Research Approaches: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

It has been typical (Bryman, 2004) that quantitative research is used for research within a positivist or post-positivist paradigm, and that qualitative research is more frequently used for research within an interpretivist or constructionist paradigm. However, linguists such as Wodak (Weiss & Wodak, 2003) and Cook, Robbins, and Pieri (2006) use quantitative methods such as surveys, feature counts and corpus methods as part of their range of methodological tools for investigating linguistic phenomena within a constructionist worldview. The purpose of quantitative and semi-quantitative work within my research was not to identify and closely describe language features, but rather to provide one way of looking at patterns across data sets. There are two types of pattern that a semi-quantitative analysis is appropriate to uncover:

• Patterns in texttypes. How many texts are there on the selected dates that refer to the BP events? To what news genres do they belong? What is their country of origin? How important (how big) is the BP story within them?

• Patterns of linguisticfeatures. Does the researched feature occur in the data set, and how often? If there are different sub-categories of the feature, which are present and in what proportions? Do these occurrences change over the timespan of the data sets?

Approaching these questions via semi-quantitative methods gave a degree of confidence that the patterns I detect in my data sets were reliably present. Quantitative research did not tell me why these patterns are occurring, or whether the changes were peculiar to certain contexts, or indeed whether they went hand in hand with other phenomena. It was not enough to find that a feature type increased or decreased over time: that movement needed to be described and explored using qualitative approaches to explain the function of a language feature in context, and in interaction with other features. However, quantitative findings of this kind were one way of demonstrating confidence that such changes are occurring, and provided a firm foundation for further questioning.

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