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Nature of research in the field of built

Quantitative and environment

qualitative research in A discipline or profession is established by
the built environment: developing a body of knowledge which is
unique ± that body of knowledge is produced
application of ``mixed'' through research. Construction and the built
research approach environment (BE) draw on a wide variety of
established subjects/disciplines, including
natural sciences, social sciences, engineering
Dilanthi Amaratunga
and management. These are then applied to
David Baldry the particular BE context and requirements
Marjan Sarshar and (Fellows and Liu, 1997). Only by the use of
appropriate methodologies and methods of
Rita Newton research applied with rigour can the body of
The authors knowledge for BE be established and
advanced with confidence.
Dilanthi Amaratunga is a Research Fellow,
The approach adopted in this paper is to
David Baldry is a Lecturer, Marjan Sarshar is a Director,
Construct IT and Rita Newton is a Lecturer, all at the
outline the process of research in BE, to
School of Construction and Property Management, The undertake initial discussion on
University of Salford, Salford, UK. epistemological issues, to discuss types of
research methods available within the field
Keywords and appropriate data analysis techniques
available. Conclusions are then drawn from
Research, Methodology, Qualitative techniques,
this body of evidence and discussion.
Quantitative techniques

Research and research methods
Built environment research consists of cognitive and
affective, as well as behavioural, components. Existing Although research is important in both
built environment research utilises either strong qualitative
business and academic activities, there is no
or, more often, strong quantitative methodologies. Aims to
consensus in the literature on how it should
discuss some of the philosophical issues that would be
considered when undertaking academic research into the
be defined. One reason for this is that
built environment. Considers the available research research means different things to different
options or paradigms and suggests ways in which a people. However, from the many different
researcher can make an informed and sensible decision as definitions offered there appears to be
to how to proceed. The main dimensions of the debate agreement that:
about the relative characteristics and merits of quantitative . research is a process of enquiry and
and qualitative methodology are outlined, developing the investigation;
argument that the use of a single methodology often fails . it is systematic and methodical; and
to explore all of these components. The use of a mixed . research increases knowledge.
methods approach is suggested to counteract this
weakness and to enhance research into the built Research studies in BE have been criticised for
environment. their anecdotal approach when interpreting
real world phenomena. In this sense, it is
Electronic access argued that the clear definition of a research
The research register for this journal is available at
strategy is a fundamental and necessary
http://www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregisters requirement for a sound empirical study in
such a field. BE research has reached a stage
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is that demands the validation of its heuristic
available at principles within different ``real world''
This paper was initially presented at the 1st
International Postgraduate Conference organised
Work Study
Volume 51 . Number 1 . 2002 . pp. 17±31 by the School of Construction and Property
# MCB UP Limited . ISSN 0043-8022 Management at the University of Salford,
DOI 10.1108/00438020210415488 March 2001.
Quantitative and qualitative research in the built environment Work Study
Dilanthi Amaratunga, David Baldry, Marjan Sarshar and Rita Newton Volume 51 . Number 1 . 2002 . 17±31

situations in order to refine and integrate considered when choosing an appropriate

them. Buckley et al. (1975) suggest that an research methodology, with the topic to be
operational definition of research requires the researched and the specific research
satisfaction of the conditions that: question being primary drivers (Remenyi
. it be an orderly investigation of a defined et al., 1998).
problem; The starting point in research into BE is to
. appropriate scientific methods be used; focus clearly on the fact that the ultimate
. adequate and representative evidence be purpose is to add something of value to the
gathered; body of accumulated BE knowledge. This
. logical reasoning, uncoloured by bias, be means that an unanswered question or
employed in drawing conclusions on the unsolved problem will be identified and
basis of the evidence; studied and that the researcher will attempt to
. the researcher be able to demonstrate or produce a suitable answer to the question or a
prove the validity or reasonableness of solution to the problem. Therefore, a
their conclusions; discussion of philosophy is essential before
. the cumulative results of research in a embarking on a research project.
given area yield general principles or laws
that may be applied with confidence Schools of thought
under similar conditions in the future. Philosophers of science and methodologists
Research is conducted in the spirit of have been engaged in a long-standing
inquiry, which relies on facts, experience and epistemological debate about how best to
data, concepts and constructs, hypotheses conduct research. This debate has centred on
and conjectures, and principles and laws. the relative value of two fundamentally
Table I illustrates how together these different and competing schools of thought or
concepts of research form a symbolic and inquiry paradigms. Logical positivism uses
rational system of inquiry (abstracted from quantitative and experimental methods to test
Buckley et al., 1975; cited in Then, 1996). hypothetical-deductive generalisations.
Additionally, they constitute the language of Among the major implications of this
research, enabling precision in the use of approach is the need for independence of the
words and communication among those observer from the subject being observed, and
concerned. the need to formulate hypotheses for
Before suggesting some guidelines for BE subsequent verification. Positivism searches
research, it is useful to define research for causal explanations and fundamental laws,
methodology and to put the issue of research and generally reduces the whole to simplest
and its methodologies into perspective. possible elements in order to facilitate analysis
Research methodology refers to the (Easterby-Smith, 1991; Remenyi et al.,
procedural framework within which the 1998). Phenomenological (interpretive
research is conducted (Remenyi et al., science) inquiry uses qualitative and
1998). There are many factors to be naturalistic approaches to inductively and

