Designing Mixed Methods Research

This week’s readings provide an overview of various types of mixed methods research designs. As with previous discussions on design, the selection of the most appropriate mixed design is guided by the study’s purpose and research questions and/or hypotheses. The choice of design links the research questions and/or hypotheses to the data that will be collected achieving alignment among research components.In this Discussion, you will explore the basics of mixed methods research designs, calling upon your growing understanding of both quantitative and qualitative research.With these thoughts in mind:Post your response to the question, “To what extent is mixed methods research simply taking a quantitative design and a qualitative design and putting them together?” Next, explain the types of research questions best served by mixed methods research. Then, explain one strength and one limitation of mixed methods research. Finally, provide a rationale for or against the utility of mixed methods research in your discipline.3-4 Paragraphs. APA Format. Support response with appropriate examples and citations.
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Mixed Methods Research:
A Research Paradigm Whose Time Has Come
by R. Burke Johnson and Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie
The purposes of this article are to position mixed methods research
(mixed research is a synonym) as the natural complement to traditional qualitative and quantitative research, to present pragmatism
as offering an attractive philosophical partner for mixed methods research, and to provide a framework for designing and conducting
mixed methods research. In doing this, we briefly review the paradigm “wars” and incompatibility thesis, we show some commonalities between quantitative and qualitative research, we explain the
tenets of pragmatism, we explain the fundamental principle of mixed
research and how to apply it, we provide specific sets of designs for
the two major types of mixed methods research (mixed-model designs and mixed-method designs), and, finally, we explain mixed methods research as following (recursively) an eight-step process. A key
feature of mixed methods research is its methodological pluralism
or eclecticism, which frequently results in superior research (compared to monomethod research). Mixed methods research will be
successful as more investigators study and help advance its concepts
and as they regularly practice it.
or more than a century, the advocates of quantitative and
qualitative research paradigms have engaged in ardent dispute.1 From these debates, purists have emerged on both
sides (cf. Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Lincoln & Guba, 1985).2
Quantitative purists (Ayer, 1959; Maxwell & Delaney, 2004;
Popper, 1959; Schrag, 1992) articulate assumptions that are consistent with what is commonly called a positivist philosophy.3, 4
That is, quantitative purists believe that social observations
should be treated as entities in much the same way that physical
scientists treat physical phenomena. Further, they contend that
the observer is separate from the entities that are subject to observation. Quantitative purists maintain that social science
inquiry should be objective. That is, time- and context-free generalizations (Nagel, 1986) are desirable and possible, and real
causes of social scientific outcomes can be determined reliably
and validly. According to this school of thought, educational researchers should eliminate their biases, remain emotionally detached and uninvolved with the objects of study, and test or
empirically justify their stated hypotheses. These researchers have
traditionally called for rhetorical neutrality, involving a formal
F
Educational Researcher, Vol. 33, No. 7, pp. 14–26
14
EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER
writing style using the impersonal passive voice and technical terminology, in which establishing and describing social laws is the
major focus (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998).
Qualitative purists (also called constructivists and interpretivists)
reject what they call positivism. They argue for the superiority of
constructivism, idealism, relativism, humanism, hermeneutics,
and, sometimes, postmodernism (Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Lincoln
& Guba, 2000; Schwandt, 2000; Smith, 1983, 1984). These
purists contend that multiple-constructed realities abound, that
time- and context-free generalizations are neither desirable nor
possible, that research is value-bound, that it is impossible to differentiate fully causes and effects, that logic flows from specific
to general (e.g., explanations are generated inductively from the
data), and that knower and known cannot be separated because
the subjective knower is the only source of reality (Guba, 1990).
Qualitative purists also are characterized by a dislike of a detached and passive style of writing, preferring, instead, detailed,
rich, and thick (empathic) description, written directly and somewhat informally.
Both sets of purists view their paradigms as the ideal for research, and, implicitly if not explicitly, they advocate the incompatibility thesis (Howe, 1988), which posits that qualitative
and quantitative research paradigms, including their associated
methods, cannot and should not be mixed. The quantitative
versus qualitative debate has been so divisive that some graduate students who graduate from educational institutions with an
aspiration to gain employment in the world of academia or research are left with the impression that they have to pledge allegiance to one research school of thought or the other. Guba (a
leading qualitative purist) clearly represented the purist position
when he contended that “accommodation between paradigms
is impossible . . . we are led to vastly diverse, disparate, and totally antithetical ends” (Guba, 1990, p. 81). A disturbing feature of the paradigm wars has been the relentless focus on the
differences between the two orientations. Indeed, the two dominant research paradigms have resulted in two research cultures,
“one professing the superiority of ‘deep, rich observational data’
and the other the virtues of ‘hard, generalizable’ . . . data”
(Sieber, 1973, p. 1335).
