For this reason I clearly assign forms, methods and characteristics to either quantitative or qualitative research, knowing that a clear cut is not always possible. In general quantitative research is based on data which can be described as numeric, statistic and analytic data.
How do I know if my research article is a quantitative research study report? - FAQ
Examples are all types of statistics, surveys, timescales etc. Usually the data consists of standard measurements, surveys, and any kind of source which provides rough, numeric information. The more information is available or the larger the samples are the better. Qualitative research in contrast relies on data which is more detailed, variable in content, closely linked to everyday life and has a concrete meaning. Data with a concrete meaning are written texts and documents, photos, videos, interviews, questions, observations etc. Starting from the knowledge of two different categories of data it becomes clear that the analysis process is different, too.
Numeric data and information is analysed quantitatively — in other words aggregated according to the applicable and common methods of evaluation.
Thereby it is important to guarantee that the source has a minimum of quality, is standardized, reliable, comparable and representative. Given these attributes the results are expressive, can be used to be compared to other scientific researches and are representative for the main unit. Useful qualitative data should demonstrate linguistic precision, comprehensiveness, specification, openness, expertise and seriousness to guarantee the required level of quality.
If these criteria are fulfilled the task of the data analysis is now to find parallels within heterogeneous sources of data. But not only the type or the analysis of data are typical characteristics of the two research methods. It is mainly the strategy of the research realisation which highlights the elementary disparity.
A E Andreas Ernst Author. Takes a cyclical approach to synthesis, with the findings from one synthesis informing the focus of the next synthesis, until all the research objectives have been addressed. Studies are not necessarily grouped and categorised as qualitative or quantitative. A recent review of more than systematic reviews 34 combining quantitative and qualitative evidence identified two main synthesis designs—convergent and sequential.
In a convergent design, qualitative and quantitative evidence is collated and analysed in a parallel or complementary manner, whereas in a sequential synthesis, the collation and analysis of quantitative and qualitative evidence takes place in a sequence with one synthesis informing the other box 4. Qualitative and quantitative research is collected and analysed at the same time in a parallel or complementary manner.
Integration can occur at three points:. All included studies are analysed using the same methods and results presented together. As only one synthesis method is used, data transformation occurs qualitised or quantised.
Comparison of Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Usually addressed one review question. Qualitative and quantitative data are analysed and presented separately but integrated using a further synthesis method; eg, narratively, tables, matrices or reanalysing evidence. The results of both syntheses are combined in a third synthesis. Usually addresses an overall review question with subquestions. Qualitative and quantitative data are analysed and presented separately with integration occurring in the interpretation of results in the discussion section.
Usually addresses two or more complimentary review questions. A two-phase approach, data collection and analysis of one type of evidence eg, qualitative , occurs after and is informed by the collection and analysis of the other type eg, quantitative. Usually addresses an overall question with subquestions with both syntheses complementing each other. The three case studies table 1 , online supplementary files 1—3 illustrate the diverse combination of review designs and synthesis methods that were considered the most appropriate for specific guidelines.
In this section, we draw on examples where specific review designs and methods have been or can be used to explore selected aspects of complexity in guidelines or systematic reviews. We also identify other review methods that could potentially be used to explore aspects of complexity. Of particular note, we could not find any specific examples of systematic methods to synthesise highly diverse research designs as advocated by Petticrew e t al 17 and summarised in tables 2 and 3.
For example, we could not find examples of methods to synthesise qualitative studies, case studies, quantitative longitudinal data, possibly historical data, effectiveness studies providing evidence of differential effects across different contexts, and system modelling studies eg, agent-based modelling to explore system adaptivity. There are different ways that quantitative and qualitative evidence can be integrated into a review and then into a guideline development process.
In practice, some methods enable integration of different types of evidence in a single synthesis, while in other methods, the single systematic review may include a series of stand-alone reviews or syntheses that are then combined in a cross-study synthesis. Table 1 provides an overview of the characteristics of different review designs and methods and guidance on their applicability for a guideline process. Designs and methods that have already been used in WHO guideline development are described in part A of the table. Part B outlines a design and method that can be used in a guideline process, and part C covers those that have the potential to integrate quantitative, qualitative and mixed-method evidence in a single review design such as meta-narrative reviews and Bayesian syntheses , but their application in a guideline context has yet to be demonstrated.
Depending on the review design see boxes 3 and 4 , integration can potentially take place at a review team and design level, and more commonly at several key points of the review or guideline process. The following sections outline potential points of integration and associated practical considerations when integrating quantitative and qualitative evidence in guideline development. In a guideline process, it is common for syntheses of quantitative and qualitative evidence to be done separately by different teams and then to integrate the evidence.
A practical consideration relates to the organisation, composition and expertise of the review teams and ways of working. If the quantitative and qualitative reviews are being conducted separately and then brought together by the same team members, who are equally comfortable operating within both paradigms, then a consistent approach across both paradigms becomes possible. If, however, a team is being split between the quantitative and qualitative reviews, then the strengths of specialisation can be harnessed, for example, in quality assessment or synthesis.
Optimally, at least one, if not more, of the team members should be involved in both quantitative and qualitative reviews to offer the possibility of making connexions throughout the review and not simply at re-agreed junctures. Clearly specified key question s , derived from a scoping or consultation exercise, will make it clear if quantitative and qualitative evidence is required in a guideline development process and which aspects will be addressed by which types of evidence.
