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There are a number of terms used to describe the two major research approaches to management or organisational research. Two often used terms are quantitative and qualitative. Within management and organisational studies, the quantitative approach is seen as objective and relying heavily on statistics. On the other hand the qualitative approach is seen as subjective and preferring language and description. These distinctions are useful in recognising the two approaches however, they do not portray the differing paradigms that underpin each approach and how these paradigms effect the research process. An investigation of this dichotomy in research approaches is undertaken here to reveal the relationship between research, the research process and the two principle research paradigms.

Two terms often used to describe the major research approaches to management or organisational research are quantitative and qualitative. Other terms used include functionalist, objectivist or positivist for the former and interpretivist or subjectivist to describe the latter1. Within management and organisational studies the quantitative approach is seen as objective, that is relating to phenomenon or conditions independent of individual thought and perceptible to all observers, and relying (Jean Lee, 1992), "heavily on statistics and figures". On the other hand the qualitative approach is seen as subjective, relating to experience or knowledge as conditioned by personal mental characteristics or states, and preferring language and description. Van Maanen (1983; 9)refers to the qualitative mode as an attempt to reduce distance between context and action through "trade in linguistic symbols". This approach involves the examination of perceptions in order to gain an understanding of social and human activities. The distinctions here are useful in recognising the two approaches however, they do not portray the differing paradigms that underpin each approach and how these effect the research process. An investigation of this dichotomy in research approaches is undertaken here to reveal the relationship between research, the research process and the two principle research paradigms2. This research exploration is conducted through the research process. The concept of paradigm or paradigms is discussed first. Discussion then proceeds to research and the research process. Finally contrasts in the quantitative and qualitative approaches to

the research process are detailed to see how paradigms influence the research process and the researcher.

A paradigm provides a conceptual framework for seeing and making sense of the social world. According to Burrell and Morgan (1979; 24)), "To be located in a particular paradigm is to view the world in a particular way.". And indeed paradigm has been termed a (Patton, 1990; 37) "world view" . However it was Kuhn (1970; viii) who introduced the term as "universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners", and suspected that (Khun, 1970; 113) "something like a paradigm is a prerequisite to perception itself". In the postscript to his second edition, Khun (1970; 175) provides a useful definition; "it stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values and techniques, and so on shared by the members of a community.". The significance of paradigms is that they shape how we perceive the world and are reinforced by those around us, the community of practitioners. Within the research process the beliefs a researcher holds will reflect in the way they research is designed, how data is both collected and analysed and how research results are is presented. For the researcher it is important to recognise their paradigm, it allows them to identify their role in the research process, determine the course of any research project and distinguish other perspectives.


In management or organisational research the term paradigm encompasses three levels. The philosophical, basic beliefs about the world we live in. The social level, where guidelines exist as to how a researcher should conduct their endeavours and lastly, the technical level. The methods and techniques ideally adopted when conducting research. At a philosophical level organisational theories contrast in five sets of assumptions (Burrell & Morgan, 1979) in a subjectivist /objectivist dimension; ontological, epistemological, axiological, methodological assumptions and assumptions about human nature3. These assumptions trickle through to lower levels and influence the research process.

Ontology refers to the nature of social reality. To the realist the social world is tangible, hard made up of relatively immutable structures that exist independently of our individual descriptions. The social world is real and external to the individual. The nominalist however views reality as constructed in the names, labels and concepts that are used to structure that reality. Individuals create the social world; therefore there are multiple realities. Epistemology refers to the nature of knowing and construction of knowledge and is divided into the positivist and anti-positivist stance. The former believing that true objectivity as an external observer is possible, the latter that the knower and known are interdependent and that social science is essentially subjective. The positivist studies the parts to understand the whole, they look for regularities and causal relationships to understand and predict the social world. To the antipositivist the social world can only be understood by occupying the frame of reference of the participant in action. Axiological assumptions are closely related to the epistemological. These are assumptions regarding the role of values. Can values be suspended in order to understand, or do values mediate and shape what is understood? Assumptions about human nature are deterministic or voluntarist. One views individuals as products of their environment, the other believes individuals create their own environment (Putman, 1983; 36). Finally there are assumptions about the process of research, the methodology. Nomothetic methodology focuses on an examination of regularities and relationships to universal laws, while ideographic approaches centre on reasons why individuals create and interpret their world in a particular way (Putman, 1983; 41). The social world can only be understood by obtaining first hand knowledge of the subject under investigation.

There is general agreement that research is a systematic and methodical process of inquiry and investigation that increases knowledge and/or solves a particular problem (Sekaran, 1992; 4). The purpose of research, as opposed to the process, can be summarised as follows. To review and

synthesise existing knowledge, to investigate existing situations or problems, to provide solutions to a problem, to explore and analyse more general issues, to construct or create a new procedure or system, to explain a new phenomenon or to generate new knowledge. Research purpose has three main classifications exploratory, descriptive and causal or predictive (Sarantakos, 1993; 31-35). Exploratory research is conducted into an issue or problem where there are few or no earlier studies to refer to. The focus is on gaining insights and familiarity for later investigation. Secondly, descriptive research describes phenomena as they exist. Here data is often quantitative and statistics applied. It is used to identify and obtain information on a particular problem or issue. Finally causal or predictive research seeks to explain what is happening in a particular situation. It aims to generalise from an analysis by predicting certain phenomena on the basis of hypothesised general relationships. Research can be further classified according to research logic and research outcome. Research logic is either deductive or inductive, whether the research proceeds from the general to specific or vice versa. Outcomes are classified as either basic, often referred to as pure, and applied. That is whether the research contributes to the base of knowledge or resolves a particular problem.

