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What is Research Approaches ? | Meaning and Types of Research Approaches

Research Approaches

What is Research Approaches ?

Research approaches can be defined as the collection of procedures and plans that decide the overall process of research. Research approach decides the methods for data collection, analysis, and interpretation. The concept of research approach is followed in the entire research process. There are many factors the selection of research approach, such as, research objective, experience of research, and the audience of research study.

Types of Research Approaches

Research approaches can be of two types, i.e., qualitative and quantitative. When the researcher wants to determine or check the presence or absence of an element in the study, then qualitative methods are used. Whereas, when the researcher wants to determine the level of the element's presence, then quantitative methods are used. Quantitative techniques make use of advanced statistical techniques whereas qualitative methods employ open-ended questions which utilize direct quotations. The researcher can utilize quantitative methods in the form of statistical techniques for hypothesis testing and qualitative methods in the form of semi structured interviews. Both the methods increase the researchers understanding of the social phenomena.

Qualitative Research Approaches

Researchers employ qualitative research methods to study human behavior and habits. It is also useful in product management for identifying the product features that will help it to get sold. For example, a product manager planning to launch a mobile phone would definitely want to know the habits and preferences of a target segment so that he may incorporate the same in the design of the product. After this has been done, quantitative research is employed to test whether the design of the product is acceptable as per the standards or not.

Qualitative research can also be considered as the prior stage of quantitative research. In this approach, the researchers generate various ideas and concepts that can be converted into logical and testable hypotheses in future. These hypotheses can then be comprehensively tested and analysed using various techniques that come under the purview of quantitative research. For example, a survey can be conducted before the launch of a shampoo brand. This survey can find several popular brands. Quantitative research can then be conducted around these brands, so that a lot of time, effort, and resources can be saved.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

  • Qualitative research is a process to understand the uniqueness of situations in a particular context.
  • The researchers focus towards data collection and analysis process during the qualitative research. 
  • Qualitative research involves a lot of fieldwork. The emphasis is on observing the respondents in their natural settings, i.e., their homes, workplaces, entertainment spots, etc.
  • The research strategy which is employed in qualitative research is inductive in nature. This research methodology relies on abstractions, concepts, testing of hypothesis rather than relying on a body of existing theory.

Classification of Qualitative Research Approaches

Qualitative research approach is generally defined as the method adopted to carry out qualitative research or in-depth research on a subject. It describes the purpose for which the research is being conducted, the importance of the researchers(s) therein, the role they will be playing, the stages the research will follow, and the method(s) that will be adopted to Analyse recorded data. Described below are the four most important approaches to qualitative research :
Ethnographic Approach
Field Research
Phenomenological Approach
Grounded Theory

1) Ethnographic Approach : 
Ethnographic approach to qualitative research is an in-depth study of cultural groups and is extensively used in the field of anthropology. The definition of the word 'culture' has greatly changed over time. While 'culture' earlier referred to only pre-defined ethnic group(s) that belonged to a certain geographical location, it has now come to include almost any organisation or group. For example, this approach is now being applied to study the culture of Non-profit organisations or NGOs.

Since ethnography essentially studies cultures, there is a multitude of methods that can be applied to gather results an ethnographer desires. Among these, the most popular is the method of participant observation. Under this technique, an ethnographer becomes a part of the group that he/she aims to study. By being an active participant, the ethnographer is able to take a wide array of field notes, there being no limitation to what can be observed and recorded and how the same needs to be achieved.

Ethnographic approach to qualitative research is also used in administrative sciences where the practice of field research and recording of observations is not as detailed as it is required to be in the former.

2) Phenomenological Approach :
Phenomenological approach to qualitative research aims at identifying a phenomena or theory by analyzing the behavior of those who participate in it, and their respective perceptions of it. This approach has evolved from the study of the philosophy of existentialism and other such behavioral theories. 
For example, in public administration research, this approach is applied to interpret how people perceive a certain event or symbol and what meaning they can attach to it. Researchers collect data through narratives, in-depth personal interviews of participants, their personal experiences, and other such techniques.

Phenomenology is different from other approaches to qualitative research on the ground that it is a philosophy in itself or an amalgamation of philosophies that though distinctive from each other, are still related. Besides this distinction, phenomenology also, differs from other approaches to research on the ground that it aims to answer both epistemological questions and ontological questions. While epistemological questions are those that seek answers to questions such as, 'how we know what we know, and ontological questions are those that seek answers to questions like 'what it means to exist'. Like philosophers, phenomenologists also bold different views on these inherent questions, and, therefore, their assumptions and observations tend to differ greatly.

3) Field Research : 
Field research is another systematized approach to qualitative research that aims to study a situation or event over a long period of time. through interactions and observations. This method aims to closely observe the daily activities of a. social group under prevalent conditions. Being a long-term extensive approach, it is often termed to be a longitudinal research. This unique characteristic can make the research carry on for months, and sometimes even years. This approach is, more often than not, used to gather qualitative data.

