Rather than polarisation of quantitative and qualitative research designs Munhall (2001, pp. 37-38) argues for a holistic epistemology, which “incorporates the qualitative and quantitative methods of research”. She argues that a holistic epistemology “does not represent a conciliatory effort at compromise but rather a belief in a cyclical continuum that begins with discovery and moves toward verification” (p. 38). The figure below illustrates Munhall’s qualitative-quantitative cyclical (spiral) continuum. She supports her view with a quotation from Johnson (1978, p. 9) who states that research often begins at the wrong end, namely “engaging in experimental research before the variables significant to that research have been determined”. Boyd (2001, p. 69) shares this view by stating that “qualitative research as a precursor to quantitative study”. Munhall (2001) argues further that for a research undertaking to be authentic a foundation from which to identify variables and develop instrumentation must be in place. The qualitative enquiry renders such a foundation.
A popular view is that research is about the solving of problems. However, Munhall (2001, p. 47) asserts that “before you can solve a problem, you need to understand the many facets of ‘a’ problem”. She states that “qualitative research methods seek to be of the liberating, illuminating, and emancipatory kind” (p. 44). She offers the example of phenomenological research and supports her argument by referring to Van Manen who states that ‘phenomenology does not problem solve’, but rather explore ‘meaning’. Munhall (2001, p. 43) states that “if we did understand the meaning of specific phenomena, might we not have a basis for problem solving?”
Boyd, C.O. (2001). Philosophical Foundations of Qualitative Research. In: Munhall P.L. (Ed.) (2001). Nursing research: a qualitative perspective (pp. 65-89). 3rd edition.
Johnson, D.E. (1978). State of the art of theory development. In theory development: what?, why?, how? New York: National League for Nursing.
Munhall P.L. (2001). Epistemology in nursing. In: Munhall P.L. (Ed.) (2001). Nursing research: a qualitative perspective (pp. 37-64). 3rd edition. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett.