In this article the authors discuss issues faced by early career researchers, including the dichotomy, which many research textbooks and journal articles create and perpetuate between qualitative and quantitative research methodology despite considerable literature to support the use of mixed methods. The authors review current research literature and discuss some of the language, which can prove confusing to the early career researcher and problematic for post-graduate supervisors and teachers of research. The authors argue that discussions of research methods in research texts and university courses should include mixed methods and should address the perceived dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative research methodology.
Social scientists have come to abandon the spurious choice between qualitative and quantitative data; they are concerned rather with that combination of both which makes use of the most valuable features of each. The problem becomes one of determining at which points he [sic] should adopt the one, and at which the other, approach (Merton & Kendall, 1946, pp.556-557).Given that the qualitative/quantitative debate has been discussed for half a century you could be forgiven for questioning the need for another article, which includes this topic. However, many university courses and research texts continue to discuss research in terms of 'qualitative' or 'quantitative' methods. When research is described in such terms, confusion may be created for the undergraduate student, first time or early career researcher. The research process is already a daunting prospect to the inexperienced researcher and the ongoing debate and contradictory information adds to the confusion. This is further exacerbated by laypeople that continually ask researchers whether their research is qualitative or quantitative. By writing this article, the authors aim to assist first time and early career researchers make considered decisions about the type of study they may undertake, the process involved in undertaking a research project and the debates in the literature surrounding theoretical frameworks underpinning research. Associated definitions and constructs will also be discussed.
This article begins with a discussion of research paradigms, providing definitions and discussion of the role of paradigms in educational research. Paradigms receive varied attention in research texts. The role of the paradigm can, therefore, appear somewhat mysterious. It is, therefore, a priority of this article to 'demystify' the role of paradigms in research. The article then moves to a discussion of methodology as it relates to the research paradigm. In some research discussions methodology appears to be central and may even be seen to replace what is in effect the pre-ordinate role of the paradigm. In this article the authors discuss how the research paradigm and methodology work together to form a research study. The qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods debate is then discussed as it pertains to the decisions that need to be made by the researcher. A diagram is provided to show the 'research journey' although the authors acknowledge that the research process is more cyclical than linear. More than 40 widely available research texts were reviewed during the preparation of this article, with particular attention given to the treatment of paradigms, methods and methodology.
to establish relationships between or among constructs that describe or explain a phenomenon by going beyond the local event and trying to connect it with similar events (Mertens, 2005, p.2).The theoretical framework, as distinct from a theory, is sometimes referred to as the paradigm (Mertens, 2005; Bogdan & Biklen, 1998) and influences the way knowledge is studied and interpreted. It is the choice of paradigm that sets down the intent, motivation and expectations for the research. Without nominating a paradigm as the first step, there is no basis for subsequent choices regarding methodology, methods, literature or research design. Paradigms are not discussed in all research texts and are given varied emphasis and sometimes conflicting definitions. In some research texts, paradigms are discussed at the beginning of the text along-side research design, while others may make only passing reference to paradigms at a much later stage or make no reference to paradigms at all. This may lead the first time or early career researcher to wonder where the notion of paradigm fits into the research course of action and to question its relevance. The term 'paradigm' may be defined as "a loose collection of logically related assumptions, concepts, or propositions that orient thinking and research" (Bogdan & Biklen 1998, p.22) or the philosophical intent or motivation for undertaking a study (Cohen & Manion 1994, p.38). Alternatively, Mac Naughton, Rolfe and Siraj-Blatchford (2001) provide a definition of paradigm, which includes three elements: a belief about the nature of knowledge, a methodology and criteria for validity (p.32). Some authors prefer to discuss the interpretive framework in terms of 'knowledge claims' (Creswell, 2003); epistemology or ontology; or even research methodologies (Neuman, 2000) rather than referring to paradigms. A number of theoretical paradigms are discussed in the literature such as: positivist (and postpositivist), constructivist, interpretivist, transformative, emancipatory, critical, pragmatism and deconstructivist. The use of different terms in different texts and the varied claims regarding how many research paradigms there are, sometimes leads to confusion for the first time or early career researcher. Definitions of some of the more common paradigms referred to in research texts follow.