The method of field research follows the procedure of selection of event, observation of subject(s), and recording of findings. For example, field research may aim to study the i daily activities of the residents of a slum and how they manage to organise their lives there. Through careful observation over a period of several months, the researcher aims to study how these slum dwellers respond to changes in both internal and external environment and continuously make recordings of the same. The researcher also gathers data by interacting with this social group and understanding their lives.

Once the researcher is satisfied with his/her observations, the recordings made are compiled into what is known as a case study report. The case study report provides a comprehensive picture of the subject(s) in question and can be readily used for further analysis. In the above case, for example, the compiled findings may then be used to study the economic conditions of the slum dwellers and how changes can be brought about for their benefit.

4) Grounded Theory : 
Grounded theory is a complex, inverted approach to qualitative research that was formulated and developed by Glaser and Strauss in the 1960. Unlike other approaches, grounded theory aims to first determine what needs to be observed or what question(s) need to be answered and then extensively gather data that summarize said observation. This approach does not merely aim to prove an abstract theory but aims to prove one that is supported by in-depth observations and is based on facts.

The first step towards grounded theory research is to identify a phenomenon or generate a question that will help guide the research, and this forms the centre of the process. This question need not be rigid and can be modified as the research progresses. Once the question has been identified, the researcher starts to gather data and develop linkages between the theory and the data. This step requires a huge investment of time and effort as there is no limit to what data can be useful and what cannot. After this phase, the researcher is merely engaged in verification of data, its linkage to the theory, and summarizing his/her findings. Grounded theory uses the following analytic strategies to define observations: 

i) Coding : 
The process of coding systematically categorizes qualitative data and its implications. While at the beginning, the researcher uses open coding to derive useful concepts from the data and categorizes them into broadly defined concepts; at a later stage, the researcher progresses to selective coding where the data is constantly being compared to concepts and recordings being made.

ii) Memoing : 
Memoing is the process of recording one's own thoughts and ideas throughout the study and is often imagined to be a recording of marginal notes and comments. Like coding, it initially takes the form of open mernoing whereas later on it graduates to selective memoing, in line with core concepts.

iii) Integrative Diagrams and Sessions : 
Diagrams are used to graphically represent the observations of the researcher and depict -data in a manner that simplifies its link to the developing theory. They may take the form of graphs, maps, or even cartoons, in some cases. Interactive sessions are another useful technique where different members of the research learn are brought together under one roof, to discuss and debate their observations and share ideas and insights.

Techniques of Collecting Qualitative Data

Following techniques may be used by researchers to collect qualitative data :

1) Depth Interview : 
Depth interview aims to achieve the opinions and perspectives of a small group of individuals on a particular idea or situation, by conducting comprehensive interviews with them. For example, in order to gauge the impact of a new economic norm on the members of a particular social class, the researcher may conduct in-depth interviews with few members of the social class to understand how they feel about it, and what socio-economic impact; they feel, may result or have resulted from it.

2) Focus Group : 
A focus group may be defined as a gathering of several persons, led by a trained moderator, to discuss and debate ideas and opinions on a particular subject. The concept of focus groups has evolved from sociology studies and has widely been used for marketing research, where the aim of the group usually is to analyse the sale-ability of a new product. The first step of the process is to determine the subject that needs to be discussed. Next, as the members of the group begin to exchange ideas, the moderator silently observes them and ensures that the discussion takes the course it is expected to. Any deviation(s) or non-participation by member(s) is addressed and resolved by the moderator. At the end of the discussion, the observations and recommendations of the group are attained and recorded by the moderator to lay the groundwork for further research and analysis.

3) Projective Techniques : 
In this method, individuals are encouraged to express their opinions on the behavior of others under situations that have been pre-fabricated as ambiguous and vague. Questioning is indirect and informal, and designed. to observe the underlying notions of persons. In the process of providing their own opinion of others, these individuals unknowingly provide insights into themselves. Researchers record these observations that help interpret the behavior of these persons.

Pros of Qualitative Research Approaches 

  • Qualitative approach is easily employed when the research objective is complex, and the answer is not a clear-cut yes or no. 
  • The qualitative research designs are very easy processes to carry-out, especially in situations where the organisation has resource constraints.
  • Since the scope of a qualitative research is extensive, it always generates some data that can be used by the organisation. However, if the hypothesis is not proved then there could be a lot of wasteful effort and expenditure.
  • Unlike a quantitative study, a qualitative study does not involve constraints of sample size requirements. For example, a case study analysis can be done even if the respondent size is small.

Cons of Qualitative Research Approaches 

  • Even though qualitative research is not as time consuming as quantitative research, it can still require substantial amount of planning and analysis on the part of researcher.
  • One of the biggest limitations is that qualitative data are not possible to analyse using mathematical analysis.
  • It relies a lot on personal observations and opinions.
  • Qualitative research is unique in nature up to a great extent. Hence, it suffers from a limitation that it cannot be replicated again. There is thus the problem of reusing the researched data by some other researchers who want to conduct the research again.

Quantitative Research Approaches

Quantitative approach is mostly used in scientific researches. Quantitative researches are also called as "true science", as this approach heavily relies on mathematical and statistical research techniques to obtain the results of the research activity.

