Humanistic scholars view humans as choice-making beings who experience individual realities, which must be understood through interpretation. In contrast, social scientists assume there is one enduring reality, or universal truth of human experience, which can be discovered by systematically observing sensory data. Social scientists view human behavior not as a matter of free will but as phenomena governed by stable rules or laws.
Like the physical sciences, social science is grounded in empiricism, the view that sensory data, gathered through observation or experimentation, is the only reliable source of knowledge.
Social scientists use both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative research translate human behavior into numerical terms, which enable them to draw conclusions about people in general. Qualitative research examines words and meaning in order to gain a deep understanding of people in context.
Qualitative researchers are concerned with accurately understanding and describing how people ascribe meaning to their experiences in everyday life. Qualitative researchers ask questions about how people perceive, feel, and react to their situations in their natural surroundings–that is, in context, which is the very thing quantitative researchers, in their efforts to generalize, work to eliminate.
Qualitative approaches serve best when researchers seek to deeply comprehend highly complex events as they occur in the world and when understanding the context in which events occur is important to understanding the events themselves. Qualitative research allows scholars to study concepts such as suffering, faith, hope, and love.