Table I Basic elements of scientific research methodology

Laws Verified hypotheses; used to assert a predictable association among variables; can be
empirical or theoretical
Principles A principle is a law or general truth which provides a guide to thought or action
Hypotheses Formal propositions which, though untested, are amenable to testing; usually
expressed in causal terms
Conjectures Informal propositions which are not stated in a testable form, nor is a causal
relationship known or even necessarily implied
Concepts and constructs Concepts are inventions of the human mind to provide a means for organising and
understanding observations; they perform a number of functions, all of which are
designed to form logical and systematic relationships among data
Facts Something that exists, a phenomenon that is true or generally held to be true
Data The collection of facts, achieved either through direct observations or through
garnering from records; observation is the process by which facts become data

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holistically understand human experience in adhered to prescribed canons of either logical

context-specific settings. This approach tries positivism or phenomenology but whether
to understand and explain a phenomenon, one has made sensible methods decisions,
rather than search for external causes or given the purpose of the study, the questions
fundamental laws (Easterby-Smith, 1991; being investigated, and the resources available
Remenyi et al., 1998). This picture is set out (Then, 1996). Therefore it is crucial to know
in Table II (Silverman, 1998). about the methodological paradigms debate
The interpretive science/phenomenological in order to appreciate why methods decisions
approach also rejects the positivists' beliefs can be highly controversial. The paradigm of
which centre on atomism ± that the objects of choices recognises that different methods are
experience are atomic, independent events. appropriate for different situations. Table IV
This concept is central to the notion of provides a pragmatic view of a summary of
deducticism, which claims that some of the strengths and weaknesses of the
generalisations can be made from a finite set two research paradigms (adapted from
of events in the past to predict future events. Easterby-Smith, 1991).
The use of regularities to ground
generalisations and causations is rejected by
phenomenologists. Causation does not refer
to regularity between separate things or events Quantitative and qualitative
but about what an object is likely to and what methodology as research traditions
it can do, and only derivatively what it will do
Research may be categorised into two distinct
in any particular situation. The goal of BE
types: qualitative and quantitative, according
research under the phenomenological
to the above schools of thought. The former
doctrine is therefore the development of
concentrates on words and observations to
theories through explanatory methods rather
express reality and attempts to describe
than through the creation of generalisations.
people in natural situations. In contrast, the
Easterby-Smith (1991) summarised the
quantitative approach grows out of a strong
main differences between the positivist and
academic tradition that places considerable
the phenomenological viewpoints similar to
trust in numbers that represent opinions or
Table III.
In research design, therefore, the issue then concepts. Over the past 15 years, the debate
becomes not whether one has uniformly over the relative virtues of quantitative and
qualitative methodologies has gained
Table II Two schools of science considerable impetus. While the exact
Approach Concepts Methods constitution of the two methodologies varies
somewhat from author to author or is defined
Positivism Social structure Quantitative
with varying degrees of specificity, there is
Social facts Hypothesis testing
substantial agreement about the fundamental
Interpretive science Social construction Qualitative antinomies and their practical implications for
(phenomenological) Meanings Hypothesis generation
the conduct of research.

Table III Key features of positivist and realism paradigm and the chosen mixed approach
Theme Positivist paradigm Realism paradigm
Basic beliefs The world is external and objective The world is socially constructed and
Observer is independent subjective
Science is value-free Observer is part of what is observed
Science is driven by human interests
Researcher should Focus on facts Focus on meanings
Look for causality and fundamental laws Try to understand what is happening
Reduce phenomena to simplest elements Look at the totality of each situation
Formulate hypotheses and test them Develop ideas through induction from data
Preferred method in the Operationalising concepts so that they can Using multiple methods to establish
research be measured different views of the phenomena
Taking large samples Small samples investigated in depth or over

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Table IV Comparison of strengths and weaknesses

Theme Strengths Weaknesses
Positivist (quantitative They can provide wide coverage of the The methods used tend to be rather
paradigm) range of situations inflexible and artificial
They can be fast and economical They are not very effective in
Where statistics are aggregated from large understanding processes or the
samples, they may be of considerable significance that people attach to actions
relevance to policy decisions They are not very helpful in generating
Because they focus on what is, or what
has been recently, they make it hard for
policy makers to infer what changes and
actions should take place in the future
Phenomenological Data-gathering methods seen more as Data collection can be tedious and require
(qualitative natural than artificial more resources
paradigm) Ability to look at change processes over Analysis and interpretation of data may be
time more difficult
Ability to understand people's meaning Harder to control the pace, progress and
Ability to adjust to new issues and ideas as end-points of research process
they emerge Policy makers may give low credibility to
Contribute to theory generation results from qualitative approach

