Research Design Service: West Midlands

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Mixed Methods - Design

This page provides details of some of the main research design components and how qualitative and quantitative approaches may assist with each part. These considerations might be particularly pertinent to those considering a mixed methods research design.

Possible Quantitative and Qualitative Elements of Design components (Maxwell & Loomis, 2003)

In each mixed methods study, the quantitative and qualitative methods can be found at different design levels. The following paragraphs describe the quantitative and qualitative elements at all levels of design starting with the purposes of the research and ending with the integration of findings and reporting.

Purposes. In social sciences studies will have different purposes depending on the methodology used:

  • Quantitative research usually aims for precise measurement/comparison of variables, establishing relationships between variables and making inferences from a sample to a population;
  • Qualitative research aims to explore meaning, context, process, discovering unanticipated events, understanding single cases, and involves inductive development of theory.

Conceptual frameworks can be seen as maps inspired from a theory and/or theories that interconnect all the parts of a research: purpose, literature review, methodology, data analysis etc.

  • Quantitative research is commonly based on variance theories which provide explanations for 'why' something happens and test pre-formulated hypotheses;
  • Qualitative framework relies on process theories which aim to seek explanations for 'how' something happens, the conditions under which certain events occur.

Research questions can also be different for quantitative research compared to qualitative research:

  • Quantitative questions are sometimes called variance questions and they are truth propositions referring to either the presence or the absence of a phenomenon, the degree or the amount of correlation between phenomena/variables, to hypothesis testing and ultimately to causality.
  • Qualitative questions are process-related: they explore the meaning, the context (holistic), and the hypotheses are part of the conceptual framework and they also address causality.

Research methods

Relationship. The impact that the researchers can have on the outcomes of a research needs to be taken into account.

  • Quantitative research argues for objectivity and the reduction of influence from the researcher who is seen as an unneeded, unessential variable;
  • Qualitative research uses of the influence of the researcher as a tool for understanding; the researcher is part of the process.

Sampling refers to how participants of the study are selected.

  • Quantitative research is based on probability sampling aiming to select a representative number of participants for a specific population with the aim of generalizing the results for that population;
  • Qualitative research uses purposeful sampling which usually involves selecting rich cases for in-depth study.

Data collection

  • Quantitative research almost always uses prior development of instruments, relies on standardization and measurement/testing;
  • Qualitative studies employ inductive development of strategies, adapting to situation, collecting textual or visual material.

Data analysis

  • Quantitative data analysis is numerical, includes estimation of population variables, statistical hypothesis testing, conversion of textual data into numbers/categories;
  • Qualitative data analysis is textual using memos, coding, connection, grounded theory, narrative approaches.

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