Qualitative and Quantitative Research Design Issues


A research design is an overall technique used to bring together different elements of a study. The process allows the researcher to effectively and clearly address a research problem. On its part, a research plan comprises the blueprint that is used for analysis, collection, and measurement of inputs needed in a study (Bryman 2012). In the field of social sciences, acquiring information relevant to the problem at hand requires the researcher to take a number of steps in a systematic manner. The steps include specifying the nature of substantiation needed to analyze a theory and evaluate a program.

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In this paper, the author will provide critical analysis of qualitative and quantitative research designs. The discussion will involve the ethical issues associated with the two designs, as well as ontology and epistemology factors.

A Critical Analysis of Ethics in the Context of Qualitative Research Designs

According to Creswell (2009), this research design is commonly used in various academic disciplines, such as social sciences and market exploration. It examines how and why decisions are made, rather than ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ (Creswell 2009). For example, the researcher may be interested in knowing why a consumer prefers one product over the other. As a result, the research design uses small samples.

One of the elements closely related to ethics in this research design is its evolutionary nature. As a result, the information collected informs the methodologies used in the entire process. Ethical issues arise in various phases of these processes (Bogdan & Biklen 2006). The researcher has to be ready for these problems. In most cases, it is difficult to know the probable ethical issues that may arise and how to counter them. In addition, it can be difficult to present a robust proposal for moral codes. In certain instances, it may be a challenge to get approval to carry out the research. The cases include when conducting controversial studies, for example, covert monitoring. Another scenario is when dealing with sensitive subjects, such as marginalized groups. In spite of the restriction possibilities, ethics committees are now getting familiar with the nature of qualitative research designs and the potential issues. However, the researchers are still required to have knowledge of the possible uncertainties they may face during the study.

An example of a qualitative study that provides a clear picture of these elements is the one on youth mentorship conducted by Ahrens et al. (2011). Ahrens et al. (2011) carried out the study to explore mentoring relationships in the lives of youth in foster care. The research involved twenty-three youths aged between 18 and 25 years (Ahrens et al. 2011). The sample was small enough for a qualitative study. The researchers used a number of qualitative methods to collect the data. The methods included semi-structured in-person interviews and thematic analysis of literature. Each of the participants reported having experienced at least one mentoring relationship (Ahrens et al. 2011). The findings are an indication of the in-depth approach associated with qualitative research as far as the subjects are concerned. Ahrens et al. (2011) were looking for a number of characteristics, such as mentorship. The researchers realized that the best way to acquire this kind of information entails the application of a qualitative research design.

Qualitative researchers make a number of assumptions. For example, it is assumed that reality is subjective. A consumer believes their preferred brand to be the real representation of the product. In addition, social environments are created by generalizable individual interpretations. The individuals create meaning out of the social realities around them. The principle is based on constructivism rather than positivism. Qualitative researchers believe in in-depth understanding and extensive description of phenomena (Byrne-Armstrong, Higgs & Horsfall 2001). In terms of axiology, experimenters assume studies are dictated by the values and theories they employ during the research.

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Ethics in Quantitative Research Designs

A quantitative approach is used in various fields. They include psychology, sociology, community health, gender, and economics. Other areas are health and human development, marketing, and political science (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2007). It relies on statistics to define social and other forms of realities. For example, psychologists use various statistical measures to gauge such elements as attitudes, feelings, and other emotions.

Quantitative research plans are highly defined. As a result, experimenters can plan the procedure before conducting it. Once the process is executed, there are often minimal changes to the initial arrangement (Creswell 2009). From an ethical perspective, it becomes less problematic for the researcher to deal with diverse aspects of the study given its specificity. The researcher is in a better position to understand the probable ethical challenges and how to overcome them. In addition, they are capable of writing a proper ethics proposal.

The ethical form entails a description of whether the study is experimental or non-experimental. It is not mandatory for a proposal to be presented to the ethics committee if tests will not be conducted on subjects (Donley 2012). The researcher is only required to report to the supervisor and guarantee them that necessary precautions will be taken to deal with any probable ethical issues within the course of the study. When conducting experimental research where the key subjects are humans, it is necessary to present an ethics consent form to the committee for approval. Generally, the process tends to slow down the study. It is one of the reasons why the researcher is required to finalize the authorization before commencing the research.

