Mixed methods research is a field of inquiry that uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to answer research questions within a single study. The application of mixed methods research in social sciences can be traced at least to the beginning of the 20th century. The research is considered “mixed” because it uses quantitative and qualitative approaches in one or several of the following ways: it combines different types of research questions, data collection procedures, data, analytical approaches, or conclusions. One of the main advantages of mixed methods research is its ability to unite exploratory and confirmation research—in other words, it allows generating and testing a theory in the same study.
For over half a century, mixed methods research was considered legitimate in social sciences. However, during the 1970s to 1990s, the so-called paradigm wars broke out as a result of the ascendance of constructivism and the emergence of two distinct research subcultures associated with quantitative and qualitative paradigms. The wars were based on the incompatibility thesis, which posits that the assumptions of qualitative and quantitative paradigms are incompatible because they stem from different epistemological, ontological, and axiological views about the nature and purpose of research.
As a result of the paradigm wars, three major schools of thought emerged, namely purists, situation lists, and pragmatists. Purists and pragmatists lie on the opposite ends of the spectrum of views, with situation lists being somewhere in the middle. Purists fully support the incompatibility thesis and believe that quantitative and qualitative methods cannot and should not be mixed. They often picture qualitative and quantitative researchers as being in competition with each other. Situation lists also advocate mono-method studies, but they view qualitative and quantitative methods as complementary, arguing that both methods have value and some research questions lead to the use of qualitative methods while others are better suited to quantitative exploration. Pragmatists consider the attempts to contrast qualitative and quantitative methods as a false dichotomy. Neither do they agree that qualitative research always uses inductive reasoning and quantitative necessarily follows the hypothetic-deductive route.
Pragmatists are in favor of integrating mixed methods within a single study—they argue that both quantitative and qualitative methods have their strengths and weaknesses. The integration can take various forms such as contrasting, comparing, combining, or building one type of conclusion on the other. One of the main manifestations of pragmatism is the notion that research questions should be the central issue in any investigation and should drive the choice of methods. Methods are viewed as tools for the answering of research questions and not vice versa.
Pragmatists point out that researchers involved in the paradigm wars have tended to overemphasize the differences between the qualitative and quantitative approaches while failing to sufficiently take into account the similarities between them. For example, data reduction is important in both quantitative and qualitative studies; most researchers attempt to eliminate various biases and other sources of invalidity; theory plays an important part in both paradigms.
Some scholars argue that at the fundamental level, all research is ultimately qualitative because it depends on judgment, and meaning comes from the interpretation of the data, whether qualitative or quantitative, rather than depend on the type of data. Pragmatic researchers advocate deemphasizing the terms quantitative and qualitative research and suggest that research should instead be subdivided into exploratory and confirmatory methods. This would allow using different methods under the same framework.
Another justification for mixed methods research is the principle of triangulation, which implies that a single social phenomenon is studied from different points of view. If research findings converge, their validity is increased. They can also complement each other solving different parts of the same “puzzle” and providing deeper understanding of a phenomenon under investigation. Unexplainable divergence in findings is also useful because it can lead to the rejection of previously accepted theoretical assumptions that turned out to be false and suggest directions for future research. Many researchers now agree that by the end of the 1990s, the issues underlying the paradigm wars have largely been resolved in most social disciplines. However, in some fields such as finance, quantitative studies still dominate, whereas qualitative or mixed methods research is relatively uncommon.
There are different possibilities to combine quantitative and qualitative research, and various research designs are associated with them. Concurrent (triangulation) design with merged results is a study in which two types of data are gathered and analyzed independently (utilizing qualitative and quantitative methods). Subsequently, the results are merged in the discussion section to achieve deeper understanding.
Sequential explanatory design is used when the results obtained from the application of quantitative methods need further explanation or elaboration. A qualitative follow-up study is then conducted to explain the findings. Alternatively, the sequential explanatory design can take the form of an initial quantitative study followed by an in-depth qualitative investigation. For example, cluster analysis can be used to identify groups of people that are relevant for the study. Qualitative interviews are then conducted within each group to validate identified clusters and explain what it means to be part of each cluster.
Sequential design to generate and test a model is a study in which a qualitative stage is used to formulate a model. The conceptual relationships identified during this stage are used to formulate a hypothesis.
Quantitative study is then conducted to test it formally using a survey of a representative sample.
- Carolyn R. Benz and Isadore Newman, Mixed Methods Research: Exploring the Interactive Continuum (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008);
- Manfred Max Bergman, Advances in Mixed Methods Research: Theories and Applications (Sage, 2008);
- Alan Bryman, “Paradigm Peace and the Implications for Quality,” International Journal of Social Research Methodology (v.9/2, 2006);
- Vicki L. Plano Clark and J. David Creswell, The Mixed Methods Reader (Sage, 2008);
- John W. Creswell, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (Sage, 2009);
- Timothy Kiessling and Michael Harvey, “Strategic Global Human Resource Management Research in the Twenty-First Century: An Endorsement of the MixedMethod Research Methodology,” International Journal of Human Resource Management (v.16/1, 2005);
- Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Nancy L. Leech, “On Becoming a Pragmatic Researcher: The Importance of Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies,” International Journal of Social Research Methodology (v.8/5, 2005);
- Abbas Tashakkori and John W. Creswell, “Editorial: The New Era of Mixed Methods,” Journal of Mixed Methods Research (v.1/1, 2007);
- Abbas Tashakkori and Charlie Teddlie, Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research (Sage, 2003).
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