Perhaps as a response to the dominance of Choice of research strategy

quantitative research, some qualitative
researchers such as King (1994) seem to From the discussion under schools of
assume a fixed preference or predefined thought, it is apparent that both qualitative
evaluation of what is good and bad research and quantitative methods involve differing
methodology. Such normative assumptions strengths and weaknesses. McGrath (1982)
have, of course, been around for many years in his study of research choices makes it
and are illustrated in Table V. clear that there are no ideal solutions, only a
series of compromises. Patton (1990)
Table V Claimed features of qualitative and quantitative method expresses the same view: ``research, like
diplomacy, is the art of the possible''. This
Quantitative Qualitative
quote by Patton is perhaps a very poignant
Inquiry from the outside Inquiry from the inside guide to any researcher contemplating the
Underpinned by a completely An attempt to take account of most appropriate avenue of successfully
different set of epistemological differences between people completing a sizable piece of research
foundations from those in Aimed at flexibility and lack of study.
qualitative research structure, in order to allow theory According to Yin (1994), research strategy
Are simply different ways to the and concepts to proceed in should be chosen as a function of the
same end? tandem research situation. Each research strategy has
Involves the following of various The results are said to be, through its own specific approach to collect and
states of the scientific research theoretical generalisation, ``deep, analyse empirical data, and therefore each
The results are said to be ``hard rich and meaningful'' strategy has its own advantages and
generalisable data'' Inductive ± where propositions may disadvantages. Although each strategy has its
develop not only from practice, or own characteristics, there are overlapping
literature review, but also from areas, which bring complexity to the process
ideas themselves of strategy selection. In order to avoid gross
An approach to the study of the misfits between the desired outcome and the
social world, which seeks to chosen strategy, Yin (1994) stresses that the
describe and analyse the culture type of question posed; the control over
and behaviour of humans and actual behavioural elements; and the degree
their groups from the point of of focus on historical or contemporary
view of those being studied
events; are the conditions which should
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provide the grounds for strategy choice. Qualitative research: meanings or

Table VI depicts the outcome of the practices
intersection between most common research
Defining and justifying qualitative
strategies and the three conditions identified
above. It is difficult to find an unambiguous and
Galliers (1992) (cited in Remenyi et al., definitive statement as to what qualitative
1998) provides a list of approaches or research in BE actually is. This is primarily
tactics. Table VII summarises this list due to the fact that topic, theory and
according to the general philosophical base methodology are usually closely interrelated
underpinning the different research tactics. in qualitative research. Qualitative research is
It is important to note that most research conducted through an intense and/or
tactics listed in the table can be used, at least prolonged contact with a ``field'' or life
to some extent, as either positivistic situation. These situations are typically
(quantitative) or phenomenological ``banal'' or normal, reflective of the everyday
(qualitative) devices. life of individuals, groups, societies, and
organisations (Miles and Huberman, 1994).
In some senses, all data are qualitative; they
refer to issues relating to people, objects, and
Table VI Research strategies versus characteristics situations (Berg, 1989, cited in Miles and
Form of Requires control Focuses on Huberman, 1994). In the BE discipline there
research over behavioural contemporary are distinct signs of a growth in the
Strategy question events? events? application and acceptance of the use of
qualitative approaches.
Experiment How, why Yes Yes
What is important about well-collected
Survey Who, what, No Yes
qualitative data? One major feature is that
where, how many,
they focus on naturally occurring, ordinary
how much
events in natural settings, so that there is a
Archival analysis How, why No Yes/No
view on what ``real life'' is like. Another
History How, why No No
feature of qualitative data is their richness and
Case study How, why No Yes
holism, with strong potential for revealing
Source: Yin (1994) complexity. Such data provide ``rich

Table VII Research tactics and philosophical bases

Research approaches Positivistic (quantitative) (qualitative)
Action research Strictly interpretive
Case studies Have scope to be either Have scope to be either
Ethnographic Strictly interpretivist
Field experiments Have scope to be either Have scope to be either
Focus groups Mostly interpretivist
Forecasting research Strictly positivistic with some room for
Futures research Have scope to be either Have scope to be either
Game or role playing Strictly interpretivist
In-depth surveys Mostly interpretivist
Laboratory experiments Strictly positivistic with some room for
Large-scale surveys Strictly positivistic with some room for
Participant observer Strictly interpretivist
Scenario research Mostly interpretivist
Simulation and stochastic modelling Strictly positivistic with some room for
Source: Galliers (1992), cited in Remenyi et al. (1998)

