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What is mixed methods research?

Last updated

20 February 2023

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Dovetail Editorial Team

Mixed methods research is a popular method for researching today, allowing for a deeper exploration of a research question by utilizing a blend of qualitative and quantitative data.

By blending both quantitative and qualitative data, mixed methods research allows for a more thorough exploration of a research question. It can answer complex research queries that cannot be solved with either qualitative or quantitative research.

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What is mixed methods research?

Mixed methods research combines the elements of two types of research: quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative data is collected through the use of surveys and experiments, for example, containing numerical measures such as ages, scores, and percentages. 

Qualitative data involves non-numerical measures like beliefs, motivations, attitudes, and experiences, often derived through interviews and focus group research to gain a deeper understanding of a research question or phenomenon.

Mixed methods research is often used in the behavioral, health, and social sciences, as it allows for the collection of numerical and non-numerical data.

When to use mixed methods research

Mixed methods research is a great choice when quantitative or qualitative data alone will not sufficiently answer a research question. By collecting and analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data in the same study, you can draw more meaningful conclusions. 

There are several reasons why mixed methods research can be beneficial, including generalizability, contextualization, and credibility. 

For example, let's say you are conducting a survey about consumer preferences for a certain product. You could collect only quantitative data, such as how many people prefer each product and their demographics. Or you could supplement your quantitative data with qualitative data, such as interviews and focus groups, to get a better sense of why people prefer one product over another.

It is important to note that mixed methods research does not only mean collecting both types of data. Rather, it also requires carefully considering the relationship between the two and method flexibility.

You may find differing or even conflicting results by combining quantitative and qualitative data. It is up to the researcher to then carefully analyze the results and consider them in the context of the research question to draw meaningful conclusions.

When designing a mixed methods study, it is important to consider your research approach, research questions, and available data. Think about how you can use different techniques to integrate the data to provide an answer to your research question.

Mixed methods research design

A mixed methods research design is an approach to collecting and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data in a single study.

Mixed methods designs allow for method flexibility and can provide differing and even conflicting results. Examples of mixed methods research designs include convergent parallel, explanatory sequential, and exploratory sequential.

By integrating data from both quantitative and qualitative sources, researchers can gain valuable insights into their research topic. For example, a study looking into the impact of technology on learning could use surveys to measure quantitative data on students' use of technology in the classroom. At the same time, interviews or focus groups can provide qualitative data on students' experiences and opinions.

Types of mixed method research designs

Researchers often struggle to put mixed methods research into practice, as it is challenging and can lead to research bias. Although mixed methods research can reveal differences or conflicting results between studies, it can also offer method flexibility.

Designing a mixed methods study can be broken down into four types: convergent parallel, embedded, explanatory sequential, and exploratory sequential.

Convergent parallel

The convergent parallel design is when data collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data occur simultaneously and are analyzed separately. This design aims to create mutually exclusive sets of data that inform each other. 

For example, you might interview people who live in a certain neighborhood while also conducting a survey of the same people to determine their satisfaction with the area.

Embedded design

The embedded design is when the quantitative and qualitative data are collected simultaneously, but the qualitative data is embedded within the quantitative data. This design is best used when you want to focus on the quantitative data but still need to understand how the qualitative data further explains it.

For instance, you may survey students about their opinions of an online learning platform and conduct individual interviews to gain further insight into their responses.

Explanatory sequential design

In an explanatory sequential design, quantitative data is collected first, followed by qualitative data. This design is used when you want to further explain a set of quantitative data with additional qualitative information.

An example of this would be if you surveyed employees at a company about their satisfaction with their job and then conducted interviews to gain more information about why they responded the way they did.

Exploratory sequential design

The exploratory sequential design collects qualitative data first, followed by quantitative data. This type of mixed methods research is used when the goal is to explore a topic before collecting any quantitative data.

An example of this could be studying how parents interact with their children by conducting interviews and then using a survey to further explore and measure these interactions.

Integrating data in mixed methods studies can be challenging, but it can be done successfully with careful planning.

No matter which type of design you choose, understanding and applying these principles can help you draw meaningful conclusions from your research.

Strengths of mixed methods research

Mixed methods research designs combine the strengths of qualitative and quantitative data, deepening and enriching qualitative results with quantitative data and validating quantitative findings with qualitative data. This method offers more flexibility in designing research, combining theory generation and hypothesis testing, and being less tied to disciplines and established research paradigms.

Take the example of a study examining the impact of exercise on mental health. Mixed methods research would allow for a comprehensive look at the issue from different angles. 

Researchers could begin by collecting quantitative data through surveys to get an overall view of the participants' levels of physical activity and mental health. Qualitative interviews would follow this to explore the underlying dynamics of participants' experiences of exercise, physical activity, and mental health in greater detail.

Through a mixed methods approach, researchers could more easily compare and contrast their results to better understand the phenomenon as a whole.  

Additionally, mixed methods research is useful when there are conflicting or differing results in different studies. By combining both quantitative and qualitative data, mixed methods research can offer insights into why those differences exist.

For example, if a quantitative survey yields one result while a qualitative interview yields another, mixed methods research can help identify what factors influence these differences by integrating data from both sources.

Overall, mixed methods research designs offer a range of advantages for studying complex phenomena. They can provide insight into different elements of a phenomenon in ways that are not possible with either qualitative or quantitative data alone. Additionally, they allow researchers to integrate data from multiple sources to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon in question.  

Challenges of mixed methods research

Mixed methods research is labor-intensive and often requires interdisciplinary teams of researchers to collaborate. It also has the potential to cost more than conducting a stand alone qualitative or quantitative study

Interpreting the results of mixed methods research can be tricky, as it can involve conflicting or differing results. Researchers must find ways to systematically compare the results from different sources and methods to avoid bias.

