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School of Education, Social Work & Community Education Master of Education

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School of Education, Social Work & Community Education Master of Education Assignment Front Cover Name Hina


Hina Hashmi


Research Methods for Professional


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3 rd February 2015

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Table of Contents


The quantitative method.................................................................................................................4

The qualitative method....................................................................................................................6

Advantages of the quantitative method........................................................................................9

Disadvantages of the quantitative method...................................................................................9


Advantages of the qualitative method.........................................................................................12

Disadvantages of the qualitative method....................................................................................12

Grounded Theory...........................................................................................................................12

The mixed methods approach......................................................................................................13

Advantages of the mixed methods approach.............................................................................16

Disadvantages of the mixed methods approach........................................................................16

Conclusion .....................................................................................................................................17



The purpose of this research paper is to provide a theoretical understanding of three distinct research methods; quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods. In order to do this, we must first take time to try and define the three key terms that will be used to build our knowledge and understanding of these research methods and their associated paradigms. The majority of academic research studies use the three interrelated principles of ontology, epistemology and methodology in order to construct a research method in relation to a specific paradigm.

There are myriad explanations of these principles within social research as they are usually dependent on the particular paradigm being pursued by the researcher at the time. Blaikie’s (as cited in Grix, 2004, p. 59) defines ontology as the study of;

“claims and assumptions that are made about the nature of social reality, claims about what exists, what it looks like, what units make it up and how these units interact with each other.”

Therefore, if somebody investigates the ontological context of a particular situation, they are actually trying to understand what we are referring to when acknowledging the existence of something. An epistemologist however, is concerned with trying to decipher the meaning behind knowing something.

For the purposes of this research paper, I will use Crotty’s (1998, p.3) definition of epistemology, which is defined as;

“the theory of knowledge embedded in the theoretical perspective and thereby in the methodology”

and can be paraphrased by asking ourselves what constitutes valid knowledge and how can we go

about obtaining it. Ontological and epistemological assumptions are put together to build the notion of a paradigm. The term paradigm refers to an overall theoretical research framework which is neatly defined by Bodgan & Biklen’s (as cited in Mackenzie and Knipe, 2001, p. 2) as;

“a loose collection of logically related assumptions, concepts or propositions that orient thinking and research.”

The necessity of outlining these terms in the context of educational research is paramount for the position I will be adopting for this research paper. I believe that one’s view of knowledge and social reality are intimately entwined within the outcomes of any piece of educational research. This is because the researchers themselves tend to relate their own intents, objectives and philosophical assumptions with the research they carry out.

Therefore, it is vital that the researcher has a clear understanding of their own philosophical underpinnings when choosing their research question or evaluating a previous piece of research. Matriculation number: 130021949


This is because the way each individual constructs their social reality is unique as it is completely defnied by their own perspective or worldview. Therefore, the knowledge they build from this social construct will affect the method in which they relate phenomena and social behaviour.

The definition I will be using for methodology for the purposes of this research paper is from Crotty (2003, p3) as; “the strategy, plan of action, process or design lying behind the choice and use of particular methods and linking the choice and use of the methods to the desired outcomes.”

Methodology is often confused with method but is in fact, a completely separate entity. It is a considered research strategy that outlines how research is to be conducted whilst taking ontological and epistemological principles into account. (Sarantakos, 2005) whereas the method is; “the techniques or procedures used to gather and collect data related to some research question or hypothesis”. (Crotty, 2003, p3). The purpose of discussing methodology is to ensure the researcher can justify and then evaluate the use of the particular method he has adopted for the piece of research being undertaken. (Wellington,


Research methods in social science (including education) can be divided into two main types;

quantitative and qualitative.

Before I continue to explain what this means, it is important to note that

all definitions and explanations being given are my interpretation of the information currently available on these particular subjects. Countless elucidations seem to exist that all have a slightly different slant depending on the researcher or the context of the writing. Therefore I have tried to distil the extensive research in these areas down to their core values and use those as the basis of my research paper. The definitions that follow are, in my opinion, a good summary of the various explanations available but with the understanding that alternative theories or uses of the key terms do exist.

