When looking for an appropriate research design, we commonly hear of the myriad quantitative or qualitative approaches from which to choose. However, there are also mixed methods designs. Just as quantitative and qualitative designs vary, so do mixed-methods designs.
Mixing methods in a research study can occur at different stages. They can be mixed in terms of the research objectives, mixed at the data collection stage, and mixed during the analysis. As always, the specific research question or questions of the study will drive the decision to adopt a mixed-methods research design, and where and how to use it. Furthermore, researchers can use these methods concurrently or sequentially. That is, researchers might use a qualitative and a quantitative data collection instrument at the same time, or they might use one instrument first, analyze the data collected from that instrument, and use that to inform the construction of the second.
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There are benefits to conducting mixed-methods research studies. The first, and perhaps the most frequently discussed, is the benefit of triangulation. Just as one might use a couple of quantitative or qualitative methods in a purely quantitative or purely qualitative study to triangulate their research results, one does the same with a mixed-methods design. Second, mixing research methods in a study can provide a more holistic picture of a phenomenon by approaching it in different ways. Third, a mixed-methods approach may lend itself to stronger explanations of a phenomenon.
There are other practical benefits to this as well. Let’s say that researchers find an interesting pattern through a statistical analysis that they want to know more about. Adding a qualitative component can help researchers understand the human aspects—the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives—behind that phenomenon. Conversely, a qualitative study might find meaningful patterns and themes in what people say that could have important implications for public policy. Using those qualitative findings as a starting point for designing a quantitative instrument to quantify those findings might provide just the information needed to bring about those policy-level changes.
In short, there are multiple factors to consider in a research design, depending on the purpose of the study. Though not without drawbacks, as all research designs and methods have, a mixed-methods approach can be a powerful approach to research that yields strong inferences and explanations, and a holistic picture of the phenomenon under study.