After understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both quantitative and qualitative approaches to research, it is possible that your IR team will consider using a combination of these two approaches. In fact, many IR projects use mixed methods to provide a better understanding of the problem than either a quantitative or qualitative research approach can do alone. Before making this decision, it is important to review why you may want to combine the two kinds of research approaches. Table 6 (adapted from Bryman 200611 and Greene et al 198912) can help to guide the decision-making process.
After considering how a mixed methods approach might contribute to your research, you will also need to justify the sequence and weight given to the two approaches. The four most common types of mixed methods research are: sequential explanatory; sequential exploratory; concurrent triangulation; and concurrent embedded (Table 7).
When designing mixed methods research, the IR team will need to consider the following elements when planning data collection and analysis:
- Timing: Will quantitative and qualitative methods be used simultaneously (concurrent designs) or in two distinct phases (sequential designs)?
- Weighting: How much emphasis will be put on the quantitative or qualitative methods? Will they be weighted equally?
- Mixing: Data analysis needs to be matched to the design of the study. For example, in a concurrent design, one way of mixing the data is to provide a discussion about the emerging themes from the data and how they support or refute the statistical analysis. Another approach could be to combine the quantitative and qualitative data to arrive at new variables or new themes (Creswell 2009). In a sequential design, for example, a researcher might collect and analyse quantitative data in the first phase of the study and may then select some extreme cases to follow-up in a qualitative phase.
- Visual diagrams: An important mixed methods tool that incorporates a notation system and a flow chart of the research process.
If your research team decides to use mixed methods in your study, you will need to describe why you chose this approach, as discussed in Proposal Development Module.