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descriptions'' that are vivid, nested in a real towards the development of testable
life context, and have a ring of truth. hypotheses and theory which are generalisable
Furthermore, the fact that such qualitative across settings and in contrast this
data are typically collected over a sustained methodology is more concerned with how a
period makes it powerful for studying any rich, complex description of the specific
process. Also the inherent flexibility of situations under study will evolve. In general,
qualitative studies (data collection times and quantitative philosophy could be defined as
methods can be varied as a study proceeds) an extreme of empiricism according to which
gives further confidence that what has been theories are not only to be justified by the
going on is really understood. Qualitative extent to which they can be verified but also
data, with their emphasis on people's ``lived by an application to facts acquired. It is a
experience'', are fundamentally well suited for branch of thought which tried to find out the
locating the meanings people place on the origins, justifications and progress of
events, processes and structures of their lives: knowledge through observation, but is
their ``perceptions, assumptions, considered to have meanings only in so far as
prejudgments, presuppositions'' (Van Manen, they can be derived (Chalmers, 1976).
1977), and for connecting these meanings to Quantitative investigations look for
the social world around them. There are three ``distinguishing characteristics, elemental
other claims for the power of qualitative data. properties and empirical boundaries'' and
They have often been advocated as the best tend to measure ``how much'' or ``how often''
strategy for discovery, exploring a new area, (Nau, 1995). They are appropriate to
developing hypotheses. In addition their examine the behavioural component of BE.
strong potential for testing hypotheses is A quantitative research design has always
underlined on seeing whether specific been concerned with defining an
predictions hold up. Further, qualitative data epistemological methodology for determining
are useful when one needs to supplement, the truth-value of propositions and allows
validate, explain, illuminate, or reinterpret flexibility in the treatment of data, in terms of
quantitative data gathered from the same comparative analysis, statistical analyses, and
setting. repeatability of data collection in order to
Richards and Richards (1994) outline four verify reliability.
major perceived constraints which have It can be seen that the strengths of
traditionally militated against the use of quantitative methodologies for BE research
qualitative approaches in practice despite the are:
excitement about their potential in theory. . comparison and replication are allowable;
These are: . independence of the observer from the
(1) volume of data; subject being observed;
(2) complexity of analysis; . subject under analysis is measured
(3) details of classification record; and through objective methods rather than
(4) flexibility and momentum of analysis. being inferred subjectively through
sensation, reflection or intuition;
Further, it has long been recognised that
. reliability and validity may be determined
purely qualitative research may neglect the
more objectively than qualitative
social and cultural construction of the
variables studied (Richards and Richards,
. strong in measuring descriptive aspects of
. emphasises the need to formulate
hypothesis for subsequent verification;
Quantitative research . helps to search for causal explanations
and fundamental laws, and generally
Quantitative research designs are
reduces the whole to the simplest possible
characterised by the assumption that human
elements in order to facilitate analysis
behaviour can be explained by what may be
(Easterby-Smith, 1991)
termed ``social facts'' which can be
investigated by methodologies that utilise These strengths, however, are not the sole
``the deductive logic of the natural sciences'' prerogative of quantitative designs. Indeed,
(Horna, 1994). This process is directed many of the arguments for the use of
Quantitative and qualitative research in the built environment Work Study
Dilanthi Amaratunga, David Baldry, Marjan Sarshar and Rita Newton Volume 51 . Number 1 . 2002 . 17±31

quantitative research, especially in an in research (Yin, 1994). Triangulation is the

academic environment where resources are combination of methodologies in the study of
limited, have pragmatic origins in terms of the same phenomenon. The assumption in
allowing large-scale data collection and triangulation is that the effectiveness of
analysis at a reasonable cost and effort, as well triangulation rests on the premise that the
as providing statistical ``proof''. weaknesses in each single method will be
The weaknesses of such quantitative compensated by the counter-balancing
research designs lie mainly in their failure to strengths of another. This term is occasionally
ascertain deeper underlying meanings and taken to refer to a broad approach which
explanations of BE, even when significant, combines ``multiple observers, theoretical
reliable and valid. Quantitative research is perspectives, and methodologies'' and is
strong in measuring variables such as a frequently used interchangeably to describe
quantitative assumption regarding research strategies that incorporate a
construction process capability in that combination of quantitative and qualitative
``processes can be reduced to a set of variables research methods in the study of the same
which are somehow equivalent across phenomenon. It generally denotes a reference
construction projects, persons involved and to a combination of research methods ± thus
across situations'' and, if this measurement is the use of qualitative and quantitative
one of the focuses of the research, then a techniques together to study the topic ± which
quantitative approach may be justified. is very powerful for gaining insights and
However, factors such as physiological results, and for assisting in making inferences
factors, motivating factors, employees' and in drawing conclusions, as illustrated in
capability, etc. are important in most of the Figure 1 (Fellows and Liu, 1997).
BE research concepts. Although quantitative Although the use of a single methodology
methods can be used to measure such factors, has been advocated by a number of authors
their appropriateness in explaining them in (for example, Miles and Huberman, 1994;
depth is more limited. A further weakness in Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 1994), many of the
quantitative approaches lies in their supporting arguments are decidedly
tendencies to take a ``snapshot'' of a situation, pragmatic such as time constraints, the need
that is to measure variables at a specific to limit the scope of the study and so on.
moment in time. Some construction related Rossman and Wilson (1991) answer the
aspects might be affected by temporal question of why link qualitative and
changes which cannot always be identified quantitative data and consider it to be:
within a single quantitative study. . to enable confirmation or corroboration
of each other via triangulation;
. to elaborate or develop analysis,
The mixed (or balanced) approach providing richer details; and
. to initiate new lines of thinking through
There is a strong suggestion within the attention to surprises or paradoxes,
research community that research, both ``turning ideas around'', providing fresh
quantitative and qualitative, is best thought of insights.
as complementary and should therefore be
mixed in research of many kinds. Das (1983) Quantitative data can help with the qualitative
states that: side of a study during design by finding a
. . . qualitative and quantitative methodologies representative sample and locating deviant
are not antithetic or divergent, rather they focus samples, while qualitative data can help the
on the different dimensions of the same quantitative side of the study during design by
phenomenon. Sometimes, these dimensions may aiding with conceptual development and
appear to be confluent: but even in these
instances, where they apparently diverge, the
underlying unity may become visible on deeper The crucial aspect in justifying a mixed
penetration . . . The situational contingencies methodology research design in BE is that
and objectives of the researcher would seem to both single methodology approaches
play a decisive role in the design and execution of (quantitative only and qualitative only) have
the study.
strengths and weaknesses. The combination
This emphasis has developed with the of methodologies, on the other hand, can
growing attention focused on ``triangulation'' focus on their relevant strengths. The
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Figure 1 Triangulation of qualitative data