For the remaining stages of the process, as documented below, a review team faces challenges as to whether to handle each type of evidence separately, regardless of whether sequentially or in parallel, with a view to joining the two products on completion or to attempt integration throughout the review process. In each case, the underlying choice is of efficiencies and potential comparability vs sensitivity to the underlying paradigm. Once key questions are clearly defined, the guideline development group typically needs to consider whether to conduct a single sensitive search to address all potential subtopics lumping or whether to conduct specific searches for each subtopic splitting.
These two considerations often mean a trade-off between a single search process involving very large numbers of records or a more protracted search process retrieving smaller numbers of records. Both approaches have advantages and choice may depend on the respective availability of resources for searching and sifting.
Closely related to decisions around searching are considerations relating to screening and selecting studies for inclusion in a systematic review. The risk of missing relevant reports might be minimised by whole team screening for empirical reports in the first instance and then coding them for a specific quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods report at a subsequent stage. Within a guideline process, review teams may be more limited in their choice of instruments to assess methodological limitations of primary studies as there are mandatory requirements to use the Cochrane risk of bias tool 37 to feed into Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation GRADE 38 or to select from a small pool of qualitative appraisal instruments in order to apply GRADE; Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative Research GRADE-CERQual 39 to assess the overall certainty or confidence in findings.
The Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group has recently issued guidance on the selection of appraisal instruments and core assessment criteria. Alternatively, a more paradigm-sensitive approach would involve selecting the best instrument for each respective review while deferring challenges from later heterogeneity of reporting.
Qualitative vs. quantitative research
The way in which data and evidence are extracted from primary research studies for review will be influenced by the type of integrated synthesis being undertaken and the review purpose. Initially, decisions need to be made regarding the nature and type of data and evidence that are to be extracted from the included studies. Method-specific reporting guidelines 43 44 provide a good template as to what quantitative and qualitative data it is potentially possible to extract from different types of method-specific study reports, although in practice reporting quality varies.
Online supplementary file 5 provides a hypothetical example of the different types of studies from which quantitative and qualitative evidence could potentially be extracted for synthesis. For those reviews where the quantitative and qualitative findings of studies are synthesised separately and integrated at the point of findings eg, segregated or contingent approaches or sequential synthesis design , separate data extraction approaches will likely be used.
Where integration occurs during the process of the review eg, integrated approach or convergent synthesis design , an integrated approach to data extraction may be considered, depending on the purpose of the review. This may involve the use of a data extraction framework, the choice of which needs to be congruent with the approach to synthesis chosen for the review.
The Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group provide further guidance on extraction of qualitative data, including use of software. Relatively few synthesis methods start off being integrated from the beginning, and these methods have generally been subject to less testing and evaluation particularly in a guideline context see table 1. A review design that started off being integrated from the beginning may be suitable for some guideline contexts such as in case study 3—risk communication in humanitarian disasters—where there was little evidence of effect , but in general if there are sufficient trials then a separate systematic review and meta-analysis will be required for a guideline.
Other papers in this series offer guidance on methods for synthesising quantitative 46 and qualitative evidence 14 in reviews that take a complexity perspective. Further guidance on integrating quantitative and qualitative evidence in a systematic review is provided by the Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group. It is highly likely unless there are well-designed process evaluations that the primary studies may not themselves seek to address the complexity-related questions required for a guideline process.
In which case, review authors will need to configure the available evidence and transform the evidence through the synthesis process to produce explanations, propositions and hypotheses ie, findings that were not obvious at primary study level. It is important that guideline commissioners, developers and review authors are aware that specific methods are intended to produce a type of finding with a specific purpose such as developing new theory in the case of meta-ethnography. Descriptive findings —qualitative evidence-driven translated descriptive themes that do not move beyond the primary studies.
Explanatory findings —may either be at a descriptive or theoretical level. At the descriptive level, qualitative evidence is used to explain phenomena observed in quantitative results, such as why implementation failed in specific circumstances. At the theoretical level, the transformed and interpreted findings that go beyond the primary studies can be used to explain the descriptive findings. The latter description is generally the accepted definition in the wider qualitative community.
Hypothetical or theoretical finding —qualitative evidence-driven transformed themes or lines of argument that go beyond the primary studies. Although similar, Thomas and Harden 56 make a distinction in the purposes between two types of theoretical findings: analytical themes and the product of meta-ethnographies, third-order interpretations. Analytical themes are a product of interrogating descriptive themes by placing the synthesis within an external theoretical framework such as the review question and subquestions and are considered more appropriate when a specific review question is being addressed eg, in a guideline or to inform policy.
Third - order interpretations come from translating studies into one another while preserving the original context and are more appropriate when a body of literature is being explored in and of itself with broader or emergent review questions. A critical element of guideline development is the formulation of recommendations by the Guideline Development Group, and EtD frameworks help to facilitate this process.
It is commonly the EtD framework that enables the findings of the separate quantitative and qualitative reviews to be brought together in a guideline process. Specific challenges when populating the DECIDE evidence to decision framework 15 were noted in case study 3 risk communication in humanitarian disasters as there was an absence of intervention effect data and the interventions to communicate public health risks were context specific and varied.
A d ifferent type of EtD framework needs to be developed for reviews that do not include sufficient evidence of intervention effect. Mixed-method review and synthesis methods are generally the least developed of all systematic review methods.
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It is acknowledged that methods for combining quantitative and qualitative evidence are generally poorly articulated. With the exception of case study 3 risk communication , the quantitative and qualitative reviews for these specific guidelines have been conducted separately, and the findings subsequently brought together in an EtD framework to inform recommendations.
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