The relative merits of quantitative versus qualitative research methods have been argued extensively in the academic world (Grix, 2004; Mackenzie and Knipe, 2006; Johnson and Christensen, 2008; Mertens, 2009; Creswell, 2013) so before I continue with my assessment of the strengths and limitations of qualitative research methods it is important to emphasise that the two opposing paradigms that underpin these methods are polar opposites. Quantitative research methods aim to investigate the breadth of a question whereas qualitative methods are more useful when looking at a question in depth. Therefore, it is important to remember that a competent researcher will pick the most appropriate method based on the nature of the study even taking human bias into account.

This main body of this research paper will be structured into four distinct sections. The first two sections will discuss the definition, ontology, epistemology and methodology of quantitative and qualitative research methods. The advantages and disadvantages of these two distinct research methods within the context of education will be discussed in the third section supported through literature that has been written within an educational context. The fourth section of the research paper will deal with the mixed methods approach. I will again attempt to define this approach by discussing the ontology, epistemology and methodology associated with it. I will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this method specifically within the context of educational research. The research paper will end with a conclusion that will attempt to establish which methods could potentially be more effective within the framework of educational research.

The quantitative method

Quantitative research methods are usually based on empiricism, collecting data and then using statistics in order to answer a carefully formulated hypothesis usually based on observation of the

natural world. The definition I will be drawing on for this research paper for quantitative research is from Aliaga and Gunderson (2000, p13) “Explaining phenomena by collecting numerical data that are analysed using mathematically based methods”.

Quantitative research methods are normally associated with a positivist research paradigm. The positivist paradigm is centred on using a systematic and scientific approach to research and is based on the concept that the world is constructed around unchanging, universal laws. Hughes (2001) explains that by investigating and understanding these objective, universal laws we can understand the principles that have led to a specific situation or behaviour occurring. In order to truly understand the principles that underpin quantitative research methods, we need to explore the ontology, epistemology and methodology that define a positivist approach.

The ontology associated with quantitative research is usually labelled as objectivism. Objectivism is characterised by the researcher’s belief that reality is independent of our behaviour and is not a product of social construction (Neuman, 2003). Positivist researchers believe that reality is simply

waiting to be discovered and defined through conventional scientific methods. (Bassey, 1995).

It is

based on the assumptions that the way we categorise the social phenomena that we use to define

our existence is completely independent from the individual people that are existing within it.

Objectivists believe that there is no difference between the social world and the natural world and as a result, everyone is prone to be affected by it. Therefore, it is important to research the nature of the relationship amongst the principles that form the basic elements of our social and natural world. As Matriculation number: 130021949


the principles being investigated are concrete and unchanging, numbers can be used to measure and quantify the relationship between them with the ultimate aim of determining the most likely reality in the most objective manner possible (David and Suton, 2004).

As stated by Johnson (1987, p. 628 cited in Davis et al.1993) “the classical objectivist view of knowledge assumes ‘science’ produces successive

theories that progress ever and ever closer to the correct description of reality.


even though we will never achieve the final, complete account, it is believed that genuine

empirical knowledge involves universal logical structures of inferences in which results can be tested against theory-neutral ‘objective’ data.”

Empiricism is epistemology derived from the ontological assumption that reality exists independently of our knowledge or understanding of it. Empiricists believe that empirical facts exist apart from our efforts to study them. These empirical facts can be translated into numbers which are governed by natural laws. They also take the stance that patterns of social reality are fixed and knowledge of them is constantly being increased linearly (Marcyzk et al., 2005). Within an empiricist epistemology, social science is seen as a method that combines deductive logic with empirical data collection. The resulting statistical analysis of this data is then used to confirm probabilistic causal laws are used to predict trends in human behaviour (Neuman, 2003). Researchers that work within the positivist paradigm are attempting to use scientific principles to develop the closest approximation of the nature of our reality as objectively as possible (Ulin et al., 2004)

An objective and detached research methodology is normally associated with a positivist paradigm underpinned by objectivist ontology and empirical epistemology. Causal explanations are generated through repetitive testing of hypothesis linked to measurable variables (Sarantakos, 2005; Marczyk et al,2005). According to Johnson and Christensen (2008), there are two distinct approaches that can be taken within an objective research methodology.

