There are two primary methods of research design in research: qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative studies deal with non-numerical data, such as reasons, opinions, and motivations. Quantitative research uses statistical analysis of numerical data to test a hypothesis. Since both methods have their benefits and flaws, it is unclear which is design is more suitable for public safety research. The present paper reviews the pros and cons of both methods to appreciate their value. Critical analysis of the benefits and limitations leads to the understanding that both research designs are equally important for the subject since they have different areas of applications.
Benefits and Values
The selection of an appropriate research method allows a researcher to acquire reliable results in the most efficient way. To choose a consistent approach, qualitative or quantitative, one is to appreciate their benefits. As stated above, quantitative methods analyze numbers to receive valid, reliable, and generalizable results (Creswell, 2014). The design implies the use of a set number of precise tools that test a hypothesis based on a theory (Creswell, 2014). In other words, every step in quantitative research aims at reducing bias. For example, a study conducted by Sundt, Salisbury, and Harmon (2016) uses relevant and reliable statistics about the number of crimes before and after the reduction of the prisoner population. By conducting a correlational analysis, they aim at answering the question of downsizing prisons affects public safety. They utilize rigorous methods to avoid any misinterpretation and come to the conclusion that a 17% decrease in the number of prisoners has no significant effect on the number of crimes. In summary, the value of qualitative research design is that it provides valid, reliable, and generalizable results with minimal presence of bias.
Quantitative research is used when there is no clear hypothesis to be tested, and the subject needs in-depth analysis. Qualitative studies deal with non-numerical data and are often used to conduct social or behavioral studies since human interactions are complicated (Atieno, 2009). The primary advantage of the approach is the ability to generate rich descriptive data through unstructured and semi-structured interviews, case studies, or expertise (Atieno, 2009). In other words, instead of providing an answer if a hypothesis is true or false, qualitative research answers open ended-questions, such as what is needed to change the current practice. For instance, instead of analyzing the numbers, Veri (2016) conducts a series of interviews with police officers to understand their perspective on the effectiveness of sexual offender registration. The research concluded that the matter is overly time-consuming and has a limited effect on public safety. In brief, qualitative studies help to answer broader questions using more flexible tools.
Quantitative methods have limited usability since some topics are difficult to quantify, and access to reliable data may be limited. For example, a study by Ferretti, Jorgensen, Chapple, De Leo, and Micheli (2015) tries to find a correlation between the predator protection policies and the number of attacks on humans. To answer the question, Ferretti et al. (2015) analyze the data about the number of shark attacks in California before and after the passage of predator protection laws. The correlational analysis shows that the regulations do not affect the number of victims of shark bites. At the same time, Ferretti et al. (2015) found that shark attacks decrease in numbers during the last 50 years. However, the adopted quantitative methods are unable to provide the reasons for the matter. In short, the practices of quantitative research limit the possibility of answering certain questions.
The flaws of qualitative research are easily drawn from the methods it utilizes. According to Atieno (2009), quantitative studies often take more time to complete, and their results may be dismissed due to the lack of precise controls and numerical data. Additionally, such studies are not easy to replicate, which limits the generalizability of the findings (Creswell, 2014). For example, Brucker (2015) examines the perception of public safety among citizens with disabilities. The survey showed that people with disabilities are more likely to feel insecure and dissatisfied with the quality of police services. The adopted theoretical framework allows explaining the reasons for the phenomenon. However, the methods utilized by the author of the article lack validity and reliability due to the possibility of bias in the interpretation of the survey. In short, qualitative studies are harder to design, and the results are more likely to be invalid or unreliable.
While the utilization of qualitative methods is essential, they are not sufficient to obtain a holistic picture of the matter. If public safety researchers choose to utilize only quantitative methods, they will face various issues. Even though the research findings will be viable and reliable, they will be limited only to the topics that can be quantified. There will be no scientific data concerning people’s opinions and perceptions, which is vital for public security. Since quantitative studies often base their hypotheses on qualitative research findings (Creswell, 2014), the researchers will face difficulties exploring new areas. In brief, the potential issues in using only quantitative methods include the inability to answer certain questions and limitation of topic selections.
At the same time, if it is decided to utilize only qualitative methods, researchers will face other issues that would limit their capabilities. First, since qualitative studies are more time-consuming, the number of available research will become limited, and scientific data in the field will become scarce. Second, the findings may become contradictive, and there will be no way of confirming the viability and reliability of results due to the flexibility of methods and lack of scientific control. Third, even though the qualitative approach can answer virtually any question, the results will be rough and hardly generalizable. In summary, the exclusion of the quantitative method will lead to scarcity and obscurity of research findings.
The analysis of the benefits and flaws of qualitative and quantitative approaches leads to the understanding that both research methods are equally important. If public security scholars choose to utilize only one method, the implications will be disastrous. The two approaches represent a refined dichotomy of toolsets that complement each other. Therefore, it is vital to adequately utilize qualitative and quantitative designs to answer appropriate research questions.
Public security is a field abundant with qualitative and quantitative studies that provide valuable information of the professionals in the sphere. While qualitative research can answer virtually any question due to the flexibility of the methods, the results may be invalid and unreliable. At the same time, the qualitative approach guarantees maximum validity, reliability, and generalizability, yet questions that can be answered are strictly limited. Critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches leads to the understanding that both methods are equally important for research in public safety.
Atieno, O. P. (2009). An analysis of the strengths and limitations of qualitative and quantitative research paradigms. Problems of Education in the 21st Century 13, 13-18.
Brucker, D. L. (2015). Perceptions, behaviors, and satisfaction related to public safety for persons with disabilities in the United States. Criminal Justice Review, 40(4), 431–448. doi: 10.1177/0734016815584997
Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Ferretti, F., Jorgensen, S., Chapple, T. K., De Leo, G., & Micheli, F. (2015). Reconciling predator conservation with public safety. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 13(8), 412–417. doi: 10.1890/150109
Sundt, J., Salisbury, E. J., & Harmon, M. G. (2016). Is downsizing prisons dangerous? Criminology & Public Policy, 15(2), 315–341. doi: 10.1111/1745-9133.12199