researcher should aim to achieve a situation ``core'' is appropriate to investigate such

where ``blending qualitative and quantitative aspects by examining the informant's
methods of research can produce a final point of view.
product which can highlight the significant . Much BE research is still largely
contributions of both'' (Nau, 1995), where exploratory. The use of qualitative
``qualitative data can support explicitly the methods allows for unexpected
meaning of quantitative research'' (Jayaratne, developments that may arise as part of
1993). By adopting the following such research.
assumptions, the researcher should ensure . Quantitative analysis may complement
that the final product maximises the strengths the findings of qualitative methods by
of a mixed method approach (adapted from indicating their extent within aspects of
Jones, 1997): the BE.
. Qualitative methods, especially . Quantitative analysis may confirm or
observation, or unstructured interviews, reject any apparently significant data and
allow the researcher to develop an overall the relationships that may emerge from
``picture'' of the investigation. research. Quantitative methods can be
. Quantitative analysis may be more used to enable statistical testing of the
appropriate to assess the behavioural or strengths of such relationships.
descriptive complements of the BE. . If such relationships are determined, then
. The descriptive analysis, such as quantitative methods are weaker in
capabilities of employers, may allow a providing explanations. Qualitative
representative sample to be drawn for the methods may assist in understanding the
qualitative analysis. Marsh et al. (1978) underlying explanations of significance.
note that quantitative research may
confirm or deny the representativeness of
a sample group for such qualitative Different tactics for pursuing research
research. Thus the mixed methodology
will guide the researcher, who is carrying Besides the qualitative-quantitative and the
out qualitative research, that his sample positivistic-phenomenological classifications,
has some representativeness of the overall there are many different ways of describing
population. research approaches and methods. There is
. BE research involves affective an almost limitless number of research tactics
characteristics, as well as overall and variations in BE studies, many of which
behavioural aspects. Thus a qualitative have been borrowed from other disciplines,
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and some believe that research in these areas Participant observation

is not ``properly'' scientific. ``When one's concern is the experience of
people, the way that they think, feel and act,
Qualitative research methods the most truthful, reliable, complete and
Qualitative data is a source of well-grounded, simple way of getting that information is to
rich descriptions and explanations of share their experience''. This is precisely the
processes in identifiable local contexts. With outlook subscribed to by proponents and
qualitative data one can preserve practitioners of participant observation
chronological flow, see precisely which events (Waddington, 1994). Although participant
led to which consequences, and derive fruitful observation is chiefly concerned, as its name
explanations. Qualitative research may be suggests, with the observation and recording
conducted in dozens of ways, many with long of human activity, most practitioners of the
traditions behind them. As Smith (1992) method adhere to the principle of
observed, the terms ethnography, field ``triangulation'' ± the use of more than one
methods, qualitative inquiry, participant source or method of data collection. Thus
observation, case study, naturalistic methods, fieldworkers often rely on other forms of
and responsive evaluation have become information, such as documentation, mass
practically synonymous. To do them all media coverage and discussions with
justice is not the aim of this paper but some of respondents, which may vary in formality
the available methods are described here. from casual conversations to tape-recorded
interviews and routinised surveys (Denzin,
The qualitative research interview
1989). According to Waddington (1994),
Without doubt, the most widely used
participant observation is best suited to
qualitative method in BE research is the
research projects: which emphasise the
interview. It is a highly flexible method, it can
importance of human meanings,
be used almost anywhere, and is capable of
interpretations and interactions; where the
producing data of great depth (King, 1994).
phenomenon under investigation is generally
Kvale (1996) defines the qualitative research
obscured from public view; where it is
interview as ``an interview, whose purpose is
controversial; and where it is little understood
to gather descriptions of the life-world of the
interviewee with respect to interpretation of and it may therefore be assumed that an
the meaning of the described phenomena''. ``insider'' perspective would enhance the
The goals of any qualitative research interview existing knowledge.
are therefore to see the research topic from
Tracer studies
the perspective of the interviewee, and to
Tracer studies are a method of identifying and
understand how and why they come to have
describing organisational processes across
this particular perspective. The guidelines
time and stakeholder group by the use of
below suggest the circumstances in which a
``tags'' as a way of following the unfolding
research interview is best suited (King, 1994),
process through the organisation, prompting
the discussion of the process with
. a study focuses on the meaning of
particular phenomena to the participants; organisational members, and identifying
. individual perceptions of processes within further important sources of information. All
a social unit are to be studied tracers are concerned with elucidating
prospectively, using a series of interviews; processes and so, by definition, tracers are
. individual historical accounts are associated with the description of activities
required of how a particular phenomenon over time ± tracing may be carried out
developed; concurrent with the process as it occurs and/
. exploratory work is required before a or retrospectively (Hornby and Symon,
quantitative study can be carried out; and 1994). Data gathered enable many
. a quantitative study has been carried out, hypotheses to be tested that were not
and qualitative data are required to amenable to survey data. Greater control is
validate particular measures or to clarify achieved by focusing on a sub-group of a
and illustrate the meaning of the findings. larger population.
Quantitative and qualitative research in the built environment Work Study
Dilanthi Amaratunga, David Baldry, Marjan Sarshar and Rita Newton Volume 51 . Number 1 . 2002 . 17±31