The first approach is described as an exploratory approach and begins with a researcher searching for a pattern within the collected data and then attempting to explain this pattern by proposing a theory (also known as the inductive method). The second approach is more of a confirmatory approach and is based around the principles of the scientific method. Here, the researcher is attempting to test a hypothesis based on a theory. If the data collected supports the hypothesis then it also supports and provides evidence for the underlying theory. The support is shown in the form of statistical significance calculated through various tests (Mukherji and Albon, 2010). However, it is important to note that in both approaches, the practice is very structured with all aspects of the

investigation planned in advance with little flexibility or freedom within the research framework itself.

This is a key feature of quantitative methodology. (Kumar, 2011)

The qualitative method

Qualitative research methods take a different approach to investigating the reality around us which

contrasts the quantitative methods discussed earlier. Qualitative research methods are based

around the idea that by examining the social setting and the individuals that inhabit the setting, a

researcher can better understand why people organise, relate to and interact with the world.

Qualitative research is a tool for trying to understand the hows and whys of the world without trying to

quantify them. The data collected when undertaking this type of research cannot be categorised and

attributed to a pre-existing principle that is understood to be part of the natural order of things.

Instead, the data can be used to try and derive meaning from a very specific social context. The

definition I will be using for the purposes of this research paper is from Denzin and Lincoln (2005).

“Qualitative research is a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It

consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that makes the world visible[… ]This


means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to

make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to


The research paradigm that governs qualitative research methods can be considered an interpretivist

paradigm. This seems to be an umbrella term that also has striking similarities to constructivism and

a simile for antipositivism. Interpretivism is underlined by the idea that the researcher is trying to

make meaning of the natural world through studying and explaining human behaviour and actions.

Cohen et al. (2002) advocates the use of interpretivism by using the idea that individuals are unique

and cannot therefore be generalised. Many interpretations of a single event can exist as a

consequence of analysing data collected through the perspectives of multiple participants as well as

the researcher.

Interpretivists will eschew fixed research frameworks that are typically found in positivist research in

favour of a more flexible structure. This is because the lack of rigidity in the methods of data

collection makes it easier to capture meanings found in human interactions (Black, 2006). This

ensures that the researcher is also able to assimilate new knowledge throughout the study and

develop it in tandem with the participants of the study. This approach, unlike the positivist approach,

places emphasis on the researcher being part of the research process alongside the participants and

stems from the interpretivist belief that no one can predict knowledge that is bound by the context of

social reality (Merriam, 2009).

Interpretivism is usually associated with relativist ontology. This ontological approach assumes that

people construct their own reality through the meanings and understandings developed socially and

through personal experience. As stated by Hugley and Sayward (1987);

There is no objective truth to be known.(p78)”

However, this perspective proposes that multiple meanings may be derived from a single time-based

context thereby continually holding the perceived notion of reality in a state of flux throughout the

study. (Mutch, 2005). It is important to recognize that a key feature of a relativist ontological

approach is to understand the reasons why people behave a certain way within their social systems

as opposed to try and explain why they do so (Cohen et al, 2007). Interpretivism therefore is tasked

with explaining hidden social constructs by bringing them into the forefront.

