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Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES

Ethical Issues in Qualitative and Quantitative Research Studies Sabrina Salmon Capella University

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES Ethical Issues in Qualitative and Quantitative Research Studies In 1979, The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research developed the Belmont Report. This guideline referenced three important areas for researchers to consider. Topics for consideration are boundaries between practice and research, ethical principles, and application of ethical principles in designing a research study. Most professions and organizations have standards and goals for acceptable behavior. Ethical principles are the guidelines that a researcher should follow when conducting research. These principles address participants as autonomous agents, beneficence in research, and justice (Sherblom, 2003). A research design should show respect for participants (Sherblom 2003). Researchers should treat individuals with autonomy. Participants in a research study must make an informed decision about taking part in the investigation. When children are involved in research, parents should be aware of the purpose of the study and potential risks. Parents and children should give consent before a minor participates in the research process. All participants should know that they are free to withdraw from the study at any point. Zikmund (2003) criticized researchers for not obtaining consent from some marginalized individuals. This group includes the poor, the elderly, and less educated individuals. Lodico, Spaulding, and Voegtle (2010) believed ethics focus on protecting the rights of individuals who participate in studies. Sherblom (2003) discussed indicators of beneficence and justice in research designs. Beneficent actions do not harm and result in the maximum benefit to individuals and society. Researchers and research review committees should protect individuals from potential risk of harm. Justice evaluates the benefits and burdens of research. Researchers should choose

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES subjects systematically and not based on convenience, availability, or manipulability (Lodico, Spaulding & Voegtle, 2010). Research designs use a qualitative or a quantitative approach. Qualitative Research Qualitative research utilizes an investigation to produce findings that were not predetermined. Researchers might adjust the study during the research process. Qualitative research seeks to understand a research problem from the perspective of the participants. This research approach is effective for obtaining specific information related to cultural values and particular populations. Richards (2009) described qualitative research as locally situated, participant-oriented, holistic, and inductive. Research studies people in natural settings. The goal is to understand the world from the participants perspective. The process studies multiple aspects of a situation. The researcher collects and interprets the data to draw different perspectives. Common methods for gathering data during qualitative research include observations, interviews, case studies, and focus groups (Lodico, Spaulding & Voegtle, 2010). According to Myers (2002) qualitative data is typically collected from interactive interviewing, written descriptions by participants, and observation. During an interactive interview people, verbally describe their experiences or point of view. Another data collection method asks participants to write experiences. The third form of collecting data takes place when the researcher describes the verbal and non-verbal behavior of participants. Qualitative research has several strengths. Three of the strengths are: 1) A researcher establishes meaning from the participants perspective (Myers, 2000). 2) An examiner studies limited groups and issues in depth. 3) Data provides information on individuals and provides an understanding of peoples experiences and

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES viewpoint. 3) Qualitative researchers adjust the study when changes occur (Lodico, Spaulding & Voegtle, 2010). Some weaknesses exist with using a qualitative research approach. Three of the weaknesses are: 1) A researchers subjectivity, worldview, or interactions with participants can affect the study. 2) A second concern with a qualitative approach is data collection is time consuming and the researchers biases can influence results (Mertler, 2009). 3) The nature of this research approach could make it difficult to generalize the study. A main ethical concern with qualitative research is maintaining an objective view during the research process. A qualitative researcher is one of the research tools (Punch, 1994). Some precautions can help to

provide objectivity, address losing trust in a dual relationship, and clarify that the results are from a specific sample group. The researcher determines a need for more information to answer a question or solve a problem. Another ethical concern is the researcher could have biases about the participants or study. Research questions and a study design help to guide the research process. The researcher should acknowledge biases and determine how to remove personal impressions from the research process. Studies should include a sample that will allow the researcher to explore the research question within a specific population (Lodico, Spaulding & Voegtle, 2010). A research review board should examine the study design, possible ethical issues, and the researchers connection to the study and participants to address ethical concerns. An example of addressing ethical issues could take place if a teacher decided to do an action research project to solve a classroom problem. Mertler (2009) explained action research as a systematic process for teachers to gather information about how their particular schools

