Quantitative and qualitative paradigms of research form two different ways of looking at the world’s phenomenon. And hence, they form two different ways to solve the problem. For example, an empirical research question can follow a positivism paradigm. On the other hand, interpretivism or post-positivism present the solution to a social reality. The three major paradigms include, positivism, interpretivism, and post-positivism.
“A paradigm is a shared world view that represents the beliefs, and values in a discipline and that guides how problems are solved, (Schwandt, 2001).”
Qualitative versus quantitative paradigms
Why one paradigm is quantitative while other is qualitative in nature? A quantitative approach to solve problem is based on highly rigorous, controlled techniques. This rigor implies that researcher controls all other variables that can effect the study. Therefore such studies are mostly conducted in laboratories. In addition to rigor, these studies are based on high validity, generalizability, and reliability. Conversely, qualitative studies are based on studying social realities. They believe that a social reality can take its form from the experiences and beliefs of the people involved. So, both studies have a different way to look at the research problem. And also they have their own significance in solving world problems. Especially, in the modern world the evolution of social sciences and qualitative research has helped in understanding and solving social problems.
The following three components of a research paradigm define whether a problem fits quantitative approach to solve problems or qualitative approach.
- Ontology, our belief about the nature of the reality;
- Epistemology, ways of knowing that reality; and
- Exiology, ethics and values about what we believe is true
To know about the ontology, epistemology, and axiology of a research problem we have to use a systematic methodology that will help us reach the solution. And, this methodology can be quantitative, qualitative, or mixed method. Therefore, the use of right methodology is crucial to reach to the right solution. As a researcher you should have understanding of both quantitative and qualitative approach to make the right decision about what to use in your research.
Quantitative research paradigm
The quantitative research paradigm dominated the scientific research until late 20th century. Then, by the end of the twentieth century other paradigms gained prominence. Quantitative research paradigms are based on the philosophy that every phenomenon in the world can only be explained by positivist paradigm. They believe that there is only one truth and explanation of a phenomenon that can be reached using empirical methods and quantitative methodologies. They argue that every research should be generalizable to some extent to similar situations.
Quantitative research quantifies variables and solves problems using numeric assessment. The ontology in a quantitative research is a true reality that exists in only one form. The process the investigator uses to know that truth is quantitative in nature, this is epistemology. The methodology adopted by quantitative research is mostly experimental with focus on hypothesis testing. Hypothesis testing means finding the cause and effect relationship between variables.
Quantitative research paradigm gained prominence due to its ease to adopt to standard ways to conduct the research. Quantitative research is also highly generalizable as compared to the qualitative research.
Qualitative research paradigm
Qualitative research paradigm was dominated by the constructivist approach to solve the problems. Constructivist believe that there is a strong difference between qualitative research and qualitative research. Both type of research cannot be solved using one paradigm. Until the birth of the pragmatic paradigm it was believed that qualitative research cannot be combined with quantitative approach. Pragmatic approach combined quantitative and qualitative approach in one methodology. This mixed method approach help the research better understand otherwise purely qualitative research.
The constructivist believe that there is a constructed reality that is based on the experiences, circumstances, and situations. The reality is not a single reality and therefore the generlaizability of one outcome to other similar situation is difficult. To study a phenomenon you need to know about the situation that influenced it. Every phenomenon is different due to the situation which caused it to happen. The approach to solve problem is usually subjective and qualitative.
- Qualitative research paradigm”. University of Connecticut. https://researchbasics.education.uconn.edu/qualitative_research_paradigm/#
- Chilisa, B., Barbara K. “Selecting a research approach: paradigm, methodology, and methods”. (Chap. 3).
- Schwandt, T.A. (2001). Dictionary of qualitative inquiry. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
- “Type sof research paradigms”. Research Articles.
- “Introduction to research paradigms”. Research Articles.