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Using mixed methods research

In our experience, many editors are particularly pleased to receive submissions that combine qualitative and quantitative research. Find out more about this "mixed methods" approach.

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Why use mixed methods research?

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, qualitative and quantitative research were seen as two opposing paradigms, each with their own supporters, most of whom would have denied the possibility of mixing them – this period is often referred to as "the paradigm wars".

During the last two decades, however, researchers in both camps have begun to see the importance of each other's data.

While researchers have been mixing quantitative and qualitative techniques for years, what is new is the deliberate attempt to provide theoretical background and formal design(s).

Undoubtedly, what has fuelled the interest has been the increasing complexity of research problems, and the desire for an understanding that is both deep and broad (afforded by qualitative and quantitative data respectively). 

The increasing importance of the link between research and policy has also played its part, as has the greater availability of data provided by the internet, which enables multiple data sets to be integrated in different ways, providing a richer and more informed picture of social phenomena.

 ... the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches in combination provides a better understanding of research problems than either approach alone.

J.W. Cresswell

Undertaking mixed methods research

A research methodology needs a philosophical and epistemological underpinning, i.e. what is the nature of the knowledge you are trying to uncover?

Quantitative research is based on positivism; qualitative on interpretivism or social constructivism: the distinction is between objective and subjective knowledge.

Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004) advocate pragmatism as the philosophical partner for mixed method research, citing the pragmatist philosophers William James and John Dewey who believed in settling metaphysical disputes by tracing the practical consequences.

Johnson and Onwuegbuzie's article provides a useful introduction to the philosophical debate, and to pragmatism. Tashakkori and Teddlie (2003) also have a chapter on pragmatism in their book. Cresswell (2009) provides a useful introduction to the different world views that accompany different research methodologies. De Loo and Lowe (2011) discuss mixed methods in the contexts of the philosophy of science. 

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Combining quantitative and qualitative research is not simply a matter of using different methods and then adding up the results to form a set of findings. 

Mixed method research has emerged as a new research paradigm alongside qualitative and quantitative research, with its own methodology and procedures, which the investigator would do well to acquaint themselves with. 

Once they have done so, mixed methods can be an exciting and rewarding field, one that not only yields solid research, but research that can be used.

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