The study by Grossman and Rhodes (2002) paints a clear picture of what quantitative research entails. The study was carried out to analyze youth mentoring. Grossman and Rhodes (2002) analyzed the extent of matched affiliations in their sample. They used a sample of more than 1,100 mentorship relations (Grossman & Rhodes 2002). One will note that this sample is larger than the 23 used in the study by Ahrens et al. (2011). What this illustrates is that quantitative studies tend to use larger samples compared to qualitative designs. Grossman and Rhodes (2002) used survey-based and numerical information. They applied various statistical procedures to evaluate the relationship between match duration and interests. The two researchers used the survey-based quantitative methodology for various reasons. One of them was to help them access a big sample. Small samples make it a challenge to use some statistical procedures. Another example is the study by Akter et al. (2014). In this study, Akter et al. (2014) used sociodemographic and anthropometric data. A number of statistical analyses, including multi-level logistic regression, were used.

Like qualitative research, quantitative studies are guided by a number of assumptions. For example, the researchers seek to get familiar with the causes of occurrences. They do not consider subjective states of events or persons. In addition, qualitative methodologies are value-free (Davids & Sutton 2004). They also support positivism. The design acknowledges the significance of hypothetical-deductive techniques. Quantitative researchers argue science is embedded in objective verification. However, this does not explain the subjective nature of the choices made by the researchers. Generally, the epistemological assumptions of positivistic quantitative inquiry explain the events taking place in the social environment being analyzed. Quantitative researchers believe science is the superior mode of understanding human experiences (Johnson & Christensen 2012). For example, a phenomenon that is not measurable is not reported. That is why tools like Likert scales are used to measure emotions.

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Specific Ethical Issues in Qualitative and Quantitative Research Data Collection Methodologies

Ethical Issues in Data Collection

A number of data collection methodologies are employed in qualitative and quantitative research designs. They include surveys, observation, and interviews. A researcher can face specific ethical issues when using the plans.

Observations can be overt or covert. Each of them has its own set of ethical uncertainties. Covert involves dealing with participants who are unaware that the research is in progress (Dunne, Pryor & Yates 2005). Ethical issues arise because it is viewed as a deceptive study. For example, the procedure may involve monitoring individuals on the move without their consent. An experimenter can do this due to the fact that the individuals may not agree to be involved in the study. In addition, it can be a challenge to get informed consent from each participant when dealing with a very large group. When using covert design, a researcher is required to provide robust reasons as to why it is the most suitable method for the study (Gomm, Hammersley & Foster 2009).

In overt observation, the participants are aware the research is ongoing. In addition, they have full knowledge of what is being studied. In spite of this, ethical issues may arise. The individuals may be aware of the study, but they may not have agreed to take part in it. Such cases can occur in organizations. The manager may have approved the research process without taking into consideration the views of the employees (Gomm et al. 2009).

As data collection procedures, surveys and structured interviews have to be designed before commencing research (Fink & Kosecoff 1998). The plan involves the use of closed questions. From an ethical point of view, experimenters are always in a position of getting informed consent from the participants. The reason is that the procedure is well understood. However, before starting the structured interview process, participants need to be well informed of the nature of the questions to be asked (Fowler 2002). In addition, the research tools, such as topics and options, can be presented to them. All of these measures are taken to address ethical issues.

Informal and in-depth interviews pose high chances of uncertainties to research participants. The reason is that the interviews do not go through the planning process. As a result, it may be a challenge to predict the nature of the questions to be asked. Most of the issues addressed arise within the course of the interview (Denzin 2005). The discussion is influenced by the participants’ answers and views. As such, it is a challenge for the interviewee to anticipate the questions. In such cases, the researcher is required to portray certain traits, such as transparency.