Case studies in built environment Survey techniques, such as questionnaires,

research interviews etc., are highly labour-intensive on
The case study is a research strategy which the part of respondents and particularly on
focuses on understanding the dynamics the part of the researcher, while a further
present within single settings (Amaratunga consequence is the low response rate (Fellows
and Baldry, 2000) and usually refers to and Liu, 1997).
relatively intensive analysis of a single instance Descriptive survey is a common type of
of a phenomenon being investigated. Yin research setting which could be categorised
(1994) defines case study as an empirical under quantitative research in BE and is
investigation into contemporary phenomenon concerned with information generally
operating in a real-life context. It is obtained by interview or mailed
particularly valuable when there is no clear questionnaire. Other sources include official
definition between the phenomenon and the reports or statistics. The prospective outcome
context itself. Case study research is a will be a sizeable volume of information that
heterogeneous activity covering a range of can be classified by type, frequency, and
research methods and techniques, a range of central tendency. The expense of a survey will
coverage, differing lengths and levels of be very large if the population is substantial.
involvement in organisational functioning and
a range of different types of data (Hartley, Research tactics and their philosophical
1994). Case studies are tailor-made for relationships
exploring new processes or behaviours or Galliers (1992) (cited in Remenyi et al., 1998)
those which are little understood. In this provides a list of approaches or tactics.
sense, case studies have an important function Table VIII summarises this list according to
in generating hypotheses and building theory the general philosophical base underpinning
in BE research. They have a high likelihood of the different research tactics. It is important
generating new theory and, furthermore, the to note that most research tactics listed in the
emergent theory is likely to be testable with table can be used, at least to some extent, as
constructs that can be measured and either positivistic (quantitative) or
hypotheses that can be falsified. Detailed case phenomenological (qualitative) devices.
studies may be essential in comparative
research, where an intimate understanding of
what concepts mean to people, the meanings Analysing research evidence
attached to particular behaviours and how
behaviours are linked. The analysis and interpretation of research
The key feature of the case study approach data form the major part of the research. The
is not method or data but the emphasis on definition of what is the ``analytical method''
understanding processes as they occur in their is of paramount importance to any analytical
context. The investigator interviews strategy. It is stressed that, only when the
individuals or studies life history documents correct analytical strategy is put together with
to gain an insight into behaviour and attempts its correspondent interactions, does it enable
to discover unique features and common the generation of ``laws'', as the term law is
traits shared by all persons in a given usually employed in science. Different types
classification. Much case study research, of methods can be found including
because of the opportunity for open-ended examining, categorising, tabulating, or
inquiry, is able to draw on inductive methods otherwise recombining the evidence to
of research, which aim to build theory and address the initial propositions of a study.
generate hypotheses rather than primarily to The definition of the analytical strategy
test them. determines the limits of data collection and
dissemination of results. Some of the
Quantitative research methods common analytical methodologies are
Considerable research in BE involves asking summarised below.
and obtaining answers to questions through
conducting surveys of people by using View of qualitative data analysis
questionnaires and interviews. Often, Miles and Huberman (1994) define
responses are compared with ``hard data'', qualitative data analysis as consisting of three
such as total cost of a construction project. concurrent flows of activity: data reduction,
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Table VIII Research tactics and philosophical bases

Research approaches Positivistic (quantitative) (qualitative)
Action research Strictly interpretivist
Case studies Have scope to be either Have scope to be either
Ethnographic Strictly interpretivist
Field experiments Have scope to be either Have scope to be either
Focus groups Mostly interpretivist
Forecasting research Strictly positivistic with some room for interpretation
Futures research Have scope to be either Have scope to be either
Game or role playing Strictly interpretivist
In-depth surveys Mostly interpretivist
Laboratory experiments Strictly positivistic with some room for interpretation
Large-scale surveys Strictly positivistic with some room for interpretation
Participant observer Strictly interpretivist
Scenario research Mostly interpretivist
Simulation and stochastic
modelling Strictly positivistic with some room for interpretation