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES operate, how they teach, and how their students learn (p. 4). The teacher would develop a question or wonder about a topic. A teacher might want to know what would happen if students from different grade levels participated in peer teaching to learn social studies content. Teachers might anticipate that older or more advanced students will take more ownership in learning and act as leaders with younger students. The teacher would collect data by observing and possibly interviewing students. Next, the researcher will interpret data by determining if older or advanced students took a leadership role and became more actively involved in learning. Evidence may or may not indicate that this group of older or advanced students took more ownership in learning when working with younger students. A researcher would take this information and determine methods for making improvement in instruction and exploring other ways for students to assume ownership in learning. The next step is for the teacher to share the information with others while retaining confidentiality of participants or explore areas for further investigation (Richards, 2009). Quantitative research uses a different approach. Quantitative Research Quantitative research focuses on numbers or quantities. Researchers present study results as numerical analysis and statistics (Lodico, Spaulding & Voegtle, 2010). A large sample group gives analysis more statistical support. The main concerns of the quantitative paradigm are that measurement is reliable, valid, and generalizable. Results should be a clear prediction of cause and effect (Cassell & Symon, 1994). Quantitative research formulates the research hypotheses and verifying them empirically on a specific set of data. Scientific hypotheses are value-free; the researcher's own values, biases, and subjective preferences have no place in the quantitative approach (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). The quantitative research approach has several strengths.

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES Three strengths of using quantitative research are: 1) Researchers explore problems in specific terms through the scientific method (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). 2) Observations are controlled and sample sizes are large. Results are more reliable and generalizable. 3) This process minimizes subjectivity, judgment, and biases from the researcher. Using a quantitative approach has some limitations. Weaknesses of quantitative research are: 1) Researchers are unable to control the environment when participants respond to surveys. 2) Questions are closed and outcomes are limited to the format and questions in a study (Zikmund, 2003). 3) Quantitative research results do not determine why a behavior occurs (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). Ethical concerns relate to weaknesses of this approach. A main issue is how the researcher chooses a control group and if the research uses a placebo (Sherblom, 2003). Investigators should carefully consider risks involved with withholding an intervention from one group. Participants should voluntarily consent to participate in the study after considering possible risks (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). Another potential ethical dilemma with a quantitative research approach is using self-reported data could provide limitations for generalizing the results (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Quantitative researchers should not alter data, report all results, and use the appropriate statistical test (Zikmund, 2003). The sample group should be diverse and large enough to generalize study results. A research review committee should examine the research design, data collection methods, and statistical analysis to ensure that the study meets ethical standards. An example of a possible ethical issue when using a quantitative approach could arise if a high school administrator decided to do a research study on the effectiveness of a remediation course. First, the school leader would develop a question and select a sample group. The principal should be aware of potential risks when not allowing all students the option to

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES participate in the course (Sherblom, 2003). Then, Data collection should show the differences in performance for students who received remediation and individuals in the control group. If the principal noticed that some students in the control group would benefit from remediation, the design of the study should not change (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). A principal might face an internal conflict from withholding a service from a student. Once the study is complete, the school leader should use statistical analysis to calculate results. The school administrator should report positive and negative results of the study (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). If the results were not positive, the principal might be hesitate to report the results. Research Methodology and Questions Both qualitative and quantitative researchers should identify a problem, review literature on a topic, and develop a question. There are three types of research questions (Trochim, 2000): 1) Causal questions investigate the effect of one or more variables on one or more of the outcome variables. An example would be to alter a variable and measure the effect on study participants. 2) Descriptive research describes what exists. Opinion polls are an example of a descriptive research indicator. 3) Relational research explores the connection between two or more variables. Investigations can determine if there is the presence of one variable will make it more or less likely for another variable to occur. Research methodology should support a research question from an ethical framework. Qualitative questions answer why an event or behavior occurs. Quantitative questions examine how often or to what degree the event or behavior takes place (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). Once the researcher determines a problem and questions, the investigator will choose a methodology to explore the topic. Researchers should choose the methodology that is the best

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES approach to respond to the research questions (Trochim, 2000). It would be unethical for a researcher to choose a methodology because of preference instead of selecting the most appropriate strategy to examine a problem. Questions that seek to explore the unknown align well with qualitative research methodology. Qualitative research can address descriptive questions (Punch, 1994). Researchers can interact with participants to gather information on different perspectives. A researcher would have difficulty designing a study that included possible responses if little or no information is available on a topic. Structured responses could force participants to answer questions in a manner that does not accurately reflect their point of view. Choosing a qualitative research approach to explore a population or topic with few existing studies is more ethical because this approach allows the participants to be autonomous and gain additional knowledge from the study (Zikmund, 2003). Researchers can answer questions that test a hypothesis using a quantitative research approach. If a research question seeks to determine the outcome variable when a variable is manipulated then the study should be stable (Trochim, 2000). Closed-ended questions and numerical data help to quantify variables or predict relationships. Quantitative research is useful when investigating causal and relational questions. Researchers can examine the effect of a variable on an outcome variable. Lodico, Spaulding, and Voegtle (2010) argued that researchers are responsible for maintaining confidentiality. If a research question investigates personal or sensitive issues or includes items that can identify respondents, it would be more ethical to use a close-ended questionnaire to maintain anonymity. Generalizing research results maximizes the benefits of the study. Quantitative research questions have the potential to provide beneficence to a larger population (Sherblom, 2003). In some instances, a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches allows the researcher to examine a question in depth (Lodico, Spaulding,

Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES & Voegtle, 2010). Leedy and Ormrod (2005) argued that the research problem and questions should determine the research methodology. Data Collection and Research Methodology Data collection should support the research approach. Researchers systematically collect details about study participants and their environment. Data collection techniques include using available information, observing, interviewing, and administering written questionnaires (Trochim, 2000). Collection methods provide information to answer research questions. Using existing information is one way to collect data. Published resources can assist with data that relates to a question or study group. In some qualitative studies, the researcher should collect data from a particular sample group or environment. An ethical issue with available information is the details could be imprecise or incomplete. Observations are another source for data collection. Mertler (2009) examined how a qualitative researcher might observe participants and take anecdotal notes to determine why an event occurred. Quantitative researchers would develop a collection tool to record the number of times or duration of an event. Qualitative researchers might participate in the observation while quantitative researchers would watch the situation and not participate. Observations could breach confidentiality and the observers presence might influence the situation. Interviewing allows for clarification of questions. Participants typically respond to interviews more often than giving written responses (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Quantitative researchers would design questions and record responses exactly as participants responded (Sherblom, 2003). Qualitative researchers might ask for clarification of a response during an interview. A possible ethical issue with interviews is the presence of the interviewer could


Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES influence responses. Reports might be less complete then when recording data during observations. Administering questionnaires allows participants to respond anonymously (Trochim, 2000). Responses are more likely to be honest. Questionnaires phrase questions in the same format for all participants. A quantitative approach would develop a scale or a rating system to obtain quantifiable data (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle 2010). Qualitative research might use open-ended questions. A possible ethical issue is an illiterate person will not be able to respond. The researcher might offer the questions on tape and then a participant could verbally record responses. Other participants might misunderstand the question. Researchers can take steps to expedite the research process. Expediting the IRB Process Colleges, universities, and other organizations have a group of people who review ethical issues. Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle (2010) explained that these individuals form institutional review boards (IRBs). IRBs review research proposals to determine if the researcher considered ethical issues. Some steps can expedite this process. 1) Researchers can develop a plan to inform participants of the procedures and risks involved with the study (Cassell & Symon, 1994). Participants should be aware that they are volunteering to participate and can withdraw from the study at any time. 2) The researcher should explain how information would remain confidential (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Researchers should determine interventions that are in place before a study begins to assist with avoiding harm and maintaining confidentiality (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). Numbering questionnaires prior to the study will help maintain confidentiality of participants. 3) A researcher should clearly state how the benefits of a study would outweigh

potential harm (Trochim, 2000). Becoming familiar with the IRB process and ensuring that the


Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES study allows for autonomy, provides beneficence, gives informed consent, and maintains confidentiality are methods to expedite the process (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Conclusion Qualitative and quantitative research approaches both have strengths and weaknesses (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Some ethical issues could arise during the research process. Sherblom (2003) suggested that the researcher examine possible ethical issues and plan a study that allows participants to volunteer to participate in a study without harm. Information should remain confidential (Richards, 2009). Research methodology should use the best approach to answer questions (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Each approach has a data collection process that provides the most efficient and effective method of investigating a problem. Individuals should examine principles of research ethics in advance to accelerate the IRB process.


Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES References Belmont Report. (1979). U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Washington, DC. Retrieved July 29, 2010 from humansubjects/guidance/belmont.htm Cassell, C., & Symon, G. (1994). Qualitative research in work contexts. In C. Cassell, & G. Symon (Eds.), Qualitative methods in organizational research (pp. 1-13). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Leedy, P. D., & Ormrod, J. E. (2005). Practical research: Planning and design (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill / Prentice Hall. Lodico, M.G., Spaulding, D. T., & Voegtle, K.H. (2010). Methods in educational research: From theory to practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Mertler, C.A. 2009. Action research: Teachers as researchers in the classroom. Los Angeles: Sage. Myers, M. (2000). Qualitative research and the generalizability question: Standing firm with Proteus. The Qualitative Report, 4(3/4). Punch, M. (1994). Politics and ethics in qualitative research. In Denzin, N.K. St Lincoln, Y.S . (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp.485-499).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Richards, K. (2009). Trends in qualitative research in language teaching since 2000. Language Teaching, 42(2), 147-180. Sherblom, S. (2003). Issues in conducting ethical research in character education. Journal of Research in Character Education, 1(2), 107-128. Trochim, W. (2000). The Research Methods Knowledge Base, (2nd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Atomic


Running head: ETHICAL ISSUES Dog Publishing. Zikmund, W. (2003). Business research methods (7th ed.). (chapter 5). Ohio: Thomson, South-Western.