Ethical Issues in Conducting Research

When conducting both qualitative and quantitative research, the following ethical issues may arise:


Both qualitative and quantitative research designs should not harm participants. There should be proper justification for cases where there is a possibility of harm or discomfort (Hancock & Algozzine 2006). In addition, such studies require precise explanations on how the harm will be reduced and controlled. There are different forms of harm that can be experienced by participants in both qualitative and quantitative research designs. However, it is important to note that it is not the intention of the researcher to cause discomfort to the participants (Gomm et al. 2009). Their major concern is to reduce the risks associated with the procedure. An example of a research activity that had to be stopped for its negative impacts on participants was the 1971 Standard Prison Study.

Obtaining informed consent

It is another significant ethical consideration. Participants should understand the various issues associated with the study. They include being aware they are taking part in a study and all that is expected of them by the experimenters. Qualitative and quantitative researchers should provide information on such aspects as the study’s purposes, methodologies, expected outcomes, and demands (Davids & Sutton 2004). Other factors to be explained include possibilities of inconveniences and risks.

Researchers should understand that participation should be voluntary. As a result, coercion should be avoided. In cases where informed consent cannot be clearly obtained, researchers should show the cause why this is not possible (Johnson & Christensen 2012). Cases, where informed consent is not needed, include in certain educational and naturalistic research environments.


It is another major component of study designs. Participants are always willing to provide information. Some of it is often private and sensitive. As a result, a researcher is required to maintain confidentiality. Information can only be revealed with the consent of the subjects. However, not all information can be entirely held confidential (Bryman 2012). The reason behind this is that some data is revealed during various stages of the research. In such cases, confidentiality can be enhanced by removing identifiers, such as real names. In addition, researchers can use proxies (Bryman 2012).

Right to willingly terminate participation

In both qualitative and quantitative research practices, respondents should be allowed to drop out of the study when they want (Hancock & Algozzine 2006). They can do so at any phase of the research process. When a volunteer wishes not to take part anymore, they should not be forced to continue.


It involves deliberate misrepresentation of details related to the research (Stake 1995). Researchers in both qualitative and quantitative studies may fail to provide the subjects with information pertaining to the study. The information can be withheld partially or totally. As a result, the volunteers will take part in the study on the basis of misleading information. Deception is often used in both designs for various reasons. For example, it may be used in cases where participants are suspicious of the research to be undertaken.


In both qualitative and quantitative research studies, participants expect the experimenter not to be intrusive (Tight 2010). However, cases may arise where some researchers excessively infringe on the volunteers’ space, time, and personal lives. To avoid violating the ethical principles, an experimenter should find a neutral place for conducting the study. In addition, they should make a reasonable estimate of time to be spent with the participants. In addition, the researcher should be able to manage situations where participants reveal personal and emotional information, for example, in interviews.

Data interpretation

A researcher is required to analyze information using strategies that are devoid of fraud, misstatement, and misinterpretation (Byrne & Ragin 2009). In a qualitative study, an experimenter may over-interpret certain data, leading to the presentation of a negative image about the population or group being studied.

Rapport and friendship

The moment participants agree to engage in a quantitative study, the researcher is required to develop rapport (Yin 2003). The reason behind this is to enable them to disclose relevant information comfortably. Instances may arise where the experimenter is not aware of their powers and control over the volunteers. In addition, others create fake friendships with the participants just to get the desired information.

Inappropriate behavior

Participants in a study expect researchers to avoid engaging in any activities that may be harassing in nature (Creswell 2009). However, there are instances where the researcher may get too close to volunteers. As a result, they cross the professional boundaries that should be maintained. Examples of these cases arise between teachers and minor students. The teacher may make sexual advances towards the subject.

Epistemology and Ontology in Qualitative and Quantitative Research


Ontology questions in social sciences study are concerned with the nature of reality (Flyvbjerg 2001). Generally, there are two different positions. They include objectivism and constructionism. Objectivism applies to quantitative research methodology. The principal stresses the existence of an independent actuality. Constructionism, on the other hand, applies to qualitative research designs. The notion argues reality is the product of social procedures.

Ontology in quantitative research

Researchers who employ a positivist point of reference consider reality to be in the world. It just needs to be discovered by applying conformist scientific plans. By use of senses, people can examine the veracity brought about by human deeds (Schostak 2002). On their part, positivist experimenters view themselves as less significant variables in a study. They believe they are disengaged from the aspects they are researching. A philosophical point of view is adopted. It is taken that the world is real and it is known. As a result, the researchers are required to use quantitative designs to discover it (Vaus 2001). When the methodology is applied, information can be acquired and analyzed by the use of objective techniques. In addition, the results are presented quantitatively using numerical values (Vaus 2001).

