Comparing and analyzing qualitative and quantitative approaches to research with consideration of ethical issues associated with research
Research can be described as a quest for new knowledge and the exploration of the unknown. A systematic process in which data is collected and analyzed in order to draw conclusions and generate new concepts (Walliman, 2011). Research within the field of nutrition is crucial and conducted daily, as nutrition is constantly changing is it vital to obtain and utilize current and up-to-date information (Ohlhorst, et al, 2013). Evidence-based research can profoundly make positive changes to health and allow medical innovations to happen, including, prevention and treatment of disease and public health interventions (Dobrow, et al, 2017). The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges the importance for a more rigorous process for research within nutrition, to ensure the delivery of safe evidence-based information within public health (WHO, 2019).
The essence of this assignment is to compare the similarities and dissimilarities between quantitative and qualitative research methods. Strengths and limitations are apparent in all areas of research and they will be explored within this assignment. Ethical issues throughout the research process will be discussed in depth and the reader will be informed on four ethical principles required when using human participants in research.
According to Jervis and Drake (2014), the main purpose of research is to obtain new knowledge, also to validate and expand on existing knowledge, in order to establish facts to explain a certain phenomenon. Research methods refer to all procedures carried out by the researcher in the research process and comprise of both quantitative and qualitative methods (Polgar and Thomas, 2008). Quantitative research is a systematic approach used to quantify variables, using numerical or statistical data (Polit and Beck, 2010). Hagan (2014) also adds that quantitative research is a systematic, structured, and formal process that uses a statistical approach in the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. Contrarily, Hammerberg, et al (2016) explains that qualitative research is a systematic but unstructured process that is narrative and descriptive in the design of the collection, analysis, and presentation of data. Regardless of the difference in the meaning, both are research methods that follow a step-by-step process that considers each stage of the research process systematically. This correlates with the definition of research as a systematic and rigorous process (Ozhan-Caparlar and Donmez, 2016).
Quantitative research uses deductive reasoning, which works on a hypothesis and examines all possibilities before reaching a specific and logical conclusion (Azungha, 2018). It could be argued, that as deductive reasoning is based on assumptions, affirming the consequent may pose as a limitation, for example, if one of the premises are wrong or if different assumptions are made, then all logic becomes falsifiable (Abutabenji and Jaradat, 2018). On the other hand, the possibility to explain its hypothesis by discovering a relationship between an independent (cause) and a dependent (effect) variable is a deductive strength (Oaksford, 2015). In contrast to this, qualitative research uses inductive reasoning, which begins with an observation, forms a pattern, a hypothesis is created to support its theory and a conclusion is drawn based on multiple ideas, generating a new theory for quantitative research to experiment on. However, Zalhagi and Khazei (2016) are from a different point of view and suggest that quantitative research is more than just experimenting with a theory developed by qualitative research and that it can also develop its theory based on the researcher’s predictions.
Pritchard (2018) emphasizes on the importance of epistemology (existence of knowledge) and ontology (existence of truth/reality) on the paradigm of research. Consisting of positivism and interpretism. Quantitative research is based on positivism, it is objective in nature as it generates knowledge and truth from a single idea and prediction from the researcher, empirical confirmation, and experimentation. In contrast, qualitative research is based on the interpretive paradigm, as it is subjective in nature and draws knowledge from interpreting other people’s experiences, behavior, and understanding of their natural environment, often with little or no prediction from the researcher (Kivunja and Kuyini, 2017).
Quantitative data is gathered through questionnaires, surveys, and polls. Pre-existing statistical data can be manipulated using specialist computer software, by doing this, it allows the research to be replicated and therefore, increases the reliability of the study (Swift and Tischler, 2010). Data collected using the quantitative method can be generalized across populations, as large sample sizes can be used in the study (Austin and Sutton, 2014). For instance, in order to find out the nutritional intake of university students living on campus, a cohort study could be conducted by way of using dietary assessment methods, such as 24-hour recalls and a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). Although the accuracy of using such methods could be questioned, as social desirability response may lead to inaccurate self-reporting, therefore, this limitation may impede the conclusion (Miller, et al, 2008). In comparison, qualitative methods produce results by means that are not quantifiable. Data is obtained through interviews, focus groups, and observation, as qualitative takes a naturalistic approach the researcher needs to adopt person-centered principles (Sandvik and McCormack, 2018). The outcome of the aforementioned study regarding the nutritional intake of students living on campus would produce very different findings when using a qualitative approach. A qualitative approach is used to better understand human experiences and behaviors and as human behaviors are influenced by surroundings, the research is conducted in the natural setting of the subjects (Anderson, 2010). Rahman (2016) argues that research carried out in such a way lacks validity, as small sample sizes cannot be generalized, also the results can be manipulated by the researcher’s own opinions.
