Although some researchers may believe that only one method of research is valid when studying human behavior, in general it is more useful to view different research approaches as part of the varied 'instruments' in a researcher's toolbox, rather than denigrate one type of research at the expense of other kinds. Whether quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods approaches are selected determines on the nature of the research; its purpose; and above all the types of questions that are being asked. No format is inherently better.
The strength of quantitative research lies in its ability to deploy the scientific method or a quasi-scientific method in an effective fashion to answer a highly specific question -- usually in terms of a numerical value. For example, in the case of my research on female juvenile delinquency, the research question I chose to focus upon was the correlation between female delinquent behavior and GPA. A quantitative study can use statistical analysis to analyze data derived from a wide variety of sources on the same focused topic. It can thus make generalizations about a population in a fairly broad fashion, such as the fact that female delinquent behavior may be less associated with long-term antisocial behavior and school-related problems and more associated with personal trauma or psychological conditions.
Quantitative studies are necessary to justify making policy-related decisions, given that they require considerable financial and logistical resources as well as political capital to enact. For example, the decision to institute a nation-wide program to combat delinquency would not be based upon a small, qualitative study which focused on the input of only a handful of participants. Rather than deploying deductive logic (applying principles to specific instances) qualitative studies apply inductive logic, or come to general principles based upon specific observations. My qualitative research study used a 'grounded theory' approach in which the researcher attempts to create a theory based upon specific observations, versus testing a hypothesis and applying a theory to specific individuals after the fact. Rather than analyzing numerical data, qualitative research takes a narrative approach. Because of its more personalized emphasis, it focuses on a small number of persons. The results may not be generalizable to a larger population and may be specific to that group. The idea behind qualitative research is to let individuals speak about their personalized experiences, a particularly important issue for the survivors of sexual abuse that were the focus of my study.
One of the criticisms of qualitative research is that it is intensely subjective, both in terms of the data it derives and the perspective of the researcher. However, the same criticism could be leveled in a different fashion against quantitative research. Even though quantitative research 'feels' more objective, the researcher still has an intensive, personal role in guiding the process -- selecting the question, defining the test population (both experimental and control groups), and the methods of statistical analysis are all subjective acts, an advocate of the qualitative approach might allege. All research is subjective, the qualitative researcher believes, and the ability for the subjects to articulate their voices in a manner that is not shaped by the researcher is valuable. Also, qualitative researchers tend to be more self-conscious and explicit about their biases, versus quantitative researchers that may present themselves as objective but actually have hidden prejudices. This increases the value and validity of qualitative approaches in some eyes, even though the small-scale nature of qualitative approaches is extremely problematic when determining policies that affect many people.
Quantitative researchers, however, would point out that qualitative methods often still use data-driven formats that could be construed as statistical, such as 'coding' the responses of participants to structured interviews and comparing them with one another. Raw data is of little value and it still must be passed through some interpretive lens to have utility to fellow researchers, policy makers or the general public. Researchers, even while they admit their own subjectivity, must still offer their findings in an organized fashion to be useful and comprehensible.
Finally, a mixed method approach attempts to unite 'the best of both worlds' in its structure. Mixed methods approaches may begin with a scientific hypothesis and use hard data to analyze a specific question, but may also introduce subjective elements like interviews to ensure that the numbers that are accrued still are connected to a 'human' element. Or these research studies may be primarily qualitative in approach but include a 'hard data' component, such as doing a case study of persons with depression but measuring the subjects' responses using a statistically analyzable questionnaire. Given that purely quantitative research may 'miss' a great deal if the research question is not framed correctly, a mixed methods approach can ensure that erroneous conclusions are not drawn. However, because mixed methods approaches generally use larger sets of subjects than qualitative methods, there is greater generalizability to the wider population.
Introduction for abbreviated research plan: Quantitative
Subpar performance records in school, including dropping out, poor attendance, and low grades are all associated with delinquent behavior for both boys and girls. Students with academic problems in school-related settings are more likely to become delinquent than their high-achieving peers. However, it has also been noted that girls who are delinquent exhibit some notable differences in their patterns of delinquency when compared with their male delinquent peers. For example, many more female delinquents are the victims of sexual violence (Hartwig & Myers 2003). When they are co-morbid for psychological disorders, they tend to exhibit more severe symptoms than their male peers (Wasserman et al. 2005). Females are more apt to have an eccentric path to delinquency: in males, early delinquency was a strong predicator of later delinquency, but this was not the case with females, who often had 'sudden onset' episodes or manifested sharp periods of decline in terms of their ability to socialize normally with non-delinquent peers (Landsheer & Dijkum 2005).
This quantitative research study will determine if male and female delinquents exhibit similarly distinct patterns in their school performance. The purpose of this paper will be to determine if difficulties in school are correlated in a different fashion between male and female delinquents, suggesting that different preventative and treatment techniques may be required by the two genders.
How does the school performance of male and female delinquents differ? Given the extent to which other aspects of female delinquency have shown marked differences from male delinquency, this is an important question to ask when designing treatment and prevention programs specific for girls.
In general, both female and male delinquents will have poorer school performance than their non-delinquent peers of both genders. However, the correlation between poor school performance and female delinquency will be less strong given the more variable reasons that females turn to delinquent behavior.
Testing will involve a cross-section of equal numbers of male and female juveniles ages 14-17 in a variety of delinquency treatment programs, segmented by gender. Their school GPAs will be compared with a control group of their non-delinquent peers and with the GPAs of their opposite gender. Both the median and mean GPAs of students will be assessed, to ensure that anomalous extremely high and extremely low GPAs will not affect the results. The sample size should be sufficiently large to allow for such potential effects of 'outliers' as well. Data collected from the facilities would be anonymous, to protect juvenile's privacy. This would also address any ethical concerns regarding the use of juvenile data.
First, the GPAs of delinquents as a whole will be compared with the control, non-delinquent group. Then, male and female delinquent GPAs will be compared separately with the control group of non-delinquent peers. Finally, male and female delinquent GPAs will be assessed. The hypothesis would be supported by a smaller discrepancy between non-delinquent female GPAs and delinquent female GPAs than exists between male delinquents and non-delinquent male GPAs.
Data will be obtained via the state correctional facilities at all fifty states. Given that this is a qualitative study, there is a need for large numbers to achieve accurate results. Also, given that school curriculums and standards will differ from state to state, large numbers are needed to reduce the likelihood of other factors affecting GPA.
Independent and dependent variables
The independent variables would be GPA; the dependent variables would be gender.
Hartwig, H.J., & Myers, J.E. (2003). A different approach: Applying a wellness paradigm to adolescent female delinquents and offenders. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 25(1), 57-75.
Landsheer, J.A., & Dijkum. C. (2005). Male and female delinquency trajectories from pre-
through middle adolescence and their continuation in late adolescence. Adolescence, 40(160), 729-48.
Wasserman, G.A., McReynolds, L.S., Ko, S.J., Katz, L.M., & Carpenter, J.R. (2005). Gender differences in psychiatric disorders at juvenile probation intake. American Journal of Public Health, 95(1), 131-7.
Introduction for abbreviated research plan: Qualitative
Although behavioral and emotional patterns amongst male and female juvenile delinquents share some notable similarities when compared with…