By having a clearer understanding of the ontology that drives the qualitative approach, we can better

understand the epistemological view taken by researchers. Researchers adopting a qualitative

approach tend to demonstrate a transactional or subjectivist epistemology. This perspective is

underlined by the acceptance of multiple realities that are symbolically constructed and given

meaning through a relationship between the observer and the context under observation. Therefore,

a subjectivist researcher produces knowledge through observation. Consequently, the theory

generated is specific situationally and historically to the social context being investigated (Krauss,

2005). This is summarised by Charmaz (2014) as;

“placing priority on the phenomena of study and seeing both data and analysis created

from shared experiences and relationships with participants and other sources (p240)”

The methodology adopted for qualitative research is distinct from that that of quantitative as it is

attached to a subjectivist epistemology and interpretivist ontology. This means that the researcher

mediates the meaning of participant experiences through his own perceptions. (Merriam, 1988) As

the techniques required are defined by the inquirers and the participants, the researcher must ensure

they get as close as possible to the participants being studied. Researchers will immerse themselves

in a social grouping in order to observe the interactions as closely as possible. Researchers will

usually become part of the observations as they participate in the activities, interview members of the

group to collect life histories, use smaller scale case studies and analyse any documentation or

cultural artefacts associated with the group. They will then assimilate this information in order to

construct an understanding of their observations (Grix, 2004).

Eichelberger (1989) in Mertens (2009) describes the methodology used by a qualitative researcher

as follows:

“These researchers are much clearer about the fact that they are constructing the

“reality” on the basis of the interpretations of data with the help of the participants who

provided the data in the study… They do a great deal of observation, read documents

produced by members of the groups being studied, do extensive formal and informal

interviewing, and develop classifications and descriptions that represent the beliefs of

the various groups. (p. 9)”

Advantages of the quantitative method

There are many advantages for a researcher to elect a fully quantitative approach, especially within

the sphere of education. By being deductive and particularistic, quantitative research is built around

investigating distinct variables that could potentially cause change in a situation. As this method

deals with formulating a research hypothesis and then supporting or rejecting it using a specific set of

numerical values, the method is value-free.

This means that there is no opportunity for the

researcher to apply his own values, biases and subjective preferences. (Frankfort-Nachmias and

Nachmias, 2008).

The quantitative method has many particular strengths which is why it was the mainstay of

educational research for a long time (Goodwin and Goodwin, 1996). Firstly, it is possible to collect

data that can assist in refining current theory and understanding of a question. This is because the

methods and procedures used to collect and analyse the data are not only highly controlled but also

standardised. This effect is augmented by the fact that the variables that being defined, collected

and subjected to statistical analysis are also themselves, quantifiable.

Findings from the participants in a study utilizing a wholly quantitative approach can be applied to a

wider population. This is because of the rigid control of variables required necessary for this method

(Robson, 2011). Another benefit of the quantitative approach is that it is easily replicable and

repeatable. By placing emphasis on a very strict application of the scientific method, the findings are

usually considered to be valid by the larger research community. In education, this is important as it

allows large cohort studies of pupils when possible (Mukherji and Allon, 2010).

Disadvantages of the quantitative method

However, it is important to note that educational research in general has been moving away from a

wholly quantitative approach in favour of a more qualitative or mixed methods approach. This is

reinforced by Gorar et al. (2007) in a very thorough study that highlighted the majority of research

taking place in education. The United Kingdom showed not only a decrease in quantitative studies

as a whole but also an increase in poor quality qualitative research. It is interesting to note that one

of the main concerns is a lack of higher education professionals that are well versed with the

quantitative method of research and have the ability to effectively teach it.

It is clear that disadvantages to the quantitative method of research not only exist but also remain a

continual concern for researchers. There is a concern that the information produced will only be

useful at a very superficial level due to the nature of data being collected from a highly scientific


A scientific, empirical approach demands that the researcher remain distanced from the

study. He cannot be subjective and instead must always strive to remain objective. However, this is

difficult when researching human behaviours in a real life context as;

“one does not find out about other individuals by remaining distant”

(Mukherji, P. and Albon, D. 2010, p21)

For example, if a researcher is undertaking a study looking into why children turn in homework, then

the data is limited to a set of responses that have already been determined by the researcher. It will

not take the complexity of the child’s situation e.g. their home life, into account as these may not be

variables that can be quantified.

If the pupils were being investigated under laboratory conditions,

this artificial setting would negate any normal behaviour as a laboratory is very different from their

naturalistic setting. Consequently, a key criticism of quantitative behaviour is that its parameters are

very narrow and the data collected will not lend itself to the researcher gaining a fuller and more

depth understanding of the issue being investigated.

As stated previously, quantitative research requires the researcher to remain objective. However,

when dealing with human behaviours in social contexts, this can become almost impossible. As

argued by interpretivists, the researcher’s very presence can influence and change the behaviour of

the participants which is described as the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect states that

individuals will modify some aspect of their behaviour if they know they are being observed

(Christensen and James, 2008).

This effect is further compounded by the fact that some scientific

research entails placing the researcher in a position of dominance above the participants thereby

giving himself additional power over them. Coolican (2013) states that as a result, participant

behaviour is more likely to mirror researcher behaviour thereby influencing any data collected.

It is clear that the quantitative approach is useful due to the rigid frameworks put in place to collect

and analyse the data, which ensures the results remains objective, fair and generalizable. However,

by applying natural world research principles to the social world it is difficult for the researcher to

remain detached from the participants. The purely quantitative approach also ignores the intricate

complexities of human interactions which are essential for fully understanding behaviour.


A response to these limitations of positivism that underpin quantitative research has been the rise of

post positivism. Postpositivism can be described as a form of positivism that uses a scientific method

but also recognizes the need for the researcher to interact more closely with the research participants

(Willis , 2007). It uses additional qualitative methods of data collection such as interviews and focus

groups in an effort to produce substantiated knowledge that can be used to support potential

correlations within predefined variables. Postpositivism is a paradigm that employs a modified

scientific method for use in social sciences, the results of which may be used to uphold natural laws.

The postpositivist paradigm has been constructed and proposed as a critical response to positivism

in an attempt to address some of the shortcomings of the latter.

Postpositivism recognizes that

researchers need to carry out their research in the same world that the participants inhabit. This

approach recognises the importance of context to studying human behaviour. This paradigm also

recognizes that the researcher will ultimately influence the study therefore he should ingrain himself

into the material of the study from the beginning (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011).

Another feature of research carried out within this paradigm is that scientific reasoning and common

sense are not seen to be distinctly different. They are essentially two sides of the same coin.

Postpositivism also recognizes the need for all theory to be revisable. This is due to the inherent

error caused by using humans to observe other humans when humans themselves, are complicated

and fallible (Creswell, 2013)

Advantages of the qualitative method

Qualitative research methods seem to be more popular with educational researchers (Godard et al.,

2004) due to the fact that they are more flexible and consider the human factor. This is important

when trying to determine the holistic nature of the educational phenomena under investigation.

Indeed, qualitative methods have an advantage over quantitative in this regard as it allows the

researcher to gain a more realistic worldview which cannot be adequately articulated through

numerical data and statistical analysis (Yauch and Steudal, 2003).

A qualitative researcher doesn’t need a rigidly structured framework. As qualitative approaches are

usually used to investigate social interactions in an effort to describe them, the inquiry can be broad

and open-ended. This, in turn, allows the researcher more flexibility to react to issues raised by

participants and can subsequently investigate them further. Consequently, researchers can then

unpack different perspectives of a specific social context from within one diverse community.


allows a greater yield of more subtly nuanced data than just a collection of ordinal variables due to

the descriptive nature of the data being collected. (Choy, 2014)

Disadvantages of the qualitative method

The main concern is that the data collected is not objectively quantifiable and therefore cannot be

used to address correlation and causation between different observed natural phenomena. The

methods of data collection and analysis associated with qualitative methods tend to be very labour

intensive and expensive as they are so time consuming. They require a high degree of competence

from the researcher in order to isolate the important information from the large volume that will be

inevitably collected (Patton, 2002).

Due to the open-ended nature of this type of research, it is easy to depart from the original objectives

of the study. The nature of the data collected will also depend greatly on the participants who may

choose not to participate fully and control what information they share. In turn, this data will be

further influenced by the researchers own particular worldview and opinions. This overall

combination of factors will result in data that lacks consistency and reliability (Mutch, 2005).

