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Evaluate The Claim That Social Surveys Contribute More To Understanding Than Qualitative Methods.

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Evaluate the claim that social surveys contribute more to understanding than qualitative methods.

There has been much debate within European and American Social Psychology about the use of qualitative methods in the field. Each approach has its merits and drawbacks, however the use of qualitative research is much more prevalent in Europe than in America. This essay will seek to evaluate this debate and will draw upon relevant literature in an effort to clarify whether social surveys contribute more to our understanding of social phenomena than qualitative research methodology.

Social surveys and qualitative analysis essentially offer different types of information. The results of Social surveys which are properly constructed, distributed and analyzed can be generalized to entire populations whilst they can essentially miss important insightful information, and qualitative analysis is less able to be generalized however the aim of qualitative analysis is a complete, detailed description, which tends to capture information which a narrow focused questionnaire would not. Qualitative research is meant to be used in the earlier stages of research and a tool by which to guide the research and indeed determine the choice or construction of a social survey. The nature of qualitative and quantitative data is also very different, qualitative data is in the form of words, pictures or objects whist quantitative data is in the form of numbers and statistics. In essence, qualitative and quantitative approaches are quite different, however the differences should not be stated so definitively but rather they should both be integrated into research design.

In order to construct a valid argument in response to the claim that social surveys contribute more to understanding than qualitative methods we first need to gain a deeper appreciation of how these approaches actually work, thus an understanding and critique of data collection and data analysis in both approaches is essential. The ways through which qualitative researchers collect is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of this approach as it is believed to be highly subjective. There are three main methods of collecting qualitative data, interactive interviewing, written descriptions by participants and observational research. Each of these approaches may come under heavy influence from the researcher who could implicitly or explicitly influence the results In the qualitative paradigm, the researcher becomes the instrument of data collection, and results may vary greatly depending upon who conducts the research. The quantitative approach of the social survey in contrast is much more objective in nature and the researcher tends to remain detached from the subject matter. The researcher is not directly involved in the sense that they are questioning the subject directly themselves. There is also the very real problem in relation to the social survey or quantitative approach of over-simplified analysis. To get good statistics, you must tightly control the experimental conditions. often so tightly that the findings don't generalize to real problems in the real world. In relation to data collection, this is a major problem, particularly for University undergraduate research whereby most or all of the subjects tend to be undergraduate students. Quantitative researchers can influence their results in other ways which will be discussed later. Thus in regard to data collection, the objectivity of the quantitative approach and particularly through social surveys, it could be and has been suggested that it is a much more scientific approach than the qualitative approach, particularly due to the rigid conditions involved in quantitative research, however one of the main weakness of the quantitative approach is that it decontextualizes human behavior in a way that removes the event from its real world setting and ignores the effects of variables that have not been included in the model, which is in contrast to the qualitative approach which attempts to capture human behavior in its 'real' social context.

There has probably been more energy exhausted on debating the differences between the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative and quantitative methods than almost any other methodological topic in social research. There are a number of issues in relation to the analysis of data between social surveys or quantitative and qualitative analysis. There are a number of strengths and weaknesses which are evident in both approaches here which have constantly been drawn upon in the qualitative-quantitative debate. Each approach to the analysis of data are said to be vastly different, however they draw from each other in this area as will be demonstrated, thus in a sense qualitative and quantitative data are not so different when you consider the strong claim that qualitative data can be coded quantitatively, in essence these two research methods are inextricably linked. Any qualitative data can be allocated proper numerical values. These numerical values can then be analyzed using valid statistical techniques in order to achieve greater insight into the meaning of the data and to examine specific hypotheses. For example, many surveys include at least one open-ended question which requires participants to include some sort of text response to some specific issue, in essence qualitative material is included in the survey. This information can then be translated into the quantitative approach through a simple classification procedure. For Instance the text based responses could be sorted into categories. Responses could be labeled and sorted into specific representative themes. The quantitative coding gives us extra vital information and makes it possible to do analyses that wouldn't be possible with the qualitative coding. There is a flip side to the coin here, meaning that quantitative data is based strongly on qualitative judgment. For instance a scale of 1 to 5 on a social survey cannot be correctly interpreted without an understanding of these numerical values. One cannot understand a quantitative value such as 1= 'strongly agree' unless we uncover some of the judgments and assumptions that underlie it such as whether the respondent understood the values or not, or the differences between the values 1 to 5. Thus we can see that in this sense qualitative and quantitative research methods are virtually inseparable and thus would both seem to have at least the potential to contribute equally to understanding in psychology.

It is important for researchers to realize that qualitative and quantitative methods can be used in conjunction with each other. In a study of computer-assisted writing classrooms, Snyder (1995) employed both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The study was constructed

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