There are two main types of research and methods, namely quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research is usually concerned with trying to quantify phenomena; it asks questions such as 'how long' or 'how many'. It therefore involves methods dealing with numbers and anything that is measurable. Quantitative research methods are systematic scientific investigations used in natural sciences, social science, physics and biology to sociology and journalism. It helps investigate the 'what' 'where' and 'when'. Quantitative research relies on the analysis of numbers or quantifiable data. The data produced is measurable. It can be presented in mathematical expression by using mathematical models, for example tables and graphs. Qualitative research, on the other hand, attempts to establish how people interpret their experiences and the world around them eg 'what does x think about y'. It aims to gather data in as natural a setting as possible (e.g. participants' homes or schools), in contrast to quantitative research, which is often performed in artificial or experimental environments. Qualitative research methods are widely used to get an in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons that govern it. Qualitative research helps to identify data into patterns for organising and reporting results. This method is exploratory and is not measurable. It usually involves interviewing with open ended or closed questions. It does not involve any experimenting as such.
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In all forms of research one needs to be open and transparent as to why the research is being conducted and for what purposes the outcome is going to be used. The interviewee needs to be informed of their rights to take part or not, and that they do not have to answer the questions asked. The interview needs to be conducted in a very professional manner and can take more than one interview and may last for a considerable length of time.
In this essay I will be looking at two papers, one quantitative and one qualitative, examining the factors that should be considered by researchers when defining the data required for their research, and exploring the theory design and technical strategies adopted in the selected studies, acknowledging alternative designs.
The two papers I have chosen are:
Quantitative Study; Friedman, S.R. et al. (2003) Drug dealing and attitudes and norms about drug dealing among young adults and their peers in a high-risk community, International Journal of Drug Policy, 14, pp. 261-268.
Qualitative Study: Ruggiero, V., Khan, K. (2006) British South Asian communities and drug supply networks in the UK: A qualitative study, International Journal of Drug Policy, 17, pp473-483.
Factors that should be considered by researchers when defining the data required for their research:
When conducting research, the factors that should be considered when defining the data required include:
What is the theory underpinning the research?
What are the research questions or problems?
What research perspective is going to be adopted?
What methodology and methods will be used?
Who is involved in the research?
How will the data be analysed?
How will the data be interpreted?
How does the research process affect all the above?
In this essay we will explore some of these, for each paper, in turn, whilst also exploring the theory design and technical strategies adopted in these 2 studies as well as discussing alternative designs.
The Quantitative Study:
The quantitative paper was entitled "Drug dealing and attitudes and norms about drug dealing among young adults and their peers in a high-risk community". The objective was to assess the extent of drug dealing and of non-hostile views towards drug dealing among young adults and their peers in an impoverished minority community with considerable drug dealing and use. The methodology involved taking a population-representative sample of 363 18-24 year olds who were interviewed in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York. Questions were asked about drug dealing, attitudes to dealing, and friends' norms toward drug dealing. The results showed that 16% of men and 4.5% of women dealt drugs in the year prior to the interview. Among the other subjects, 30% of men and 13% of women view dealers in a non-hostile way; 22% of men and 8% of women report close friends have encouraged them to deal drugs; and 30% of men and 50% of women report that all of their close friends would object if they were to deal drugs. Among young women, potentially-traumatic events while growing up, such as sexual or physical abuse and undergoing racial discrimination are associated with less hostile attitudes and friends' norms towards dealing; as is, for men, undergoing racial discrimination while growing up. The paper concluded that in spite of policies based on imprisoning and stigmatising drug dealers and drug users, both drug dealing and non-hostile views towards it remain fairly prevalent among young adults in this community.
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In this paper the theory underpinning the research was well presented. For example, it discussed how anti-drug dealing and anti-drug use campaigns have since the 1970's attempted to affect behaviours, attitudes and community norms towards drug dealing and drug use, whilst also acknowledging that we cannot know what would have happened without these campaigns. It also describes factors influencing drug dealing and drug use in the US. The paper did not present clearly whether a literature search was carried out or not and if so, how this was conducted. This is important as we do not know completely what is already known on this topic - and therefore, we do not know if what is presented in the paper, which does seem robust, is actually biased towards supporting the findings of the study.