Although quantitative research has dominated the research world and with methodological purists taking the stance of being either primarily quantitative or primarily qualitative, combining both methods using the mixed method approach can be highly beneficial in research (Schoonenboom and Johnson, 2017). Almalki (2016) connotes that adopting a mixed method approach is particularly useful to understand contradictions between the findings of qualitative and quantitative, plus offers great flexibility, therefore, can be adaptable to various study designs, such as randomized trials and observational studies. Although the mixed method approach has gained momentum within the field of research, it has also been the subject of much debate as to whether it carries any weight of the substance. Research involves a vigorous process and should be carried out meticulously, in the case of mixed methods the researcher needs to be skilled in both qualitative and quantitative methods and this proves problematic when conducting mixed methods research, due to the researcher’s personal preference to research methods (Regnault, et al, 2018, Shorten and Smith, 2017).
Along with the possibility of uncertain outcomes in research, there is also an element of risk to participants or the environment. Therefore, all research should be designed and carried out ethically (Vanclay, et al, 2013). In 1964 The Declaration of Helsinki, a formal statement, was developed to provide ethical guidelines for all medical researchers to adhere to when using human subjects in research, with the intention to protect human participants from being mistreated. The Declaration of Helsinki set the foundations for future ethical developments (Carlson, et al, 2004). Before any study can begin a proposal of what is intended should be submitted to an ethics committee in order to gain approval for the study being carried out. The researcher must then obtain informed consent from the participant and the participant should be made aware of the exact procedure in which they are committing to. The opportunity to withdraw at any stage of the process should be emphasized and the researcher should reiterate this at every stage of the study(Erlren, 2010). This is particularly crucial in qualitative research, as the outcomes can often take a different direction it is paramount that no distress is caused by the findings. For example, if a study was conducted to measure the subject’s intake of sugar, considering the fact, that consuming excessive amounts of sugar can lead to obesity, and in turn, can lead to type 2 diabetes mellitus (Khasari, et al, 2014). Participants’ personal data must be guarded with the strictest confidentiality, any information that could identify a person, for example, date of birth, name, address, or contact information should be kept safe from (Saunders, et al, 2014). This is in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Gov.uk, 2018).
Beauchamp and Childress (1979) devised a framework of four ethical principles. The four prima facie principles are respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. The term prima facie means that the principle is binding unless it contradicts another of the moral principles (Gillon, 2014). The aim of autonomous decision-making is to treat participants with fairness and to have their involvement in all decision-making throughout the whole research process (Mellado, 2016). However, having respect for autonomy is not absolute and a person may at times act without autonomy, for example, for a person hospitalized and suffering with severe anorexia nervosa and refusing food, the decision to be forced fed by medical professionals, then their autonomous right has been taken away, even if the decision is in their best interest (Coggon and Miola, 2011). The Mental Health Capacity Act is in place with principles designed to act on behalf of a person who lacks the mental capacity to make informed decisions (Biswas and Hiremath, 2010). Non-maleficence (do no harm) and beneficence (do good) are often used interchangeably but even though they are closely related, the two should be confused. Beneficence aims to promote good and well-being in society and in patients. While non-maleficence aims to first do no harm, which is achievable by careful decision-making (Townsend, et al, 2010). Justice encompasses all the principles, intended to treat all with fairness, whilst upholding moral principles in all aspects of laws and legislation (Jahn, 2011).
In conclusion, although qualitative and quantitative methods both possess weaknesses, they also have their strengths, therefore, none is superior to the other and both have a place in the field of dietetics. The mixed method research is a research approach that is gaining in popularity amongst researchers and this approach has deservedly earned its place. Strengths and limitations are a part of any research and they have been highlighted within this essay. The author has gained a broader knowledge in ethical principles through the writing of this essay.
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