The data puzzle: The nature of interpretation in quantitative research

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Abstract

Theory: Interpretation is central to the social scientist's process of analysis, regardless of whether that analysis relies on quantitative or qualitative data. This essay presents a "reconstructed logic" of the interpretation process involved in quantitative data analysis. Argument: Drawing upon a broad literature on interpretation, the paper shows how the interpretive processes for quantitative "data" has significant similarities to interpretation in other settings. For example, both qualitative textual analysis and quantitative statistical analysis rely upon contextual and tropological paradigms, although the specific conventions differ in many respects. The process of play employed by musicians and actors in developing an interpretation of a piece of music or a dramatic role suggests ways in which the quantitative analyst might let data perform to help in arriving at appropriate interpretations of statistical results. Conclusion and Implications: The lines between quantitative and qualitative social science are less clear than often presumed. Both types of analysis involve extensive interpretation, and tools of interpretation that have many fundamental similarities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Volume40
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1996

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