The actual research process is approximately six steps; identifying the research topic, defining the research problem, determining how to conduct the research or the method, collecting research data before analysing and interpreting this data and finally presenting the results (Zikmund, 1991; 36). Within these steps operates the researcher and the quantitative and qualitative research approaches. In identifying a research topic the researcher sorts through a broad research topic to clarify a precise set of ideas or concepts. Examination of any area for research can yield an infinite variety of questions however, there are constraints in resources and the requirements of future users. Therefore it is essential to identify those questions which can be addressed within the constraints

imposed, and the questions that match the needs of those using the research results (Davis et al., 1989; 6). To further clarify the research topic and define the research problem a review of existing literature is undertaken. A review of existing literature identifies what researchers have found to be important and provides a basis for the researcher to work from (Davis et al., 1989; 6). It is literally looking again at prior research. It further provides the researcher with a degree of competence within their research area, assists in developing the researchers knowledge and identifies the boundaries of previous research therefore focusing and justifying the research problem. A sound literature review, (Sekaran, 1992; 38) "gives a good basic framework to proceed further with the investigation." by clarifying the research problem and identifying likely variables. Research design is determining how to conduct the research and the methods used. The research topic has been refined into a problem statement or tentative question, the researcher is ready to compose a proposal. Research design has been referred to as (Zikmund 1991; 42), "a master plan specifying the methods and procedures", and the (Hussey & Hussey, 1997; 114) "detailed plan which you will use to guide and focus your research.". Here the researcher is concerned with why they collect certain data, what data they will collect, where and how they will collect it, and how they will analyse the data in order to answer the research question. The research purpose is defined as either exploratory, descriptive or causal. A theoretical framework is developed. This framework is a conceptual model of the relationships among the factors identified as important to the research problem (Sekaran, 1992; 63). From this the research question is refined and the research strategy introduced. The research strategy, a subset of research design, includes elements of data collection and interpretation and emerges from both the research purpose and question. In research design causality is vital for a functionalist researcher to predict patterns of behaviour (Putnam, 1983; 41). Therefore, the research purpose is causal or predictive and the research strategy would typically involve using secondary data, survey techniques and classic experiments. In contrast an exploratory research purpose would tend to favour as a strategy a case study involving

participant observation or a field study with in-depth interviewing. A certain rationale emerges in research design that suggests a particular data collection method or methods, a particular unit of analysis and sample selection. Sampling is the process of selecting a sufficient number of elements from a population to represent the properties or characteristics of that population (Sekaran, 1992; 226-227). After data has been collected from a representative sample the next step is to analyse and interpret the data. The objective at this stage in the research process is dependent on prior selections. For example a researcher with a predictive research purpose using a classic experiment or survey approach will typically be trying to prove or disprove their original hypothesis or research question. Variations throughout the research process including research purpose (Patton, 1990; 373) "have a major effect" on how data is analysed. Finally in presenting the results a quantitative approach, through the research design, would result in data being discussed as to the extent to which it either proves or disproves the research question. On the other hand data analysis and interpretation is an ongoing concern with the qualitative researcher. According to Schultz et al. (1996), "In contrast to the causal mode of functionalist analysis, interpretive analysis is associative.". For the interpretivist what is meaningful emerges from the data, therefore the process is inductive. In presenting results it is the narrative of the participants that speaks.


The first step of the research process is identifying the research topic. The researcher then sifts through a broad research area to clarify a precise set of ideas or concepts. At the completion of this the researcher should be able to write their research topic in the form of a question or a problem. The researcher then proceeds with their literature review. During this process the research topic is further refined and a clearer understanding of the research question or problem is obtained. The researcher can begin to design their research. The basic beliefs of a positivist or quantitative researcher lead them to perceive the world as external and

