Three Examples of Quantitative Research Methods for Academic Writing
All quantitative research aims to collect and analyse meaningful numerical data, but quantitative research methods vary widely. In fact, as the examples in this article show, types of primary quantitative research differ specifically in their methods and the objectives those methods enable. The use of a shopping survey or questionnaire as a research tool is demonstrated in the first of these examples. The second example uses an experimental research approach to test an unconventional therapy for seniors. The third shows how purely observational research might be conducted in a public setting.
In order to offer brief examples of primary quantitative research methods for a variety of readers working in a range of fields, I have kept details of procedures and materials as well as specialised terminology to a minimum and presented each example as a simple bullet outline of research plans –the kind of outline a researcher might make in the initial stages of a project. Information should therefore be considered general and representational rather than precise and thorough. The information should also be read as the fiction it is. All three examples present imaginary projects designed to highlight the research possibilities and key methodological concerns and procedures characteristic of specific quantitative methods. Such studies might certainly be undertaken given real circumstances of a similar nature, but further definition and refinement and in some cases the appropriate permissions and ethical approvals would be necessary.
Three Basic Examples of Primary Quantitative Research Methods
Example 1: Research into Shopping Habits Using an Email Survey
• In this study a survey will be used to investigate the grocery-shopping habits of low-income families residing on the east side of Civitas. In particular, the degree to which the price and availability of unhealthy high-fat foods versus healthy low-fat foods determine consumer decisions will be measured and examined. The working hypothesis is that the low prices and ready accessibility of unhealthy foods encourage low-income shoppers to buy them.
• The survey will contain thirty closed-ended questions designed to quantify participant responses. Some questions will require simple yes or no answers (for example, ‘Do you read nutritional labels while shopping for food?’). Others will ask a question such as ‘Which answer below best describes your behaviour while shopping for lunch box foods?’ and then offer a number of choices. Still others will present a Likert style scale for recording responses to questions (for instance, ‘How likely is the price of low-fat food to affect whether you buy it or not?’) or measuring agreement or disagreement with specific statements (such as ‘I always check labels for fat content before purchasing processed food’).
• The survey will also request personal information important to the study such as the age and gender of the respondent, marital status, family income, number and age of children and so on.
• The study is planned in conjunction with East Side Social Services, who will be assisting in the design of the survey, which we plan to administer to a sample of 1000 representative families chosen at random from Social Services, Food Bank and publicly accessible community mailing lists.
• To increase response rate, a small incentive of a $10 gift card (generously provided by the East Side Grocers Association) for use at one of nearly 31 grocery stores selling healthy, low-fat foods in the East Side will be offered to each respondent who returns a completed questionnaire within the allotted time of two weeks.
• Survey responses will be summarised in percentages, displayed in tables and graphs, and analysed to discover dominant patterns and trends in food-shopping habits and decisions that may help with developing strategies to ensure that healthier low-fat foods reach the mouths of low-income families. A section at the end of the survey will request further comments on the topic of the research or the survey itself in order to contextualise, explain and enrich the quantitative data.
• The research project will be briefly described for participants and consent requested in the documentation accompanying the survey. Only the responses of participants aged 17 and over will be included in the study, and the identity and other personal information of all respondents will be protected.
Example 2: Experimental Research among Elderly Patients in Long-Term Care
• This study is designed to test the impact of animal-assisted therapy on elderly patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease who are in long-term care at two different homes for seniors: Shady Grove Retirement Villa and Sunny Shores Care Home.
• The therapy animals to be used are a young pair of bred-in-captivity galahs or roseate cockatoos named Harry and Hermione and owned by a local breeder and trainer.
• The goal is to answer some basic research questions about the use of cockatoos in animal-assisted therapy. For instance,
Does contact with therapy cockatoos measurably improve the social, emotional or cognitive function of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients?
Is the impact similar to that of therapy dogs? Is it more or less significant?
If the impact of therapy cockatoos is measurable, does it last beyond the moment?
• Patients for the study will include groups from both Shady Grove and Sunny Shores. At Shady Grove participants will be a group of 13 dementia and Alzheimer’s patients who already gather for an hour of animal-assisted therapy on Thursday mornings. One morning the birds will simply replace the dogs. At Sunny Shores dementia and Alzheimer’s patients able to make their way to the recreation room (usually about 12) gather for an hour of games and puzzles on Wednesday mornings. The patients will be greeted by the cockatoos instead on the morning of the experiment.
• The day before each experiment the patients who will be participating the next day will be asked a few basic questions such as ‘What is your name?’, ‘How old are you?’, ‘What year is it?’, ‘Do you have children?’ and ‘How do you feel?’ Answers will be recorded.
• During the experiment the cockatoo breeder and one of my research assistants will be handling and monitoring the birds while I and a second research assistant will observe and record patient responses to the cockatoos according to specific, predetermined definitions and criteria. In particular we will be watching for evidence of improvements in emotional response, social interaction and cognitive function, so we will be recording smiles, laughs, cries, speech and conversation, hugs, caresses, gestures, memories, singing, approaching people or birds, offering food and other relevant human activities.
