Discuss the strengths & weaknesses of qualitative field research

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Discuss the strengths & weaknesses of qualitative field research
Anthropologists make use of qualitative research regularly. (Museum of Anthropology - Entrance image by Vortex_Bits from Fotolia.com)

Qualitative and quantitative methods of research are complementing and contrasting. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. Qualitative research should not be dismissed just because it lacks the hard statistical data that quantitative research contains. Learn what its strengths are so you can make the most of the data gathered in the field, and learn where its weaknesses need to be shored up by other data.

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Specificity and Depth

One of the large advantages of qualitative field research is that it provides you with the ability to take an in depth look at smaller segments of a study. Quantitative research is based upon samples and broad strokes. Also, complex issues can often be explained more adequately through qualitative research methods. Information can be broken down and examined in terms of individual cases. Context can also come into play when you use qualitative research methods. It is very difficult to adequately study, measure and communicate these types of complexities and nuances through quantitative research methods.

Real Life Data

Quantitative research often requires very strict parameters in order to make the data comprehensible. Qualitative data is not about imposing any outside conditions on the research. Instead, it seeks to study the subjects in the most natural environment possible. This is the difference between observation and experimentation. This is also why qualitative field research often takes some time. Researches want to become immersed in the subject of their study rather than simply making a quick observation and moving on. The goal is to find meaning and perspective in the data, rather than to simply regurgitate factoids as other types of research do.

Soft Data

One of the weaknesses of qualitative data is that it provides "soft" data. It is interpreted and reported by the researchers, and as such, is subject to inaccuracy and bias more than quantitative data that is supported by hard facts and numbers. This means it can be difficult to create concrete answers and to recommend or create change based on the somewhat vague data that qualitative field research may provide.

Lack of Predictability

One of the primary uses of quantitative research is to predict trends. Qualitative research cannot provide researchers with the same kind of insight into what is likely to happen in the future. This is due to the small focus of the research in part, as opposed to the large samples which are used in quantitative research. It is also because everything in qualitative research is dependent upon context. As it is impossible to predict the changing contexts that could present, that data is not particularly useful in predicting future developments and trends.

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