It is

therefore easy for researchers to arrive at different conclusions based on individualized

interpretations of the same data. Any conclusions that are reached will be very specific to the

particular community and social context being researched. It cannot be applied as a generalization.

The abundance of qualitative research in education is tempered by the quality of the research

available. A report published by Tooley and Darby (1998) states how educational research is

cluttered with poorly executed, second–rate qualitative research. A reason for this could be because

new researchers are encouraged towards qualitative methods as they are given a false impression of

it being less rigorous than quantitative methods. It could also stem from a lack of robust teaching of

quantitative methods in higher education as mentioned before, meaning that researchers will prefer

to continue with a method they are familiar with regardless of its relevancy (Gorard et al, 2004).

Grounded theory

Grounded theory was first proposed by Glaser and Struass in 1967 (Glaser and Strauss, 2012) as a

method of generating a theory of why a particular social phenomenon occurs. What is interesting

about grounded theory is the quantitative aspects of the methods used for analysing qualitative data.

Creswell (2009) defines grounded theory as,

A qualitative strategy of inquiry in which the researcher derives a general, abstract

theory of process, action or interaction grounded in the views of participants in a study.”


The process of constructing a grounded theory uses multiple stages of data collection and then

interrelating the different categories to discover patterns and trends which could then be used in

order to produce a theory (Charmaz, 2014).

Grounded theory seems to be a method for addressing some of the limitations offered by purely

qualitative methodology. The emphasis here is to compare the data collected from the social

situation under investigation and compare it with no preconceived ideas or hypotheses. Instead,

through constant comparison of the data being collected, a theory that is grounded in the data, so to

speak will emerge inductively (Cheesebro and Borisoff, 2007). This eliminates the issue of the

research straying from its original objectives which is an difficulty when carrying out open-ended

qualitative research. Also, by having no preconceived idea of the type of data to expect from

participants, the process of analysis is more genuine.

Grounded theory uses a very systematic approach which is more conversant with a quantitative

framework in order to make sense of the large volume of data generated from a qualitative report. It

is important to remember however, as Holton (2009) states,

“This is not to suggest that classic grounded theory is free of any theoretical lens but

rather that it should not be confined to any one lens; that as a general methodology,

classic grounded theory can adopt any epistemological perspective appropriate to the

data and the ontological stance of the researcher”(p39)

Grounded theory has progressed quickly since it was first theorized in 1967. Charmaz (2003) offered

an updated version of grounded theory as constructivist grounded theory which

“takes a middle ground between postmodernism and positivism, and offers accessible

methods for taking qualitative research into the 21st century” (p. 250)

This reworked perspective takes into account some of the strengths of quantitative research

approaches and tries to imbue them into a decidedly qualitative one in an effort to improve it.

The mixed methods approach

Mixed methods research is a solution for countering the limitations of wholly quantitative or qualitative

research described in the previous section. There has a been a shift towards mixed method research

in the last in twenty five years (Bryman, 20057) in most of the social sciences although it seems that

education still needs to progress at the same rate (Gorard and Taylor, 2004). The mixed methods

approach can be defined as:

“Mixed methods is the type of research in which a researcher or team of researchers

combines elements of qualitative and quantitative research approaches (e.g. use of

qualitative and quantitative viewpoints, data collection, analysis, inference techniques) for

the purposes of breadth and depth of understanding and corroboration” (Johnson et al,

2007 p123)

As before, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the mixed methods approach, I will try and

determine the philosophy that underpins it. However, this is an area fraught with difficulties as the

mixed methods approach has only been seen as a third methodological alternative fairly recently

(Tashakkori and Teddlie, 2003, Teddlie and Tashakkori, 2009) and taking into account the combined

nature of mixed methods, it is difficult to absolutely define the philosophical underpinnings that

support this research method.

