Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches to Educational Research: Strenghs and Weaknesses

Essay by SunpowerUniversity, Master'sA-, January 2004

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FET 8801

Research Methods in Education

Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches to Research

(3,248 words)


For thousands of years, philosophers and other academics have formulated and debated theories of knowledge in attempts to conceptualize and analyze reality. These ways of knowing are commonly referred to as epistemologies which help us make sense of the world in which we live. Epistemological theories attempt to address the perception of reality, truth, justice and the pursuit of knowledge (Evers and Walker, 1998: 29). In science, there are two main theoretical approaches to research. The Quantitative tradition relies on numerical data and has been associated with the positivist, empiricist and behaviourist schools of thought. Qualitative research focuses on the collection of non-numerical data such as narratives and unstructured interviews. The qualitative approach is often associated with post-positivist, hermeneutic or constructive schools of thought (Evers and Walker, 1998: 28). Each of these approaches provides researchers with different paradigms or conceptions and views of research problems and methods.

As a result, the conclusions generated from each of these methodologies are different.

The purpose of this paper is to provide an analysis of both the quantitative and qualitative research traditions and to assess their respective strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, this paper asserts that the underlying epistemological differences of quantitative and qualitative methods mean that they have very different ways of understanding and interpreting the world. Consequently, these traditions should be viewed not as being in conflict with each other but instead as complimentary. A major theme presented in this paper is that we should choose our research methods based upon what it is that we are trying to find out instead of a blind allegiance to particular epistemological traditions.


First, it may be useful to look at two examples in order to illustrate...