• One day and then again three days after each experiment the patients who participated will be asked the same simple questions they were asked before the trial (‘What is your name?’, ‘How old are you?’, ‘What year is it?’ etc.).
• A control group will be provided by the 11 dementia and Alzheimer’s patients at Sunny Shores who gather in the recreation room on Thursday (instead of Wednesday) mornings for an hour of games and puzzles. These residents will not receive animal therapy, but they will be asked those simple questions the day before, one day after and again three days after their recreation time.
• The responses we observe while patients are interacting with the cockatoos will be counted and analysed, as will any changes in the answers to the questions asked before and after the experimental interaction. Ideally, we will be able to make video recordings of the two hours the cockatoos and residents spend together so that we can return to them when necessary to examine and reconsider responses.
• Patient participation is entirely voluntary and informed consent will be obtained from those who are able to give it. For patients in more advanced stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, which includes many of the participants in this study, consent will be obtained from their next of kin. If any of the individuals granting consent object to a video recording of the animal-assisted therapy, a video will not be made.
• Ethical approval for the study and its use of both human and animal subjects will be sought from the Regional Medical Board and the Research Ethics Committee at the University of the Southern Coast. Staff and administrators at both the care homes are enthusiastic about the research and have given their permission as long as the residents and their families are in agreement and comfortable with the experimental procedures.
Example 3: Research via Naturalistic Observation in a Public Place
• This study will take place in Pudgy’s Burgers, a local restaurant that serves fast, mostly high-fat food. The franchise is planning to close the restaurant next spring, but some residents have objected to the closure on the grounds that the establishment is the only restaurant in Quaintville where, to quote the Quaintville Times, ‘a working family can still get a decent meal for a fair buck, and a comfortable place to eat it too, out of the winter wind where the kids can run about and play a bit.’
• The majority of the published scholarship on the topic of fast food and family health suggests that families may not be the most frequent patrons of many fast-food establishments. When families do eat at such restaurants, however, the evidence indicates that the food they eat is far from healthy and the impact is usually a negative one.
• The questions guiding this research have been developed using the claim in the Quaintville Times as well as the published scholarship:
Does Pudgy’s restaurant offer a decent (i.e. healthy) family meal for a fair price?
Do families constitute the majority of the restaurant’s clientele?
Do families linger in the restaurant’s comfort and warmth?
Do children use the indoor play area provided by the restaurant?
The restaurant manager and other long-term residents assure me that the answer to all four questions is ‘Yes,’ so my main working hypothesis is that Pudgy’s is an exception to the trend reported in other studies and that families do indeed constitute the majority of the restaurant’s clientele. The healthy menu options and indoor play area no doubt increase the appeal of the low prices and informal atmosphere.
• To answer my research questions I plan to spend many four-hour periods at different times of the day on different days of the week nursing a coffee as I observe the arrival, departure, purchases, activities and behaviours of the restaurant’s regular round of customers. My visits will be planned to ensure that at least two observation sessions occur at every time of day that Pudgy’s Burgers is open across every day of the week for a representative sampling of clients over two winter months – January and February.
• To prevent customers from noticing my observation and altering their normal behaviour in response I have arranged with the manager to sit at the staff table in a dark and quiet corner of the restaurant where the customers never go, but from where they, the service counters for both eat-in and take-out orders and the children’s play area can be clearly seen. The manager has also agreed to provide me with impersonal receipt information regarding items purchased.
• To ensure that I record thorough and equivalent information about every client, I am preparing a Customer Fact Sheet to be completed for each individual, couple or group that purchases food. Information to be listed will include date, weather conditions, time of arrival, eat in or take out order, number in party, approximate age of individuals, food purchased, food consumed, healthy choices, amount spent, who paid, dessert or extra beverage, children playing, interaction with other children and families, time of departure and further details. These sheets will not contain personal or identifying information about individuals or families.
• I hope to complete Customer Fact Sheets on at least 500 individual customers and customer groups over two months before analysing the evidence I have gathered, assessing the validity of the claim published in the Quaintville Times in relation to my observations and measuring the value of the restaurant to those members of the community who may benefit most from its presence or absence.
Remember as you devise your own primary research methods that mathematical analysis and logical interpretation are essential aspects of excellent quantitative research. Whether you simply determine and discuss the percentage of respondents who said ‘No’ to Question 7 and ‘Yes’ to Question 8, design complex tables to display and compare observed experimental data or use computer software to perform modern statistical tests, synthesis and analysis are necessary, and so too is a discussion of what your results mean. Sound research methods such as using control groups and avoiding detection when observing natural behaviour increase the value of quantitative research and enable a more persuasive and empirically grounded discussion, but all methods have their limitations, including even the best of primary quantitative methods, and a discussion of results should always acknowledge that fact.
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