Ontology in qualitative research

Interpretive researchers disagree with the notion of the world’s existence. They consider reality to be a subjective phenomenon. Actuality and meaning are socially constructed concepts. They believe that individuals create their own logic of collective realism. Generally, interpretive researchers employ qualitative designs to examine, interpret, and depict authenticity (Dunne et al. 2005). Qualitative research results are represented descriptively by the use of words. The plan considers people as study participants and not as objects. As a result, volunteers are motivated to engage in research activities. In addition, qualitative research helps participants to create meaning out of their own realism and value their knowledge. Reality exists when a researcher begins their study. It terminates the moment the activity comes to a conclusion.


It is an important aspect of research. It defines how knowledge is acquired. The principle provides a philosophical platform for individuals to choose the right and legitimate knowledge (Ragin & Becker 1992). Researchers who subscribe to this school of thought are concerned with learning the laws that govern human conduct. There are two epistemological divisions. They include positivism and interpretivism.

Epistemology in quantitative research

Researchers who employ the positivism approach use quantitative measures to explain the manner in which variables interact, shape occurrences, and influence outcomes (Creswell 2009). They formulate and test descriptions in experimental studies. The design employs various multivariate analyses and methodologies for the statistical interpretation of data. They include inferential statistics, mathematical evaluation, experimental, and quasi-design randomization. Others are structured protocols and questionnaires with partial arrays of predestined responses. The technique ensures knowledge is based on direct examination by applying empirical procedures.

Quantitative epistemology assumes the researcher and participants are independent variables (Flyvbjerg 2006; Vaus 2007). As a result, the researcher can conduct a study without influencing it or being manipulated by it. Consequently, the epistemological approach is considered dualistic. Quantitative epistemology also stresses the importance of detaching facts from values. The dualistic viewpoint considers truth as a theme of validity. In addition, it views legality as a correspondence between information and actuality in the data.

Epistemology in qualitative studies

In an interpretive or constructivist approach, qualitative researchers consider the world to be structured and interpreted by peoples’ interaction with each other (Bryman 2012). According to the concept, the main purpose of critical examinations is to understand specific phenomena in society. Qualitative researchers who apply epistemology are considered as naturalistic. The reason is that their studies relate to real-world occurrences as they take place through natural means. Generally, their research activities are non-manipulative and non-controlling. As a result, qualitative designs are considered to be inductive in nature.

Qualitative epistemology is considered to be subjective (Henn, Weinstein & Foard 2006). The reason behind this is because it is impossible to detach facts from values. For example, the opinions of consumers towards a given brand are regarded as both facts and personal values. Absolute objectivity is viewed as totally unattainable. In addition, truth is associated with socially and historically planned agreements.

Researchers use qualitative and quantitative research designs to come up with hypotheses and make assumptions. A qualitative plan is used in analyzing, collecting, and interpreting data (Converse & Presser 1986). Researchers observe what participants do and say. Quantitative design is used in describing concepts, meanings, definitions, and symbols. In addition, it explains characteristics and metaphors.

There are numerous debates on which is the best design between qualitative and quantitative. There is no precise answer to this question. The reason is that each design has its strengths and weaknesses, which differ in relation to the topic of study. Due to this, qualitative and quantitative plans are applied based on the aim of the research. Both research designs tend to be broad in nature. They are analyzed using goals, data collection instruments, and the nature of the information.


When conducting qualitative and quantitative studies, researchers need to take into consideration all the ethical issues that may arise. To this end, they should plan how to address the challenges and avoid violating the rights of participants. It is erroneous to assume that ethical concerns are limited to the data collection process. The reason is that ethical uncertainties crop up in all stages of a study. They may occur during the planning, execution, or analysis stages. Researchers should put in place measures to counter these issues. Such measures include defining their role in the study as insiders and outsiders, as well as assessment of issues that may contravene research guidelines.


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