objective, and science as value free. As an observer they are independent and values can be suspended in order to understand. Reality is seen as one and therefore by dividing and studying its parts the whole can be understood. Therefore in their general approach to research design the quantitative researcher is seeking to deduce cause and effect relationships to predict patterns of behaviour. Therefore the research purpose is likely to be causal or predictive rather than exploratory. The quantitative researcher then develops theory and uses this to explore the world. This theoretical framework identifies key variables and their relationships and associations. It allows initial design clarity but the result may not necessarily contribute to existing knowledge. The research sample size in a quantitative approach would be reasonably large, a sub set of a larger population and random sample with the same characteristics as that population. There are time economies gained in this approach with documented and tested methods to generate data, while data analysis is of a low complexity through accepted statistical analysis methods. Typically a quantitative researcher will use secondary data, survey techniques and classic experiments when collecting data, whereas an interpretivist will focus on fieldwork to facilitate the emergence of knowledge. This difference has been termed inquiry from the outside versus inquiry from the inside (Evered & Louis, 1981). Researcher involvement in this stage of the research process is low with the researcher acting as an independent observer. The stages in data analysis and interpretation are completed after data collection. Statistical measures of association and the development of measurement models are significant at this stage, the language used (Jean Lee, 1992) "becomes the language of variables.". Quantitative data analysis and interpretation is primarily deductive, a matter of proving or disproving the hypothesis or an assertion developed from a general statement. Indeed in any causal or predictive study when the cause and effect relationship has been demonstrated, or not, then the researcher has done their duty (Westmeyer, 1994; 117). Therefore reporting research results the findings are discussed, in a recognised format, as to the extent to which the data collected either confirms or dis-confirms the research question.


The initial steps in the qualitative research process are similar to that used by a positivist researcher. The research topic is identified, refined and clarified. A literature review is undertaken and the research problem takes form. However, interpretivist research is primarily exploratory and descriptive in purpose designed to discover what can be learned about the area of interest. The interpretivist researcher views the world as a sociopsychological construct where there are multiple realities forming an interconnected whole that can only be understood as these multiple realities. According to Schultz et al. (1996), in organizational culture studies, "functionalism and interpretivism differ in the extent to which they define an analytical framework prior to entering the organization to be studied". What this means is that interpretivist research design evolves over time as features emerge from the research that the initial design did not cover. The design steps essential remain the same, however, they are not as rigid as the quantitative approach. The researcher is guided by their research not the framework. The qualitative approach to research strategy is characterised by lower sample numbers, than quantitative research, and participants selected to expand variability and represent the natural population. Normally forms of non-probability sampling such as accidental or purposive are used (Sarantakos, 1993; 140). This approach is often time consuming as patterns slowly emerge. Also what is true in one context may not be true for another therefore data may need to be gathered in a variety of contexts, which takes both time and effort (Tucker et al, 1995). The interpretivist also explores first and then develops theory thus allowing deeper explanations and insights. However, some uncertainty exists as it is possible that nothing of value may emerge. High researcher involvement in data collection characterises this approach. The researcher is an active participant often immersing themselves in a setting, becoming part of the group under study in order to understand meaning and significance. Typical techniques include participant observation, in depth interviews, group interviews and documentation collection with an emphasis on

fieldwork. Data analysis and interpretation is an ongoing activity for the interpretivist researcher. (Schultz et al., 1996) "In contrast to the causal mode of functionalist analysis, interpretive analysis is associative.", for the interpretivist what is meaningful emerges from the data, therefore the process is inductive. In presenting results it is the narrative of the participants that speaks.

Quantitative and qualitative are terms used to describe the two main research methods applied to management, or organisational, research. The distinction is that the quantitative approach is objective and statistical, while the qualitative approach is subjective, using language and description rather then numerals and figures. Further research distinctions include research purpose, exploratory research that seeks to clarify the nature of general problems. Descriptive research which describes the characteristics of a known problem and causal or predictive research that identifies causality between variables. However, these research distinctions do not capture the different paradigms, the (Burrell & Morgan, 1979) "underlying unity in terms of its basic and often 'taken for granted' assumptions, which separate a group of theorists", that underpin the different approaches. Quantitative and qualitative approaches to the research process are based upon differing assumptions that shape the whole research design and influence the role of the researcher. The six stages within the research process itself remain relatively constant, however the basic beliefs of the researcher, their paradigm, influence choices made within the process. A positivist outlook understands the world as one objective reality and would tend to favour a casual research purpose and structure research design accordingly. Data collection and analysis would seek to understand the world as the sum of its parts. On the other hand an interpretivist does not see the world in an objective light, instead individuals construct the world, each perceiving their own reality. Therefore to understand the world these realities need to be understood. A qualitative research design sets out to do this.


Although the quantitative/qualitative dichotomy may appear obvious in the distinctions between the two approaches to research, the division may not be as clear cut as it seems. Increasing investigation into multiparadigm research including paradigm incommensurability, paradigm integration and paradigm crossing hint at a convergence of paradigms (Schultz et al., 1996; Willnott et al., 1993) a phenomena whose discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. Paradigm convergence does, however, attest to the nature of research as a process that increases knowledge, and paradigms, as scientific achievements that only for a time provide problems and solutions to a community. Approaches to research provide solutions to research problems and, almost paradoxically, create new problems to be resolved. Seated within this research community is the researcher. To fully participate in research activity it is important that the researcher not only recognises their paradigm, but also is comfortable within it. In doing so the researcher can determine the course of their research project during research design by recognising which designs may work and which will not. It enables the researcher to create research designs outside previous experience by identifying instruments provided by other researchers that may assist in their research. Finally, understanding their basic beliefs and those of others enables a researcher to evaluate and critique the research of others and helps to talk in the language of a different paradigm, to talk the talk.