Research is one of the most important academic skills. Students and professionals will find immense value in knowing how to conduct research. For one, conducting research for a thesis or dissertation is one of the absolute requirements in getting a degree. For another, research plays a crucial role in sustaining any organization. There is good reason why prudent companies have a research department. Research is basically the backbone of innovation. So whether you are healthcare worker in search of more effective treatments, a marketing officer looking for new ways of attracting consumers, or an educator who wants to increase student engagement, research can help you find answers to your questions and solutions to your problems.
Conducting research, however, is a formidable task. It demands a precise approach to ensure that findings are accurate and useful. Choosing the best research methods is therefore a prime concern. Many wonder what the best research method is; but answering this question is not that simple. There is no single answer to the question of what the best research method is. Any competent research adviser will tell you that the method you choose depends on what you want your research to accomplish. In other words, the purpose, objectives, and the findings you want to present among other factors will determine the research method you will choose. With that being said, a mixed method is a viable option for anyone who wishes to enrich the research process and secure insightful findings. Note that this refers to primary and secondary research that seeks to answer a question or solve a problem—the type used in experiments and studies published journals, rather than research for essays or similar academic written projects.
In order to understand why a mixed method is an excellent approach, it is essential to first understand what the different types of methods are. There are two major research methods: quantitative and qualitative. As the root word for quantitative suggests, this method involves the collection and analysis of data expressed in quantifiable terms, primarily in numbers. Such data are usually analyzed using mathematical, computational, or statistical techniques. Quantitative method is usually chosen when the researcher wants to objectively test theories. It measures variables and expresses data in numerical terms, thus producing findings that can be generalized. For instance, suppose a research wants to find out what percentage of teenagers believes in astrology. This research will likely determine a sample size of this population and collect information using tools such as polls, questionnaires, or surveys.
Quantitative research has a lot of advantages. For one, this method is particularly useful when working with a lot of information. Gathering and analyzing data from thousands of participants can be time-consuming. But if data is collected using tools that keep responses or measurements consistent, then data collection and analysis can be made much faster. Secondly, quantitative research also allows for generalization of findings. If the sample size is representative of the population and the methodology is well-designed, then the findings can be generalized and accepted as true even if the respondents represent only a fraction of the population. A limitation of this method, however, is that it does not allow for elaborations. Going back to the example of the study on teenagers’ belief in astrology, quantitative research can show how many of them believe in astrology but not the contexts that result in those numbers.
While quantitative research collects and expressed data in quantifiable terms, qualitative data is more concerned with quality. There is less focus on numbers and more emphasis on words that describe or elaborate. Qualitative research probes deeper into explanations behind phenomena. Unlike quantitative data which collects information through surveys and questionnaires, qualitative data makes use of tools that allow for more elaborate information. Examples of these include focus groups, interviews, questionnaires with open-ended questions, and observation among others. For example, suppose that a research wants to learn more about Chinese immigrants’ experiences in settling down in the United States. In this study, the researcher can ask participants to share their experiences and perspectives.
The main advantage of a qualitative approach is it provides the researcher the opportunity to gather richer information—information that quantitative data cannot easily acquire. The number of participants also tends to be smaller, since handling a large number of participants will likely not be feasible given the amount of resources essential to collecting data from each participant. On the other hand, qualitative research is not easily generalizable. Differences in the quality and content of data provided, along with the small number of participants, make the findings difficult to consider as true for the entire population.
In light of the fact that each method has its own application, there is no single answer to the question of what the best research method is. So rather than ask which the best method is, the question should be more specific, i.e. which method suits the needs of the research that the inquiry or question necessitates? That said, using a mixed method combing qualitative and quantitative design, if applicable to the research, can prove to be the best method that the researcher can use. A mixed method allows a researcher to utilize the two methods as complements to each other. Each method can bring a different approach to the research process, thereby enriching the data in ways that using only a single method cannot. Each of these two methods will bridge gaps in the other, thus resulting in a research that is more intensive in its investigation and more extensive in its scope. An example of a study that uses mixed method would be using a questionnaire that features both close-ended and open-ended questions. The use of such questions allows data to be more comprehensive. A researcher must remember, though, that mixing methods is not always applicable. Apart from instances when it is unnecessary or even detrimental to the study, using a mixed method can also consume a great deal of resources.
As seen in the preceding paragraphs, quantitative and qualitative methods have their respective strengths and weaknesses. Whereas one method focuses on generalizing findings by analyzing large amounts of data using computational, mathematical, or statistical models, the other emphasizes gathering of elaborations and explanations. Knowing the best method for research is not merely choosing between quantitative versus qualitative study; it is about thinking hard about what the research requires and determining which method meets the requirements best.