Regarding the methodology, the paper was presented as a case study, using retrospective cross-sectional study design and assessing the extent to which 18-24 year olds in an impoverished minority neighbourhood of Brooklyn: currently deal drugs; dealt drugs before they were 16 years of age; view drug dealers in a non-hostile way; have ambitions to be drug dealers; report that their close friends encourage them to deal drugs; and report that friends would object if they were to deal drugs. They then focused on whether, among those in this neighbourhood who do not deal drugs, there were identifiable subsets that were more or less in agreement with the "official doctrine" of the anti-dealer campaign. Specifically, they considered whether measures of socio-demographic characteristics while growing up and/or exposure to potentially-traumatic events before the age of 16 are related to two variables that assess different facets of reaction to drug dealers, namely subjects' own attitudes towards drug dealing and whether they report that all of their close friends would object if they dealt drugs.
The paper highlighted that it did not aim to attempt to develop a full model of the pathways through which these background variables come to influence the dependent variables (other than controlling for current drug use)
I do feel that the paper did not have a specific research questions as such but wanted to examine attitudes and norms. An alternative design to this study could also have been served by carrying out a qualitative study, or if they had wanted to stick with a quantitative study they could have had a case control study looking more specifically at people that use drugs and/or deal drugs and the views they hold (perhaps on a questionnaire or attitude scale) and compare them to matched controls that don't use or deal drugs. They could even have looked at two different areas of New York.
The sample was recruited via multistage cluster sampling - this is where the total population is divided into groups (or clusters) and a sample of the groups is selected. This is a very good method of sampling that ensures that those chosen from each cluster should be a small scale representation of the total population. However they did not describe any exclusion or inclusion criteria, and, the area they selected, although prevalent for drug dealers/users, may be representative of Latino and African American people, however, it may not be generalisable to the population of New York (NY) or the United States (US) as a whole. The study used a sample aged 18-24, again not generalisable to the population of NY/US. Also people of this age group may have response bias, in that they may be more likely to be using drugs and therefore hold more hostile views. Therefore there was selection bias.
They did not take into account the number of friends that are dealers and if they interviewed drug users, what there level of drug use actually was eg daily use/weekly use/monthly use etc.
363 people were interviewed, however, we were not told how these people were selected and what the inclusion and exclusion criteria were. We were also not told the power of this study.
Therefore although their sampling method was good and appears to have a fair selection of people, it only produced a select 21% that were age-eligible, and 75% of these were interviewed.
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Interviews were conducted face to face by trained bilingual interviewers after obtaining informed consent. This was good, as ethically you need to obtain consent, but also as the interviewers were bilingual this means language would not be such a barrier. However, I was not happy that the patients were recruited by setting up "units" both sides of one street between adjacent streets. This introduces bias, as firstly, how did they pick these streets and secondly did researchers approach people or did they wait for people to approach them? This is important as drug dealers and drug users may already have a bias against taking part in such research and in fact there may have been intimidation from local drug dealers not to take part.
Interviews included sections on socio-demographics, sexual behaviours, drug use and drug dealing, friends' norms at the time of interview and when the respondent was 15 years old, and various measures of experiences while growing up.
This is good as it takes into account confounding factors, but does not include other important ones such as smoking, alcohol use, criminality, family history of drug use/dealing, age of onset of drug dealing/use etc. The interview also does not state whether the interview contained standardized or validated questions. It was also good that drug use was validated by drug screening, however, we were not told if the interviewer knew the results of the drug screen before the interview, as this would introduce interviewer bias. They also didn't quantify the drug use.
The study also looked at attitudes of drug dealers in context of asking subjects about 17 different categories of people (including rock stars, police, US residents), however, they discounted the fact that people may like rock stars, for example, other than reasons to do with their drug use.
It was a shame that the interview questions were not part of the paper, or clearly presented.
The results and data are well presented, however, the focus appeared mainly to be on sex differences rather than all the other factors they had also examined.
The biggest drawback of this study was its dependence on self-report data, as this would lead to underestimating the prevalence of certain factors.
Overall the study is a good study, however, as highlighted above many additional improvements could have been made.