For example, imagine a situation where a team of researchers has employed an explanatory sequential design for their mixed methods study. After collecting data from both the quantitative and qualitative stages, the team finds that the two sets of data provide differing results. This could be challenging for the team, as they must now decide how to effectively integrate the two types of data in order to reach meaningful conclusions. The team would need to identify method flexibility and be strategic when integrating data in order to draw meaningful conclusions from the conflicting results.

Advanced frameworks in mixed methods research

Mixed methods research offers powerful tools for investigating complex processes and systems, such as in health and healthcare.

Besides the three basic mixed method designs—exploratory sequential, explanatory sequential, and convergent parallel—you can use one of the four advanced frameworks to extend mixed methods research designs. These include multistage, intervention, case study, and participatory. 

Multistage

This framework mixes qualitative and quantitative data collection methods in stages to gather a more nuanced view of the research question. An example of this is a study that first has an online survey to collect initial data and is followed by in-depth interviews to gain further insights.

Intervention

This design involves collecting quantitative data and then taking action, usually in the form of an intervention or intervention program. An example of this could be a research team who collects data from a group of participants, evaluates it, and then implements an intervention program based on their findings.

Case study

This utilizes both qualitative and quantitative research methods to analyze a single case. The researcher will examine the specific case in detail to understand the factors influencing it. An example of this could be a study of a specific business organization to understand the organizational dynamics and culture within the organization.

Participatory

This type of research focuses on the involvement of participants in the research process. It involves the active participation of participants in formulating and developing research questions, data collection, and analysis.

An example of this could be a study that involves forming focus groups with participants who actively develop the research questions and then provide feedback during the data collection and analysis stages.

The flexibility of mixed methods research designs means that researchers can choose any combination of the four frameworks outlined above and other methodologies, such as convergent parallel, explanatory sequential, and exploratory sequential, to suit their particular needs.

Through this method's flexibility, researchers can gain multiple perspectives and uncover differing or even conflicting results when integrating data.

When it comes to integration at the methods level, there are four approaches.

  • Connecting involves collecting both qualitative and quantitative data during different phases of the research.

  • Building involves the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data within a single phase.

  • Merging involves the concurrent collection of both qualitative and quantitative data.

  • Embedding involves including qualitative data within a quantitative study or vice versa.

Techniques for integrating data in mixed method studies

Integrating data is an important step in mixed methods research designs. It allows researchers to gain further understanding from their research and gives credibility to the integration process. There are three main techniques for integrating data in mixed methods studies: triangulation protocol, following a thread, and the mixed methods matrix.

Triangulation protocol

This integration method combines different methods with differing or conflicting results to generate one unified answer.

For example, if a researcher wanted to know what type of music teenagers enjoy listening to, they might employ a survey of 1,000 teenagers as well as five focus group interviews to investigate this. The results might differ; the survey may find that rap is the most popular genre, whereas the focus groups may suggest rock music is more widely listened to. 

The researcher can then use the triangulation protocol to come up with a unified answer—such as that both rap and rock music are popular genres for teenage listeners. 

Following a thread

This is another method of integration where the researcher follows the same theme or idea from one method of data collection to the next. 

A research design that follows a thread starts by collecting quantitative data on a specific issue, followed by collecting qualitative data to explain the results. This allows whoever is conducting the research to detect any conflicting information and further look into the conflicting information to understand what is really going on.

For example, a researcher who used this research method might collect quantitative data about how satisfied employees are with their jobs at a certain company, followed by qualitative interviews to investigate why job satisfaction levels are low. They could then use the results to explore any conflicting or differing results, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of job satisfaction at the company. 

By following a thread, the researcher can explore various research topics related to the original issue and gain a more comprehensive view of the issue.

Mixed methods matrix

This technique is a visual representation of the different types of mixed methods research designs and the order in which they should be implemented. It enables researchers to quickly assess their research design and adjust it as needed. 

The matrix consists of four boxes with four different types of mixed methods research designs: convergent parallel, explanatory sequential, exploratory sequential, and method flexibility. 

For example, imagine a researcher who wanted to understand why people don't exercise regularly. To answer this question, they could use a convergent parallel design, collecting both quantitative (e.g., survey responses) and qualitative (e.g., interviews) data simultaneously.

If the researcher found conflicting results, they could switch to an explanatory sequential design and collect quantitative data first, then follow up with qualitative data if needed. This way, the researcher can make adjustments based on their findings and integrate their data more effectively.

Mixed methods research is a powerful tool for understanding complex research topics. Using qualitative and quantitative data in one study allows researchers to understand their subject more deeply. 

Mixed methods research designs such as convergent parallel, explanatory sequential, and exploratory sequential provide method flexibility, enabling researchers to collect both types of data while avoiding the limitations of either approach alone.

However, it's important to remember that mixed methods research can produce differing or even conflicting results, so it's important to be aware of the potential pitfalls and take steps to ensure that data is being correctly integrated. If used effectively, mixed methods research can offer valuable insight into topics that would otherwise remain largely unexplored.

FAQs

What is an example of mixed methods research?

An example of mixed methods research is a study that combines quantitative and qualitative data. This type of research uses surveys, interviews, and observations to collect data from multiple sources.

Which sampling method is best for mixed methods?

It depends on the research objectives, but a few methods are often used in mixed methods research designs. These include snowball sampling, convenience sampling, and purposive sampling. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages.

What is the difference between mixed methods and multiple methods?

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative data in a single study. Multiple methods involve collecting data from different sources, such as surveys and interviews, but not necessarily combining them into one analysis. Mixed methods offer greater flexibility but can lead to differing or conflicting results when integrating data.

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