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Max Quayle

Maura MacNeil
PW 5010: Research Methods
Module 1: Essay 1
March 24, 2010

Σ k=Q2

The sum (Σ ) of all knowledge (k) equals the product of quantitative and qualitative methods

(Q2). The chalky dryness of counting forms, analysis, and the presentation of the equations and

theory of mathematical thought fade into the background as the characters—heroes and villains

alike—parade like mythological gods before the reader; each one brandishing his or her own

special power, each one having painstakingly carved a niche for themselves in the ever changing

story of arithmetic method. Math history is not for everyone, but as a topic which highlights the

distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research, it is a perfect fit. Within the labor of

this, and all research, these two complementary but opposing tools serve to divide all knowledge

along the well-traveled road of discovery.

At once a liberal art and a classic science, the history of mathematics is a practical blend of

hard-line facts and historical fuzz. The fact that math equations exist today, and can be shown all

the way back to ancient writings, speaks to quantitative reasoning—defined by Creswell as “a

means for testing objective theories by examining the relationship among variables”. This is

exactly what a theorem, postulate or mathematical fact does, and the equations that support such

theory produce quantities that by their nature are measurable (3). These variables in turn can be

duplicated by other researchers and become enmeshed in the language of the topic at hand. In

math history, for example, the ancient philosopher Pythagoras (c. 500 BC) is credited with

espousing a theory about a certain characteristic of right triangles: The square of the two shorter

sides of any right triangle, added together will always equal the square of the hypotenuse
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(longest side). Known as the Pythagorean Theorem, this fundamental mathematical relationship

(written as: a2 + b2 = c2) is baseline to thousands of lesser known but purely replicable related

problems—all of which are utterly quantifiable. Quantitative research is seen as the “traditional

mode of research”; it follows establish patterns and proven techniques, and it carries a certain

authority when applied correctly (Creswell 19).

As for the “historical fuzz”, evidence exists that show Babylonian architects were quite savvy

with the so-called Pythagorean Theorem a thousand years before young Pythagoras was even

conceived. This is a place where qualitative reasoning must be applied to make a real construct

around a real math truth. Creswell treats qualitative analysis with a broad brush, describing its

application as “a means for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups

ascribed to a social or human problem” (Creswell 4). In the case of who derived the great right

triangle theorem, qualitative research can start to make the case for ownership. Architectural

evidence can be literally viewed (albeit crumbling) and works of ancient writers may be analyzed

in order to date the earliest mention of the theorem. For our example, the existence of the

theorem can be dated, circumstantially, as before Pythagoras’ time. While none of these inquests

can be construed as empirical, persuasion—reasoned by relevant, related thought—will connote

which history is most likely to be accepted. Depending on the audience for which the research is

prepared, a qualitative approach can also help to build a case where hard facts are not available.

The text presses home the exploratory nature of qualitative research, pointing out that it applies a

framework for new topics that renders them manageable, particularly when “the researcher does

not know the important variables to examine”(Creswell 18).

Coming together, I envision an interdependent relationship between these disparate yet

balanced techniques. On the one side, qualitative analysis can bring research to the point where
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quantitative measurements can be gathered. And where quantitative tables turn up short—at the

far edge of measurability—Qualitative tools are available to carry the crisp, gathered facts to the

next plateau of thinking. There seems to be little overlap between these two powerful analysis

techniques, making them all the more valuable when sifting diverse gathered data into categories

for packaging and presentation. As for the evolving history of mathematics, I am happy to report

that in the absence of empirical evidence, Pythagoras’ name will likely always be attached to the

theory he promoted, and the civilizations that used it before him will forever be admired for their

apparently keen foresight. The final analysis is surmised in the title to this short study:

Σ =Q2.

Work Cited

Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches.

3rd ed. California: Sage Publications, 2009. E-Print.