Qualitative observation allowed us to understand how individuals made use of the Bute café. We were able to gain ‘thick descriptions’ as we carried out a small-scale research. This is an advantage of qualitative research in terms of the way it deals with ‘complex social situations and details of social life’ (Denscombe, 2014). However, this can also be a disadvantage as generalizability of the findings can be questioned. When carrying out an in-depth study on a small scale research it becomes more difficult to establish how far the findings may be generalized to other similar cases. Qualitative research also ‘prevents replication of the findings in other similar cases or sets of conditions’ (May 2001).
However, quantitative research when using a large representative sample size often allows conclusions from quantitative research generalizable and also allows other researchers to conduct the same research again whilst achieving similar results.
One of the limitations in both our qualitative and quantitative observation was that it was difficult to distinguish between who was a staff member and who was a student. As we carried out a covert observation (individuals did not know research or observation was taking place) we could not ask individuals which category they would fall into. Some staff members could have also been students (vice versa) and therefore we had to make some ethical decisions about if the individual would fall into a certain category or if would skip them.
There are ethical issues involved in the use of covert research but the use of covert methods may be justi?ed in certain occurrences. For example, difficulties can occur when individuals participating in the research change their behavior because they know they are being studied. However, ‘covert methods violate the principles of informed consent and may invade the privacy of those being studied.’ (Bryman, 2012)
We conducted both our qualitative and quantitative research using observations. Performing observations allowed us to use our ‘self’ as the main tool of our research and therefore we required no technical/statistical support which was an advantage. Observing individuals also gave us a better chance of maintaining naturalness of the setting than other research methods. For example, structured and unstructured interviews rely on what individuals say rather than what they do and this cannot automatically be presumed to reflect the truth and therefore the validity of the data can be questioned. Interviewees statements can also be affected by the identity of the researcher which deducts the chance of maintaining naturalness.