The majority of mixed method writers have put forward the case for pragmatism as the main

philosophy to underpin this particular research approach (Rescher, 2000; Maxy, 2003; Johnson et al,

2007; Teddlie and Tashakkori, 2009). A key feature of pragmatist ontology is the understanding that

the world is changed through the behaviour and actions of human beings. Therefore, to make sure

that the desired changes occur, the action must come from a place of knowledge and be guided by

purpose. For that reason, there must be an inseparable link between what a human knows and what

a human does. Cognition for conceptual development are the keys to explaining how we make

meaning in life through our actions based on the consequences of belief in a specific concept (Rallis

and Rossman, 2003).

It may be clearer if we examine the epistemology that dictates the pragmatic paradigm. The

epistemology that dictates the pragmatic paradigm puts forward the concept of knowledge as models.

These models attempt to recreate an environment or social context in order to simplify problem

solving. The assumption here is that models will always be too simplistic to capture all the

information required from the context, as there are too many variables. Therefore, it is imperative to

accept the existence of different models for the same question (even though they may seem

contradictory) as long as they are capable of producing correct predictions when tested (Feilzer,


We can therefore distinguish pragmatism from quantitative approaches based on positivism or post

positivism or qualitative approaches based on interpretivism as the assumptions required for the

knowledge and understanding are significantly different (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Maxcy,

2003. This is because pragmatism, if we regard it as a third alternative paradigm, philosophically

accepts that both singular and multiple realities are open to empirical enquiry which side-lines any

contentious issues that a researcher might hold against the nature of truth or reality (Creswell &

Plano Clark, 2007).

The most enduring feature of pragmatism is that it completely rejects the realism/anti-realism debates

that fuelled the paradigm wars of the 1980s between positivists and interpretivists. Pragmatists

accept the notion of reality but believe it is constantly evolving as a result of our actions. A pragmatic

approach is more concerned with ensuring that the best combination of approaches is used to tackle

the research question being posed thereby giving the researcher freedom to use any procedures or

techniques typically associated with a certain type of research method.

A bonus of this approach is that one can select the model that has greatest success of solving a

particular problem given the social and environmental contexts at that moment. A shortcoming of this

epistemological view is that no clear explanation for the existence of the models and the knowledge

associated with them is provided. It is usually assumed that the models are built from a mixture of

empirical data and previously proposed models with a certain amount of intuition also playing a part.

The model is continuously tested using trial and error to ensure that it provides realistic predictions

(Feilzer, 2010).

The methodology associated with pragmatism poses some issues for researchers. This is due to the

nature of the phenomena being multi-layered which makes it difficult to ascertain the best tools and

techniques for measuring them. It is clear that many researchers struggle with truly integrating

quantitative and qualitative approaches in order to view a phenomenon from different perspectives.

(Creswell and Tashakkori, 2007).

The key criticism that is given to mixed methods research

methodology is that any data collected is done so side by side with the analysis taking place

separately which defeats the purpose of integrating the two approaches (Bryman, 2007).

Both qualitative and quantitative methods have a place within the pragmatic paradigm. The methods

utilised should be decided solely on the basis of the research that is required as opposed to the

researchers personal preferences (Patton, 2002). Morgan (2007) describes how the research

question itself is not necessarily the most important part of the methodology. Therefore, the methods

chosen as part of the methodology are not automatically correct. Rather, it is a choice based on the

context of the research taking place with the flexibility for chance as required.

A common method of integrating both quantitative and qualitative methods is to use triangulation.

Triangulation is one of the rationales for a mixed methods approach and comprises of using several

methods to approach investigation of a specific research question (Creswell, 2003). The definition of

triangulation could be the act of combining two or more appropriate research perspectives with their

associated methods in order to gain breadth and depth of understanding of the research phenomena

(Flick, 2002). The concept behind triangulation is that by approaching the question from several

directions, a researcher can enhance the confidence in his findings as he removes the limitations

associated with using only one method (Bryman, 2004).

Advantages of the mixed methods approach

One of the major benefits of the mixed methods approach is that it is able to offset the limitations of

both the quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative research does not demand the

inclusion of participant or researcher voice. Therefore the context of the research is usually

overlooked when collecting data. Furthermore, as the researcher is not an active part of the data

collection, their own personal opinions and biases can affect not only the data collection but the

analysis as well. On the other hand, qualitative research makes up for these weaknesses but

alternatively, carries its own inherent limitations.

