Trochim’s stance on the qualitative-quantitative debate is that it’s ‘much ado about nothing’ (Trochim, 2006). He believes in the value of a ‘mixed methods’ approach and goes so far as to claim that, ‘At the level of the data…there is little difference between the qualitative and the quantitative.’ He claims that, ‘All qualitative data can be coded quantitatively,’ stating that ‘Anything that is qualitative can be assigned meaningful numerical values.’ The example he goes on to give, of open-ended survey responses being categorised into themes and, thereby, being quantifiable goes some way towards proving this point. However, the question that this raised for me is, what are data? Data are not necessarily numerical and data might be complex accounts of experiences or observations which can’t – readily – be quantified.
Perhaps because I am interested in a more qualitative approach, I found his claim that, ‘All quantitative data is based on qualitative judgment,’ (sic) less problematic. As he exemplifies in his deconstruction of a survey response about capital punishment, there is an array of questions which arise around the meaning and meaningfulness of any respondent’s choice.
Trochim goes on to state that his belief is that the qualitative-quantitative debate is, at its heart, a philosophical and not a methodological one. It is epistemological approaches which differentiate quantitative from qualitative research, not methods.
Trochim, W. (2006). The Qualitative Debate. Social Research Methods. http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qualdeb.php