the science of methods, especially: a. a branch of logic dealing with the logical principles underlying the organisation of the various special sciences, and the conduct of scientific inquiry. b. Education a branch of pedagogics concerned with the analysis and evaluation of subject matter and methods of teaching (p.718).
|Positivist/ Postpositivist||Interpretivist/ Constructivist||Transformative||Pragmatic|
Multiple participant meanings
Social and historical construction
Critical Race Theory
Empowerment issue oriented
|Consequences of actions|
Real-world practice oriented
|Adapted from Mertens (2005) and Creswell (2003)|
This definition is consistent with much of the literature (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005; Schram, 2006) despite it being a generic definition as opposed to one which is discipline or research specific. Somekh and Lewin (2005) define methodology as both "the collection of methods or rules by which a particular piece of research is undertaken" and the "principles, theories and values that underpin a particular approach to research" (p.346) while Walter (2006) argues that methodology is the frame of reference for the research which is influenced by the "paradigm in which our theoretical perspective is placed or developed" (p.35). The most common definitions suggest that methodology is the overall approach to research linked to the paradigm or theoretical framework while the method refers to systematic modes, procedures or tools used for collection and analysis of data.
|Paradigm||Methods (primarily)||Data collection tools (examples)|
|Positivist/ Postpositivist||Quantitative. "Although qualitative methods can be used within this paradigm, quantitative methods tend to be predominant . . ." (Mertens, 2005, p. 12)||Experiments|
|Interpretivist/ Constructivist||Qualitative methods predominate although quantitative methods may also be utilised.||Interviews|
Visual data analysis
|Transformative||Qualitative methods with quantitative and mixed methods. Contextual and historical factors described, especially as they relate to oppression (Mertens, 2005, p. 9)||Diverse range of tools - particular need to avoid discrimination. Eg: sexism, racism, and homophobia.|
|Pragmatic||Qualitative and/or quantitative methods may be employed. Methods are matched to the specific questions and purpose of the research.||May include tools from both positivist and interpretivist paradigms. Eg Interviews, observations and testing and experiments.|
This suggests that it is the paradigm and research question, which should determine which research data collection and analysis methods (qualitative/quantitative or mixed methods) will be most appropriate for a study. In this way researchers are not quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods researchers, rather a researcher may apply the data collection and analysis methods most appropriate for a particular research study. It may in fact be possible for any and all paradigms to employ mixed methods rather than being restricted to any one method, which may potentially diminish and unnecessarily limit the depth and richness of a research project.
At one level quantitative and qualitative refers to distinctions about the nature of knowledge: how one understands the world and the ultimate purpose of the research. On another level of discourse, the terms refer to research methods - how data are collected and analysed - and the types of generalizations and representations derived from the data (McMillan & Schumacher, 2006, p. 12).Confusion for the first time researcher or early career researcher is created by informal reference to researchers as qualitative or quantitative researchers and research as qualitative or quantitative research. This is further exacerbated by research texts, which utilise these terms within their titles, suggesting a purity of method, which is potentially impossible in social research. O'Leary (2004) argues another way of thinking about these terms by defining qualitative and quantitative as
adjectives for types of data and their corresponding modes of analysis, i.e. qualitative data - data represented through words, pictures, or icons analyzed using thematic exploration; and quantitative data - data that is represented through numbers and analyzed using statistics (p.99).This definition suggests that the terms qualitative and quantitative refer to the data collection methods, analysis and reporting modes instead of the theoretical approach to the research. While acknowledging that some research texts refer to quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods as paradigms (see Table 1) the authors will use the terms quantitative and qualitative to refer to methods of data collection, analysis and reporting.
Educational research traditionally followed the empirical "objective scientific model" (Burns, 1997, p.3) which utilised quantitative methods of data collection, analysis and reporting modes. In the 1960s there was a move towards a more constructivist approach which allowed for methods which were "qualitative, naturalistic and subjective" (p.3) in nature. It would appear that at the time there was considerable debate regarding the introduction of this form of data collection. This philosophical debate "left educational research divided between two competing methods: the scientific empirical tradition, and the naturalistic phenomenological mode" (Burns, 1997, p.3).
