Research, evaluation, analysis

Quality and Quantity

The term qualitative analysis has been used with a number of meanings over the years. These days it often is taken to be equivalent to non-quantitative analysis.

However, any analysis is quantitative. What distinguishes qualitative analysis is the simplicity of the quantitative scales it uses. For example, if you are making qualitative assessments of the appropriateness of behaviour, you are in effect rating behaviour on a scale with two points appropriate and inappropriate. Saying that some specific behaviour is appropriate is equivalent to giving it a score of 1, while saying that it is inappropriate is equivalent to giving it a score of 0 (zero).

That point may seem like a quibble, but it is important. If you acknowledge the inherent quantitative nature of so-called qualitative analysis you have available to you a wide range of statistical techniques for assessing the soundness and accuracy of your analysis, and for improving it. You also can use statistical techniques to test hypotheses based on your analyses.

A qualitative analysis unsupported by evidence of its adequacy is nothing more than unsubstantiated opinion. Since it can easily be substantiated quantitatively, the fervour with which some proponents of qualitative analysis oppose quantitative approaches seems counterproductive.

Quality and Quantity © 2001, John FitzGerald
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