Quantitative research is mostly used in physical sciences, social sciences, education, management, etc. Its nature is exactly opposite from that of the qualitative research. Quantitative research employs a standardized format, for generating and testing various hypothesis testing models. These hypotheses have to be tested using mathematical and statistical techniques.

The use of randomization is a must during the selection of the research respondents. There has to be a control group also. The research methodology should typically allow for one variable to be manipulated at a time as otherwise the statistical analysis may become complex. It should also allow the experiment to be replicated by other researchers.

Characteristics of Quantitative Research

  • It is based on numbers and relies extensively on mathematical and statistical techniques for the generation of the research results.
  • It deals with analyzing the data.
  • It involves the undertaking of large number of studies that involve a specific focus. It may involve the investigation of a causal hypothesis or the examination of a large number of specific occurrences to reach a general result.
  • It involves some amount of detachment from the researcher, which leads to the production of objective numerical data, occurring in a very controlled environment.
  • The research design is predetermined. It employs measurements and analysis in a systematic and structured manner. It can be easily repeated by other researchers.
  • The validity and reliability can be expressed numerically using statistical techniques.
  • The emphasis is on evidence rather than discovery.

Classification of Quantitative Research Approaches

Quantitative research approach is a means by which data is gathered in a quantifiable way and assessed systematically. This approach can be classified into the following three types :
Inferential Approach
Experimental Approach
Simulation Approach

1) Inferential Approach : 
This approach is used to infer conclusions from a set database. Conditions used herein are generic in nature and the researcher aims to link the characteristics of a sample population to the population at large. The aim of the researcher is to analyse data and draw conclusions beyond the most obvious ones, and use descriptive statistics to describe these observations. For example, if a researcher aims study the opinion of members of a particular age-group, such as under-graduate students, towards new university norms, he/she will consult a small population of this group and infer conclusions based on recorded data, for the entire group.

2) Experimental Approach :
Experimental approach, as the name suggests, is used to study the effect of one variable of the population over another, when any of these variables is altered. These 'experiments are within the purview of hard sciences, such as 'physics'. Experimental approach enables greater control over the environment under which the research is carried out. The first step in experimental research is to formulate theory. Next, quantitative experiments are carried out. In the end, the data collected and analysed either proves or disproves the suggested theory. Scientific method is most useful in an environment where natural phenomenon can be automatically assumed and where extensive research has already been carried out, making the environment well-known. Even in cases where ample amount of research is already available, and theories already exist, this experimental approach can be used to further solidify and exemplify the theories.

3) Simulation Approach : 
Simulation approach differs from other approaches of quantitative research on the basis of the type of environment it deals with. While other approaches are characterized by a natural environment, simulation approach operates under an artificially created environment. Simulation, in relation to models of business and other social sciences, refers to the conduct of a numerical model as a representation of a dynamic process. This approach also helps in foreseeing future conditions, thereby enabling researchers to build models that accommodate the same.

Techniques of Collecting Quantitative Data 

The following techniques can be used to collect quantitative data:

1) Observation : 
Observation may be defined as the skill of an individual (researcher. in this case) to interpret and analyse a phenomena and record findings.

2) Survey : 
Survey may be defined as the systematic collection of data from respondents who form part of a sample population. Survey data is often collected with the help of questionnaires which can be distributed among the sample population through manual and electronic means.

3) Experiments : 
Experiments are conducted by dividing members of a population into two groups, namely, experimental group and control group. Experimental group is that which is exposed to the experiment, while control group is that which is not. In an experiment, an independent variable or condition is altered to study its effect on a dependent variable or condition. This dependent variable is common to both groups of the population. Once participants are randomly assigned each of the two groups, the dependent variable is measured. For example, test marketing is one such application that is carried out in a small, yet carefully selected area of a marketplace, and aims to study the acceptance of a proposed nation-wide marketing strategy.

Pros of Quantitative Research Approaches 

  • It is a very good and standardized way of obtaining results as well as the testing of hypothesis. This methodology has remained same over the years and is considered as standardized.
  • The employment of statistical analysis reaches the attainment of an outcome that can be easily discussed, published and replicated by other researchers.
  • The research throws up results which are real and unbiased in nature. The research can also effectively filter-out the external factors.
  • Quantitative research is very effective in analyzing the results of qualitative research and also generates platform for future researches.

Cons of Quantitative Research Approaches

  • Quantitative research can be a time-consuming and expensive activity. It has to be carefully planned in advance and requires the construction of a control group for the results to be true and unbiased.
  • Quantitative researcher requires the extensive use of statistical and mathematical techniques. This can be a problem for many researchers who are not well acquainted with the intricacies of various statistical techniques.
  • Statistical techniques also require many conditions and retesting on the part of the researcher. This increases the complexity of the activity and also the time taken to complete the research.
  • Quantitative techniques lead to the research designs which are typically very reliant on either proving disproving various hypotheses. These kinds of designs are often disadvantageous, especially in social science research studies, which are very complex. It is especially very difficult when the research involves the areas which have no exact answers such as yes or no.

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