The mixed methods research approach has gained increased attention because it is a method of research that contains elements of both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Creswell (2009) describes the research approach as involving philosophical assumptions, the use of qualitative and quantitative approaches, and the mixing of both approaches in a study (p. 4). The mixed methods approach permits the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data in the same study. It is up to the researcher to determine the extent one approach is used over the other, which is highly dependent on the purpose of the study.
Mixed methods research can serve a variety of purposes. Greene, Caracelli, and Graham (1989) point out that researchers typically will use mixed design strategies which include triangulation, development, initiation, and expansion. The researcher selects and matches the design strategies related to their goal in attempting to understand a specific phenomenon. Overall, the method includes providing an understanding of social phenomenon or behavior as well as the reasons that influence the behavior. This provides information which can be used to measure social phenomenon numerically.
Mixed methods research design varies depending on the purpose of the study and philosophical background of the researcher. It is up to the researcher to determine how to use mixed methods designs. There are many levels of mixing both qualitative and quantitative elements in research projects (Rocco, Bliss, Gallagher, & Perez-Prado, 2003). Additionally, mixing means either that the qualitative and quantitative data actually are merged on one end of the continuum, kept separate on the other end of the continuum, or combined in some way between these two extremes (Creswell, 2009, p. 208). It is up to the researcher to determine how the type of project, the data collection strategy, and the data analysis will be applied to the phenomena being studied. This is determined and outlined in the research design model.
The mixed methods design model most commonly used is the concurrent triangulation model (Creswell, 2009). In this approach, the researcher collects both qualitative and quantitative data concurrently. This approach is important because it allows the researcher to determine if there is a pattern evident in the data. Most researchers employ this model of gathering both quantitative and qualitative data and compare the two data sources (Creswell, 2009). Comparison information can provide the researcher with valuable information that can enrich the descriptive reporting of data. For example, a closed-end survey can be administered, and at the same time, the researcher could conduct an interview to gather additional details. This approach permits the researcher to collect two types of data at once. The provided data is well rounded and detailed.
The role of the researcher in a mixed methods study varies depending on the design of the study. Creswell and Plano Clark (2007) explain the mixed methods design encourages researchers to collaborate between quantitative and qualitative methods. In particular, a researcher can collect data on a quantitative survey in a qualitative focus group. The research would not be involved in the quantitative survey other than to provide the survey; however, in the qualitative portion of the study, the researcher would be involved in data collection and would interact within the situation. This varies depending on the research design.
Both deductive and inductive strategies are present in the mixed methods approach. Data analysis within mixed methods research occurs both with the quantitative (descriptive and inferential numeric analysis) and qualitative (description and thematic text or image analysis) approach and often between the two approaches (Creswell, 2009, p. 218). The researcher can use multiple methods to analyze data depending on the design of the research. For instance, a researcher may identify statistical relationships when analyzing data collected quantitatively. In contract, a researcher will search for patterns, themes, and holistic features when analyzing qualitative data. These are just two examples; however, there can be multiple variations dependant on the method design.
Communication of the results of the data analysis can include a combination of both quantitative and qualitative methods. The structure of the report, like the data analysis, follows the type of strategy chosen for the proposed study (Kerlinger, 1979). Quantitative research characteristically generalizes findings, and qualitative research presents multiple views and will form different perspectives. The methods can then be combined approaches to present data that is corroborated, which may also generalize findings.
The mixed methods approach in simple terms combines both tenets from qualitative and quantitative design. By applying the methodology, both quantitative and qualitative data can be collected and analyzed. The benefit is that the study contains information from data that is merged. The results produced help researchers better understand the phenomenon that is studied. Last, it is up to the researcher to determine if priority may be given to one or the other form of qualitative or quantitative research.
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