Qualitative approaches based solely on the personal interpretations of the researcher ensures that

any data will be fundamentally biased. Unlike quantitative approaches, which usually involve large

samples of the population, qualitative research always has a limited number of participants being

studied. This means that qualitative findings will always be time and context specific and cannot be

applied to a wider community or generalised (Onwuegbuzie et al, 2009). Bearing these factors in

mind, it is easy to see the relative merits of a mixed methods approach which doubles the

advantages for the researcher whilst simultaneously dividing the limitations through triangulation of


Using mixed methods, numerical data can be augmented with words, pictures and numbers (and vice

versa). The researcher is able to answer a wider and more complex range of research questions

because he isn’t limited to one approach. Additionally, a researcher can provide stronger and more

enhanced evidence for a conclusion through using triangulation to strengthen the corroborations of

his findings. Mixed methods encourages researchers to collaborate across the schisms that exist

within the worlds of quantitative and qualitative research thereby opening up approaches to

collaboration and enquiry. Finally, mixed methods research encourages the application of a

pragmatic paradigm or a combination of positivist and interpretivist paradigms thereby removing any

typified associations with one type of worldview (Creswell, 2007).

Disadvantages of the mixed methods approach

There are multiple reasons why mixed methods research isn’t as common as it could be, especially in

the sphere of educational research. The majority of educational research seems to be qualitative. In

fact, a study of the submissions of one educational journal showed that the qualitative pieces were at

a ratio of two to one when compared with the number of quantitative studies that had been submitted

for publication (Taylor, 2001). The main issue seems to be that in order to use this method

successfully, a researcher has to be highly skilled in both quantitative and qualitative methods.

However, studies seem to show that there is a large imbalance within the new researchers entering

the field with the Commission on the Social Sciences (2003) describing,

“a deeply worrying lack of quantitative skills” (p. 8)

Another important limitation of the mixed methods approach to take into consideration is the lack of

consistency defining the paradigms with the related epistemology and methodology within the

research community. Although most researchers are happy to adopt some of the pragmatic

paradigm, there still isn’t consensus on the specific epistemology or methodology that underpins this

particular approach. This also means that some of the practical details still need to be worked out by

the methodologists specialising in this area For example, how can quantitative data be qualitatively

analysed? What measures should be taken to avoid conflicting results? How to integrate the

qualitative and quantitative stages of the process effectively?

Another concern is, as of yet, there are no standards for ensuring reliability and validity of the mixed

methods used and the data collected and analysed by this approach although some researchers are

making progress in this area (Burke et al, 2007).


To conclude this research paper, I will try and summarise which of the methods detailed by this

research paper would be the most effective within the sphere of educational research. It is clear that

both quantitative and qualitative research methods, despite their limitations, have their place in the

researcher’s toolbox. However, it is also clear that an approach that completely attributes its

ontology, epistemology and methodology to one method has clear shortcomings.

Even though it is not yet the au fait methodology within educational research, the literature leads me

to believe that the mixed methods approach has a lot to offer in terms of progression within the field.

Odom et al. (2005) state that;

“Educational researchers have acknowledged the value of mixing methodologies to

provide a complementary set of information that would more effectively (than a single

method) inform practice” (p146)

The benefits of being able to access a wide variety of approaches seems to suggest that researchers

would not be constrained by historical convention and instead could investigate issues with education

in both depth and breadth. Quantitative methodology is useful for determining particular phenomena

through the use of numerical data. Qualitative approaches would go some way to try and explain

situations or contexts within education that cannot be explained by collecting numerical data. In each

case, it is important to accept that educational researchers need to overcome the idea that each

individual must be associated with a specific style off research and rather pick the most effective tools

for the task.

However, it is also worth noting that by following a mixed methods approach,

researchers need to multidisciplined or there will a risk of poor quality research being produced.


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