The idea that “the phenomena we purport to study are only defined in any meaningful terms by the measurements we apply to them” is true to some extent. This however depends on whether the phenomenon under investigation is quantitative or qualitative in nature. In quantitative research, the same research process can be used to study different phenomena and the meanings derived from the studies can easily be understood by anyone including those who did not take part in the study. This is because quantitative research is only concerned with the numbers of the phenomenon under investigation (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). For instance, a study seeking to investigate the number of juvenile delinquents in the United States is a quantitative study. The results from this study can be understood by just about anyone. As a result, the results from a quantitative study using a sample can be generalized to the entire population. In addition, quantitative research studies make use of statistical methods to analyze the collected data. These tests follow a particular order that any skilled individual can use to analyze any numerical data.
The same however cannot be said of qualitative research such as research conducted in behavioural science. Unlike the quantitative research which is interested in numerical data, qualitative research is mostly interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the phenomenon under investigation (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). Using the example of juvenile delinquents, a qualitative study would not be interested in the number of juvenile delinquents in the US. Instead, it would be interested in understanding the reasons why children engage in criminal and delinquent behaviour in the first place. Such studies are widely used in businesses. For instance, a researcher interested in a certain commodity, for instance a specific facial cream, would not be interested in the number of women who use that product. Instead, the researcher would seek to understand why some women prefer the product to a rival product.
The execution of qualitative studies requires the researcher to interact deeply with the subjects of the issue under investigation (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). This is normally achieved through the use of data collection methods such as in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and case studies which permit the researcher to discuss with the subjects at length concerning the topic under investigation. These data collection methods allow an extensive exploration of the issues under investigation through clarification and probing of information. The researcher is in a position to probe the informants for additional information about the issue at hand. The informant is also able to provide more information than was initially enquired thereby enabling the researcher to gain as much information as possible.
Data gained through qualitative methods are not subject to interpretation by just about anyone. This is because different phenomena affect different people in different ways depending on their upbringing, family structures, culture, and other socio-economic factors (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). In the example of juvenile delinquents, a researcher interested in the reasons that push children to engage in criminal activities will have varying responses from the participants. For instance, one child may be forced to engage in criminal activities due to poverty while another may be forced into crime due to lack of parental guidance and control even though he may come from a well-to-do household. As a result, the findings from behavioural research cannot be generalized to entire populations and their meanings can only be understood by those who take part in the studies.
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory, procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.