At the beginning of the research process, after you have established the research questions, comes another crucial decision—choosing the research method to employ. You have three to choose from whether you are writing an undergraduate thesis or a Master’s or Doctoral dissertation—quantitative research method, qualitative research method, and mixed research method. Mixed research methods originated from the Social Sciences when researchers found the first two methods insufficient. To fully understand the mixed research method and when to use it, first you need to understand quantitative and qualitative research methods.
What is the Quantitative Research Method?
The quantitative research method focuses on gathering numerical data. These are data gathered from questionnaires, surveys, or polls, interviews, observations, and records that are converted into numerical data through statistical analysis. The quantitative research method is used to arrive at objective or quantitative answers to explain people’s behavior or a certain phenomenon.
As mentioned, quantitative research deals with numbers and logic and is characterized by its objectivity, which allows its researchers to arrive at unchanging and detailed data. As such, quantitative research is often either descriptive (establishes associations between variables) or experimental (explains causality).
While a quantitative research method allows researchers to arrive at conclusive answers to clearly defined research questions, it does have some limitations. For one, it cannot be used to answer the “why” and “how” of a phenomenon, which means it cannot be used to understand the scope of a problem. Finally, this research method does not consider people’s thoughts about the problem or phenomenon, which could provide significant insight in some cases.
The quantitative research method is integrated with the qualitative research method to gather concrete, numerical data to support and validate data gathered through qualitative methods.
What is the Qualitative Research Method?
The qualitative research method is the opposite of the quantitative research method. The qualitative research method focuses on the collection and analysis of non-numerical data. Non-numerical data are gathered through interviews (often with open-ended questions), observations, focus groups, surveys, and secondary research.
Research that uses qualitative research methods tends to focus on how, when, and why. It emphasizes the value of concepts, opinions, and social experiences in providing insight into a problem or phenomenon. This research methodology tends to be flexible in its design and structure, emphasizing instead on retaining rich meaning to facilitate the interpretation of data that is not possible through analysis of numerical data.
With that said, the qualitative research method has its limitations as well. Primary of which is the inconsistency of data captured. Since qualitative research requires in-depth observation or interviews with each subject, sample sizes tend to be limited and not representative of the population being observed.
The qualitative research method can be used in any field, although it is more prevalent in the field of social sciences. In a mixed research method, qualitative methods help the researchers understand perceptions or attitudes toward products or phenomena that produced the numerical data from the quantitative methods.
Can I Use Qualitative And Quantitative Methods Simultaneously?
The short answer to this question is YES. In fact, researchers have been using both quantitative and qualitative research methods simultaneously for years. Doing so allows researchers to get the best of both worlds—establish concrete data while gaining an in-depth understanding of the why’s and how’s of the phenomenon they are studying. This is called the mixed research method.
What Is The Mixed Research Method?
As you may have already deduced, the mixed research method combines both quantitative and qualitative research approaches in the collection and analysis process, which provides two layers of data verification. Although originating from Social Sciences this method has become widely used in other fields, such as research in Psychology and Health Sciences. This method is known by many names, such as Multi-Method Research, Integrated Research, Triangulated Research, Multi-Methodology, and simply Mixed Research among others.
Core Characteristics of Mixed Methods Research
The characteristics of mixed methods research combine the characteristics of qualitative and quantitative research methods. This allows researchers to draw on the strengths of both approaches, thereby reducing the study’s limitations, as you will find when you write the Methodology section. This method is considered by most to be the most pragmatic research method because it covers both subjective and objective data and multiple viewpoints, which means it gives a more thorough picture of the study’s subject. Here are the core characteristics of a mixed research method:
Closed-ended information (via quantitative design) and open-ended data (via qualitative design) are synergized together in the discussion of the results.
The selection of respondents including the sample size is designed using both quantitative and qualitative criteria. The sample size should be representative of the population yet manageable for qualitative research methods.
There is a theoretical and conceptual framework that is either supported or refuted by both quantitative and qualitative data.
Note that the mixed research method is often qualitative in scope and quantitative in the method. For example, a researcher aims to determine the correlation between the students’ report cards and the school’s characteristics. In this case, the quantitative data, grades averages, will be interpreted in relation to the qualitative data, the characteristics of the school.
When To Use Mixed Research Method
You already know that you can use the mixed research method. The more important question is when and why you should use it. The answer to this crucial question depends on the topic and scope of your research.
When quantitative research method or numerical data is insufficient to fully understand the scope of the problem. You may use a qualitative research method as a follow-up to build a supplemental theoretical framework to interpret quantitative data.
When reliance on qualitative data reveals a lot of loopholes at the end if the theoretical framework is not steady. If you find your research in need of numerical facts to back up the qualitative information, then opt for a convergent design so one data can validate the other. It is best to parallel the data-gathering so one can be altered to complement the other.
Some researchers use the mixed research method to build from the initial phase of their study to the more advanced phase. For instance, they could use the qualitative research method to establish and understand the problem to be researched, then use the quantitative research method to develop a solution and evaluate its efficacy.
Ask yourself the following questions before making the big decision:
Do I need to have quantitative results to support my qualitative data?
Will qualitative data help justify my quantitative data?
Will quantitative data help justify my qualitative data?
Do you need multiple viewpoints in order to fully understand the data and/or the subject matter of your research?
Advantages of Mixed Methods Research
As discussed, mixed methods research basically provides two layers of data verification thereby providing stronger proof for the research results whether it proves or disproves a hypothesis. Specifically:
- Validity and Credibility. Mixed research studies can validate the quantitative data via the qualitative data gathered and vice versa before the combined information supports or refutes the hypothesis.
- Rich, Comprehensive Data. Multiple data-gathering techniques mean multiple data sources which makes the well of information for any mixed methods research data automatically prolific of information.
- Flexibility. Utilizing both qualitative and quantitative research methods allows you to fully control your data-gathering instruments to become the optimal design depending on the type of data you need. This way, you can lessen the limitations in your study without compromising the time frame.
- Divergence Identification. The mixed research method can give a bigger picture of the study, thus allowing the researcher to see questions that still need answers as well as to tie up any loose ends.
- Multiple Perspectives. The mixed research method opens more windows for further research compared with quantitative and qualitative research alone, consequently, it supports scholarly interaction among students from various institutional affiliations.
- Research Interaction. The mixed research method allows research interlinking between topics addressed via qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods designs, thereby opening a bigger scope for present and future research studies.
Disadvantages of Mixed Methods Research
Every coin has two sides; so does the utilization of the mixed research method. These disadvantages, however, are simply the requirements of mixed-method data-gathering processes, and cannot outweigh the advantages. To note:
- Doubled Reading Volume. Mixed methods research studies are labor-intensive in all aspects including the review of related literature because you are required to cover both quantitative and qualitative studies related to the topic.
- Complexity. The integration of both qualitative and quantitative research instruments and paradigms is inevitably more complex than single-piled questions.
- Verification Requirement. Mixed methods research offers more data, hence it requires the researcher to level the data verification process by communicating with more field experts. Again, this is what makes mixed methods research labor-intensive, but arguably, it is a minimal price to pay for well-rounded research.
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