The sample size is typically small, and respondents are selected to fulfill a given quota. There are four philosophical assumptions of qualitative methodology recognized in psychological research: ontology, epistemology, axiology, and methodology.

Qualitative research comes from a variety of psychological research disciplines and traditions (Crabtree & Miller, 2012). It is a unique research approach because it allows research access to information that goes beyond quantitative measure. However, the main weakness of the qualitative approach is that it is difficult to provide generalizable foundation for scientific decisions and procedures behaviors (Berkwits & Inui, 1998). It is important to mention that some qualitative approaches use technical methods (such as statistical content analysis) to determine the significance of findings, while others rely on researchers thoughtful reflection (Crabtree & Miller, 2012).

Examining Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is experimental and objective. The objective of quantitative research is essentially to collect numerical data to explain a particular phenomenon (Hoe and Hoare, 2012). By using measurable data researchers are able to formulate facts and uncover patterns in research. The quantitative approach involves a systematic empirical investigation of a phenomenon using numerical data. It is used to identify evidence of cause and effect relationships, as well as collect data from a larger population than qualitative research (Downey & Ireland, 1979).

When conducting a quantitative study researchers use statistical tests to analyze research data. Quantitative data collection methods include various forms of surveys, face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations. For researchers using the quantitative technique, data is primary and context is secondary. This means that researchers gather data that can be counted, but the context in which the data is observed is not very important to the process. The data is analyzed and rational conclusions are drawn from the interpretation of the resulting numbers (Downey & Ireland, 1979).

Researches elect to use quantitative research when their research problem and questions are best suited to being answered using quantitative methods. Quantitative research is designed to quantify a research problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into useable statistics. There are four main types of research questions best suited for quantitative research. The first type of question is a question demanding a qualitative answer (Hoe and Hoare, 2012). For example, how many I/O psychology students are currently enrolled at Capella. The second type of questions is when numerical can only be studies using quantitative methods (Hoe and Hoare, 2012). For example, is the number of I/O psychology students enrolled at Capella rising or falling? The third type of question concerns understanding the state of a phenomenon, such as the contributing factors (Hoe and Hoare, 2012). For example, what factors predict the recruitment of I/O psychology students to attend online universities? The final type of question best suited for quantitative methods is the testing of hypotheses?

There are three quantitative research approaches: (1) experimental, (2) quasi-experimental, and (3) non-experimental. Variables are the foundation of quantitative research. Variables are something that takes on different values or categories. The experimental approach is used to study the cause and effect relationship of variables, specifically the independent and dependent variables. This approach involves the use of true random assignments of variables for analysis. The defining characteristic of the experimental approach involves the manipulation of the independent variable. The quasi-experimental approach is similar to the experimental approach however the main difference is that it does not include the use of randomly assigned variables. The final quantitative research approach, non-experimental, is a comparative approach that differs from experimental because there is no manipulation of the independent variable or random assignment of variables (Leedy & Ormrod, 2013). Sources of references: Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Leedy, P. D., & Ormrod, J. E. (2013). The nature and tools of research. Practical research: Planning and design, 1-26.


1 Comment

  1. I am working with a student on the use of psych testing with athletes and in sport psychology. Can you provide me with any advice, any publications to get, or authors/ researchers to follow?

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