data display, and conclusion drawing and interwoven before, during, and after data
verification. Data reduction refers to the collection in parallel to make up the general
process of selecting, focusing, simplifying, domain called ``analysis''. The three streams
abstracting, and transforming the data that can also be presented, as shown in Figure 2
appear in written-up field notes or (Miles and Huberman, 1994). In this view,
transcriptions. Data reduction is not the three types of analysis activity and the
something separate from analysis. As Tesch activity of data collection itself form an
(1990) points out, it also can be seen as ``data interactive, cyclical process.
condensation''. Data reduction occurs
continuously throughout the life of any Pattern matching
qualitatively oriented project. Even before the For qualitative data analysis, one of the most
data are actually collected, anticipatory data desirable strategies is to use a pattern-
reduction is occurring, as the researcher matching logic (Yin, 1994). Such logic
decides which conceptual framework, which compares an empirically-based with a
cases, which research questions, and which predicted pattern. In this process, when
data collection approaches to choose. similar results happen and for predictable
The most frequent form of display for reasons, the evidence produced is seen to
qualitative data in the past has been extended involve the same phenomena described in the
text. Miles and Huberman (1994) have theory, and is called ``literal replication''. In
become convinced that better displays are a contrast, when the qualitative data analysis
major avenue to valid qualitative analysis. As produces contrasting results, but also for
with data reduction, the creation and use of predictable reasons, it is called ``theoretical
displays are not separate from analysis, they replication''. There is some criticism in the
are a part of analysis. literature concerning the lack of precision of
Conclusion drawing and verification, in Miles the pattern-matching approach. Yin (1994)
and Huberman's (1994) opinion, are only half alerts that there is a risk of some interpretive
of a Gemini configuration. ``Final'' conclusions discretion on the part of researchers. The
may not appear until data collection is over, overall quality of pattern matching could be
depending on the size of the corpus of field improved by using quantitative analytical
notes; the coding, storage, and retrieval strategies.
methods used; and the sophistication of the
researcher, but they often have been prefigured Explanation building
from the beginning, even when a researcher This strategy is in fact a special type of pattern
claims to have been proceeding ``inductively''. matching, but the procedure is more difficult
Data reduction, data display, and and therefore deserves separate attention.
conclusion verification were described ± as Here, the goal is to analyse the qualitative
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Figure 2 Components of data analysis: interactive model