More recently, research approaches have become more complex in design and more flexible in their application of methods with mixed-methods being more acceptable and common. A mixed-methods approach to research is one that involves
gathering both numeric information (e.g., on instruments) as well as text information (e.g., on interviews) so that the final database represents both quantitative and qualitative information (Creswell, 2003, p.20).According to Gorard (2004) combined or mixed-methods research has been identified as a "key element in the improvement of social science, including education research" (p.7) with research strengthened by the use of a variety of methods. Gorard (2004) argues that mixed method research "requires a greater level of skill" (p.7), "can lead to less waste of potentially useful information" (p.7), "creates researchers with an increased ability to make appropriate criticisms of all types of research" (p. 7) and often has greater impact,
because figures can be very persuasive to policy-makers whereas stories are more easily remembered and repeated by them for illustrative purposes (p.7).Many researchers including Creswell (2003), Thomas (2003) and Krathwohl, (1993) now view qualitative and quantitative methods as complementary choosing the most appropriate method/s for the investigation. While some paradigms may appear to lead a researcher to favour qualitative or quantitative approaches, in effect no one paradigm actually prescribes or prohibits the use of either methodological approach. However, this may not sit comfortably with researchers who are strongly aligned with a particular approach to research. Almost inevitably in each paradigm, if the research is to be fully effective, both approaches need to be applied. It is unduly impoverished research, which eschews the use of both qualitative and quantitative research approaches. Paradigms, which overtly recommend mixed methods approaches allow the question to determine the data collection and analysis methods applied, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data and integrating the data at different stages of inquiry (Creswell, 2003).
Figure 1: A research journey
Burns, R.B. (1997). Introduction to research methods. (3rd ed.) Australia: Longman.
Cohen, L., & Manion, L. (1994). Research methods in education. (4th ed.) London: Routledge.
Cook, T., & Campbell, D. (1979). Quasi-experimentation: design and analysis issues for field settings. Houghton Mifflin: Boston.
Creswell, J.W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Glesne, C., & Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming qualitative researchers. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Gorard, G. (2004). Combining methods in educational and social research. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Khun, T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Krathwohl, D.R. (1993). Methods of educational and social science research: An integrated approach. New York: Longman.
Leedy, P. & Ormrod, J. (2005). A handbook for teacher research from design to implementation. New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Mac Naughton, G., Rolfe S.A., & Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2001). Doing Early Childhood Research: International perspectives on theory and practice. Australia: Allen & Unwin.
McMillan, J., & Schumacher, S. (2006). Research in Education. (6th ed.) Boston: Pearson Education.
Mertens, D.M. (2005). Research methods in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative and qualitative approaches. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Merton, R.K., & Kendall, P.L. (1946). The focused interview. The American Journal of Sociology, 51, 6, 541-557.
Neuman, (2000). Social research methods: qualitative and quantitative approaches. (4th ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
O'Leary, Z. (2004). The essential guide to doing research. London: Sage.
Somekh, B., & Lewin, C. (2005). Research methods in the social sciences. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Schram, T. (2006). Conceptualizing and proposing qualitative research. (2nd ed.) New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Silverman, D. (2000). Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Somekh, B., & Lewin, C. (2005). Research methods in social sciences. London: Sage.
Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (2003). Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioural research. London: Cassell.
Thomas, R. M. (2003). Blending qualitative and quantitative research methods in theses and dissertations. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, Inc, A Sage Publications Company.
Walter, M. (2006). Social Science methods: an Australian perspective. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Wiersma, W. (2000). Research methods in education: An introduction. (7th ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
|Authors: Dr Noella Mackenzie, Murray School of Education, Charles Sturt University. Email: email@example.com
Dr Sally Knipe, Murray School of Education, Charles Sturt University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Mackenzie, N. & Knipe, S. (2006). Research dilemmas: Paradigms, methods and methodology. Issues In Educational Research, 16(2), 193-205. http://www.iier.org.au/iier16/mackenzie.html