The Qualitative Study:
The qualitative paper was entitled "British South Asian communities and drug supply networks in the UK". This paper explored the spread of drug use within British South Asian communities, focusing on the role of family, friendship and ethnicity connections for members of the drug dealing network. The paper drew on qualitative research conducted in England and Wales, but also in Pakistan. Interviews were conducted with 123 individuals, including: British South Asian drug offenders in custody for drug supply related offences; drug dealers and users outside prison, unknown to official agencies; 'key individuals' with working knowledge of drug use/distribution amongst British South Asian communities; law enforcers based in Britain; law enforcers based in Pakistan; treatment staff based in Britain; treatment staff based in Pakistan. The researchers drew on these interview data to present a descriptive typology of the criminal organizations involved in drug dealing and trafficking. This typology included family and mono-ethnic networks, which are more likely to import directly from producing countries, but are unable to distribute to wider markets than their own local outlets, and issue-specific and value-adding networks, which have the capacity to find a diverse range of partners and access a variety of markets, and which are likely to use all available importing modalities.
In this quantitative paper previous research was presented, however, again the paper did not present clearly whether a literature search was carried out or not and if so, how this was conducted. This is important as we do not know completely what is already known on this topic - and therefore, we do not know if what is presented in the paper, which does seem robust, is actually biased towards supporting the findings of the study.
Also the study suggests that drugs are transported via Iran and Turkey as well as South Asian countries, but only focuses on the British South Asian (BSA) communities and not Turkish or Iranian communities. I think this would have been a useful comparison to make. BSA also suggests Indian populations, which are actually not mentioned as on the drug trafficking route.
Alternative study designs could have been an epidemiological study, retrospective cross-sectional study or a case control study of BSA communities in the UK, matched to either UK controls or Iranian/Turkish communities.
When presenting data regarding BSA communities in the UK, they did not present specific research on different communities within this, eg Pakistani v Indian, or Hindu v Sikh v Muslims. For example, although they well highlighted that one study among South Asian communities found that levels of alcohol use are high, they did not acknowledge or mention that, in fact, this mainly applies to the Sikh population. This was an important sub-population in this matter that was not looked at.
The paper was good at highlighting what obstructions they may face, such as, the worrying lack of treatment for drug users because of widely held misconceptions that Asian youths do not use drugs.
There is mention that purposive and opportunity sampling took place, but no indication how the original sample was chosen and from what original sample size, and whether there were any inclusion or exclusion criteria used. Regarding the sample itself, they did 123 interviews, with the following informants:
42 BSA drug offenders in custody for drug supply related offences;
23 interviews with BSA drug dealers and users outside prison, unknown to official agencies;
58 interviews drawn from 'key individuals' with working knowledge of drug use/distribution amongst BSA communities:
21 law enforcers based in Britain;
10 law enforcers based in Pakistan;
22 treatment staff based in Britain;
5 treatment staff based in Pakistan.
They also did not mention what the recruitment process was, for example, was it the same for all. Eg, the interviews drawn from 'key individuals' with working knowledge of drug use/distribution amongst BSA communities - how were they found, what defines "key", how reliable are they?
There is also no mention if informed consent was gained and if individuals were paid or not. Confounding factors were also not examined.
Regarding the interviews themselves, there are no details of the interview, how the questions were selected and how the data collected was analysed, eg what Computer Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software (such as Nudist or Atlas) was used if any and how many people validated the answers and agreed on categories?
Even the length of interviews varied greatly and conducted in different ways, such as face to face and even self-report. This introduces bias related to how the interview was completed, as some interviews would have more influence from the researcher and others none. The paper also does not mention how many involved researchers and how many were self-report. Also some were group interviews where discussion would influence individual's answers.
They also did not discuss how they compared the views of law enforcers based in Britain to those in Pakistan, and also treatment staff based in Britain against treatment staff based in Pakistan.
Again, the overall study is a good study, however, as highlighted above many additional improvements could have been made.
When deciding if a piece of social research is good, we need to decide:
What the central research question is
If the study design is appropriate to the research question
If the design has been appropriately implemented
If the interpretation of the data reasonable
I have tried to apply these to these two, very different, study designs above that are related by topic. However, as you can see, although they have their good points, my criticisms apply to both. In particular, it is important that the theory underpinning the research is robust and this starts with a good literature review to identify what is already known on this area of research. Clear research questions or problems need to be identified so that the aim and objective of the study are clear from the start, and so that you identify limitations to the study. The research study design should also be clear, identifying what sample you are recruiting from and what sampling technique is being used, as well as any inclusion or exclusion criteria and the setting. Confounding factors must be taken into account. It is also crucial to know who is carrying out the research and their level of involvement. The way the data is handled, analysed and interpreted is probably one of the most important steps as the way it is handled provides outcomes and results as well as the basis to your discussion.