data by building an explanation about the Quantitative data analysis

situation. To ``explain'' a phenomenon is to Data display is generally an organised,
stipulate a set of causal links about it. compressed assembly of information that
Increasing the accuracy of the pattern permits conclusion drawing and action.
matching described above and explanation- Quantitative data analysis often deals with
building analysis are one of the key strategies statistical data analysis techniques,
in searching for the typical behaviour and specifically in the analysis of behavioural
practical boundaries of quantitative indicators elements of performance. Some of the most
(Pacitti, 1998). commonly used techniques are: chi-square
analysis, correlation analysis, factor analysis,
Time series analysis etc. A quantitative data analysis plan generally
This strategy deals with conducting a time- consists of: raw data assessment; data entry
series analysis, directly analogous to the time and transfer; data processing; communicating
series analysis conducted in experiments and findings; data interpretation; and completing
quasi-experiments. Such analysis can follow data analysis (Pacitti, 1998).
No matter what the nature of data
many intricate patterns (Yin, 1994). The
collected, it is appropriate to begin analysis by
essential logic underlying a time series
examining the raw data to search for patterns.
analysis is the match between a trend of data
Many analyses of quantitative data concern
points compared with a theoretically
searching the data patterns of various types,
significant trend specified before the onset of
so that hypothetical relationships can be
the investigation, versus some rival trend, also
established. Many quantitative approaches
specified earlier, versus any trend based on
are subject to particular analytical techniques
some artefact or threat to internal validity. with prescribed tests, such as conversion and
When interpreting the data when the mixed discourse analysis; therefore comparisons may
method is used, the following steps are be made and hierarchies of categories may be
recommended: examined. Most quantitative type information
. look for patterns of agreement ± across yields data which are suitable for statistical
data sources, by mediating variables, with analyses. The purpose of analysing the data is
literature, with experience; to provide information about variables and,
. look for contradictions ± across data usually, relationships between them. Hence,
sources, by mediating variables, with quantitative studies are undertaken to yield
literature, with experience; statistical evidence of relationships and their
. try to resolve contradictions ± through strengths, as statistics are very useful in
alternative plausible explanations for a determining directions of relationships when
finding, by re-examining the data, by combined with theory and literature.
collecting specific data to test an
alternative hypothesis;
. identify the most important findings ± Evaluation criteria
rank and organise them; and
. present the findings simply ± through Any review of research methods will be
charts and tables, selected photos or incomplete without considering the
videos that illustrate an important point. fundamental issues relating to evaluation of
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any research outcomes. In many respects an It is worth noting that there is a different
evaluation is often focused on measures to perspective on validity when viewed within
counteract the weaknesses inherent in the the context of qualitative and quantitative
particular research strategy chosen to carry research (Then, 1996). Qualitative research
out a particular piece of research (Then, identifies the presence or absence of a given
1996). The technical language of such feature in a given problem or situation, as
research evaluation includes terms such as opposed to quantitative research which
validity, reliability and generalisability. The measures the degree of presence of the feature
debate is rooted in philosophical differences itself.
about the nature of reality and takes the form
of qualitative versus quantitative methods, as Reliability
described earlier. In general, the value of any Reliability is the extent to which a test or
research stems from the validity of its results procedure produces similar results under
and the extent of its contribution to the body constant conditions on all occasions (Yin,
of knowledge. Research into the BE is no 1994). Another definition by Simon and
exception. These results are the outcomes Burstein (1985) states that:
from the collection, interpretation, analysis . . . reliability is essentially repeatability ± a
and evaluation of data. measurement procedure is highly reliable, if it
comes up with the same result in the same
circumstances time after time, even employed by
Validity different people.
For a given problem, validity is one of the
concepts used to determine how good is an The goal of reliability is to minimise the errors
answer provided by research (Then, 1996). It and biases in a study. The object is to ensure
means in essence that a theory, model, that, if a later investigator followed exactly the
concept, or category describes reality with a same procedures, the same findings and
good fit: conclusions would result.
A valid measure is one which measures what it is From the above discussion, it can be seen
intended to measure. In fact, it is not the that the basic difference between reliability
measure that is valid or invalid but the use to and internal validity is that reliability deals
which the measure is put . . . the validity of a with the data collection process to ensure
measure then depends on how we have defined consistency of results, while internal validity
the concept it is designed to measure (De Vaus,
focuses more on the way such results support
conclusions (Then, 1996). It should also be
In research methodology literature, the noted that the above deliberation refers very
measure of validity is often considered under much to the traditional evaluation criteria of
either internal or external validity (Yin, 1994; validity and reliability that are governed by
Gill and Johnson, 1991). Internal validity the convention of the quantitative research
refers to whether or not what are identified as paradigm. Although early qualitative
the causes actually produce what has been researchers felt compelled to relate traditional
interpreted as the ``effect'' or ``responses'' and notions of validity and reliability to
checks whether the right cause-and-effect procedures in qualitative research, later
relationships have been established. Thus writers (Miles and Huberman, 1994; Yin,
internal validity is the issue of establishing 1994; Easterby-Smith, 1991) developed their
theoretical territory that goes with the defined own language to describe the quality criteria
construct and ensuring consistency between it in a qualitative research paradigm. Miles and
and other recognised constructs. External Huberman (1994) concentrate on improved
validity criterion refers to the extent to which and rigorous techniques for data gathering
any research findings can be generalised and analysis as the best way to enhance
beyond the immediate research sample or credibility and acceptance. Yin (1994)
setting in which the research took place; thus identifies the following to establish validity
the extent to which findings drawn from and reliability in qualitative research:
studying one group are applicable to other (1) establish a chain of evidence;
groups or settings (the applicability of (2) have the draft study report reviewed by
findings beyond the group). External validity the key informants;
could be achieved from theoretical (3) use of single research exploratory design
relationships. by: establishing a causal relationship; use
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of a single case explanatory design; and research is being done and what it is
specification of the unit of analysis. supposed to achieve.
(4) develop formal research study framework, (3) A research plan must be formulated. The
which typically has the following sections: purpose of the plan should be directed
. an overview of the study project towards the testing of a hypothesis
(objectives, issues, topics being (deduction) or evaluation of evidence in
investigated); terms of constructing a hypothesis
. field procedures (credentials and (induction).
access to sites, sources of information); (4) The outcome of the enquiry is stated in
. research study questions (specific explicit terms, which may result in the
questions that the investigator must support or refutation of an existing
keep in mind during data collection); hypothesis (deduction) or a proposed one
and (induction).
. a guide for research report (outline, (5) The conclusions are documented with
format of the narrative). sufficient support and clarity to establish
what was done, what was found, and
what significance the findings may have.
Development of knowledge The researcher is also careful to separate
their work from that of others, and to
Research can be differentiated by looking at show how their methodology or findings
the approach, as described above, adopted by mesh with other efforts within the same
the researcher. Some researchers prefer a field of inquiry.
quantitative approach which is objective in
nature and concentrates on measuring There are many arguments in the literature
phenomena. Therefore, a quantitative regarding the merits of qualitative versus
approach involves collecting and analysing quantitative approaches, some of which have
numerical data and applying statistical tests. been examined in this paper. It is important
Other researchers prefer a qualitative that researchers need to be aware that the
approach, which is more subjective in nature choice is influenced by the nature of the
and involves examining and reflecting on research as well as the researcher's own
perceptions in order to gain an understanding philosophical preferences.
of social and human activities. One of the
early decisions during the research process is
to decide which is the best approach for the Conclusion
research under consideration. Some
researchers avoid taking a quantitative There is no uniquely best approach to
approach, because they are not confident with research, either in the natural world or in the
statistics and think a qualitative approach will BE in particular, and the best that can be
be easier. They further find that it is harder to done is to describe the ways in which research
start and decide an overall design for a is carried out in a variety of situations.
quantitative study, but it is easier to conduct Nevertheless, there are lessons that can be
and write up the analysis because it is highly learned and some of these are discussed in
structured. Qualitative research is generally this paper. Further, the purpose of this paper
easier to start, but researchers often find it is not to suggest that a mixed methodology is
difficult to analyse the data and write up the the only suitable research design, rather that it
final output. is an appropriate and, at times, desirable
Buckley et al. (1975) (cited in Then, 1996) design. The overall choice needs, of course, to
provide five essential steps as the be the most suitable to achieve the objectives
requirements to ensure the assurance of of the specific piece of research. A mixed
quality research and the achievement of methodology, however, has a number of
reliability and validity: advantages within BE research, as well as
(1) Knowledge stems from observations other disciplines, and may be able to enhance
which take place through a definable the quality of such work in such ways as have
searching process. been outlined.
(2) The research problem is defined, which The above review highlighted a variety of
means answering the questions why the issues that a BE researcher is likely to face in
Quantitative and qualitative research in the built environment Work Study
Dilanthi Amaratunga, David Baldry, Marjan Sarshar and Rita Newton Volume 51 . Number 1 . 2002 . 17±31

trying to formulate a sound research design. Jones, I. (1997), ``Mixing qualitative and quantitative
These issues, if overlooked, increase the risk methods on sports fan research'', The Qualitative
Report, online serial, Vol. 3 No. 4, available at:
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