Research approaches are extremely important in study contexts as they detail the steps or procedures that will be undertaken to obtain the data needed to solve specific problems or phenomena (Creswell, 2003). The present paper compares and contrasts the quantitative and qualitative research approaches with the view to demonstrate their strengths and weaknesses and how they could benefit studies in transportation and logistics.
Explanation of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Types
The two research designs identified are quantitative and qualitative, where the quantitative design emphasizes objective measurements and the statistical analysis of data collected from the field, while the qualitative design underscores the collection of data from natural settings to gain deep insights on the research phenomena (Creswell, 2003; Knemeyer, Ponzurick, & Logar, 2002).
The quantitative research approach is objective and uses positivism and postpositivism philosophical orientations to investigate phenomena, while the qualitative research approach is embedded in the epistemological principle that knowledge is merely subjective, hence employs the interpretivism philosophical stance to understand phenomena (Creswell, 2003; Knemeyer et al., 2002).
For example, the study by Tongzon and Nguyen (2013) is quantitative in approach as it uses empirical observation and measurement to investigate the level of ICT adoption among transport companies. In contrast, the study by Mello, Stank, and Esper (2008) is qualitative in approach as it uses multiple participant meanings to construct sense in designing a framework of a logistics outsourcing strategy.
Quantitative studies use experimental research, descriptive, and survey research methodologies (designs) to link the study methods to outcomes, while qualitative projects employ designs such as ethnography, participant observation, and grounded theory. In data collection, most qualitative studies aim to create understanding from data as the analysis proceeds, thus the use of subjective techniques such as in-depth interviews and focus group discussions.
Most quantitative research studies start with an understanding of the issues that are to be tested and hence rely on objective and standardized data collection techniques such as questionnaire instruments (Creswell, 2003; Knemeyer et al., 2002). The study by Mello et al. (2008) is qualitative as it uses grounded theory and the interview data collection technique to investigate phenomena about which little theoretical knowledge has been developed, while that of Parker, Kent, and Brown (2001) is quantitative by virtue of using survey design and questionnaires to collect field data for empirical analysis.
Benefits and Restrictions of the Research Types
Research studies using the quantitative research design are not only more reliable and objective due to their capacity to use statistical analysis, but their findings can be generalized to the whole population due to the representativeness of the sample. Additionally, they are able to establish cause-and-effect relationships and enjoy the advantage of reducing a complex research problem into specific variables. However, they are restricted in terms of sampling bias, confirmation bias, and the production of abstract or general knowledge that may not be applicable to the population (Creswell, 2003). The advantages of the qualitative research design include
- capacity to evaluate a phenomenon in detail,
- ability to change the direction and framework of research as new evidence emerges,
- clear vision on expected outcomes,
- capacity to collect data based on human experiences.
However, the approach is limited in terms of time and financial constraints, predisposition to be influenced by researcher biases, inability to assess rigidity, and difficulties in analyzing and interpreting huge volumes of data (Creswell, 2003; Knemeyer et al., 2002).
In conclusion, it can be suggested that these research types benefit studies in transportation and logistics by providing ways and mechanisms through which researchers can investigate issues affecting the sector and provide evidence-based solutions.
For example, quantitative research designs have been used to identify areas of improvement by matching various variables against operational performance metrics in the sector, while qualitative research designs have been used to gain deep insights on issues such as service-driven loyalty, industry-specific stakeholder behaviors, supply chain management harmonization strategies, and other areas that demand an adequate understanding of the underlying meanings in human interrelationships in business contexts.
Creswell, J.W. (2003). Research design: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Knemeyer, A.M., Ponzurick, T.G., & Logar, C. (2002). A qualitative examination of factors affecting reverse logistics systems for end-of-life computers. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 32(6), 455-479.
Mello, J.E., Stank, T.P., & Esper, T.L. (2008). A model of logistics outsourcing strategy. Transportation Journal, 47(4), 5-25.
Parker, R.S., Kent, J.L., & Brown, J.S. (2001). The perceived importance of statistics in the logistics and transportation industry. Journal of Education for Business, 76(4), 185-188.
Tongzon, J., & Nguyen, H.O. (2013). ICT adoption among logistics companies in ASEAN countries. Transport Reviews, 33(5), 548-569.