Our purpose in writing this article is to present mixed methods research as the third research paradigm in educational research.5 We hope the field will move beyond quantitative versus
qualitative research arguments because, as recognized by mixed
methods research, both quantitative and qualitative research are
important and useful. The goal of mixed methods research is not
to replace either of these approaches but rather to draw from the
strengths and minimize the weaknesses of both in single research
studies and across studies. If you visualize a continuum with
qualitative research anchored at one pole and quantitative research anchored at the other, mixed methods research covers the
large set of points in the middle area. If one prefers to think categorically, mixed methods research sits in a new third chair, with
qualitative research sitting on the left side and quantitative research sitting on the right side.
Mixed methods research offers great promise for practicing
researchers who would like to see methodologists describe and
develop techniques that are closer to what researchers actually
use in practice. Mixed methods research as the third research
paradigm can also help bridge the schism between quantitative
and qualitative research (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2004a). Methodological work on the mixed methods research paradigm can
be seen in several recent books (Brewer & Hunter, 1989;
Creswell, 2003; Greene, Caracelli, & Graham, 1989; Johnson
& Christensen, 2004; Newman & Benz, 1998; Reichardt &
Rallis, 1994; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998, 2003). Much work
remains to be undertaken in the area of mixed methods research
regarding its philosophical positions, designs, data analysis, validity strategies, mixing and integration procedures, and rationales, among other things. We will try to clarify the most
important issues in the remainder of this article.
Commonalities Among the Traditional Paradigms
Although there are many important paradigmatic differences between qualitative and quantitative research (which have been frequently written about in the Educational Researcher and other
places), there are some similarities between the various approaches
that are sometimes overlooked. For example, both quantitative
and qualitative researchers use empirical observations to address
research questions. Sechrest and Sidani (1995, p. 78) point out
that both methodologies “describe their data, construct explanatory arguments from their data, and speculate about why the
outcomes they observed happened as they did.” Additionally,
both sets of researchers incorporate safeguards into their inquiries
in order to minimize confirmation bias and other sources of invalidity (or lack of trustworthiness) that have the potential to
exist in every research study (Sandelowski, 1986).
Regardless of paradigmatic orientation, all research in the social sciences represents an attempt to provide warranted assertions
about human beings (or specific groups of human beings) and the
environments in which they live and evolve (Biesta & Burbules,
2003). In the social and behavioral sciences, this goal of understanding leads to the examination of many different phenomena,
including holistic phenomena such as intentions, experiences, attitudes, and culture, as well as more reductive phenomena such as
macromolecules, nerve cells, micro-level homunculi, and biochemical computational systems (de Jong, 2003). There is room
in ontology for mental and social reality as well as the more micro
and more clearly material reality. Although certain methodologies tend to be associated with one particular research tradition,
Dzurec and Abraham (1993, p. 75) suggest that “the objectives,
scope, and nature of inquiry are consistent across methods and
across paradigms.” We contend that researchers and research
methodologists need to be asking when each research approach
is most helpful and when and how they should be mixed or combined in their research studies.
We contend that epistemological and methodological pluralism
should be promoted in educational research so that researchers are
informed about epistemological and methodological possibilities
and, ultimately, so that we are able to conduct more effective research. Today’s research world is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, complex, and dynamic; therefore, many researchers
need to complement one method with another, and all researchers
need a solid understanding of multiple methods used by other
scholars to facilitate communication, to promote collaboration,
and to provide superior research. Taking a non-purist or compatibilist or mixed position allows researchers to mix and match
design components that offer the best chance of answering their
specific research questions. Although many research procedures
or methods typically have been linked to certain paradigms, this
linkage between research paradigm and research methods is neither sacrosanct nor necessary (Howe, 1988, 1992). For example,
qualitative researchers should be free to use quantitative methods, and quantitative researchers should be free to use qualitative
methods. Also, research in a content domain that is dominated
by one method often can be better informed by the use of multiple methods (e.g., to give a read on methods-induced bias, for
corroboration, for complimentarity, for expansion; see Greene et
al., 1989). We contend that epistemological and paradigmatic
ecumenicalism is within reach in the research paradigm of mixed
methods research.
Philosophical Issues Debates
As noted by Onwuegbuzie and Teddlie (2003), some individuals
who engage in the qualitative versus quantitative paradigm debate
appear to confuse the logic of justification with research methods.
That is, there is a tendency among some researchers to treat
epistemology and method as being synonymous (Bryman, 1984;
Howe, 1992). This is far from being the case because the logic of
justification (an important aspect of epistemology) does not dictate what specific data collection and data analytical methods researchers must use. There is rarely entailment from epistemology
to methodology (Johnson, Meeker, Loomis, & Onwuegbuzie,
2004; Phillips, 2004). For example, differences in epistemological beliefs (such as a difference in beliefs about the appropriate
logic of justification) should not prevent a qualitative researcher
from utilizing data collection methods more typically associated
with quantitative research, and vice versa.
There are several interesting myths that appear to be held by
some purists. For example, on the “positivist” side of the fence,
the barriers that quantitative educational researchers have built
arise from a narrow definition of the concept of “science.” 6 As
noted by Onwuegbuzie (2002), modern day “positivists” claim
that science involves confirmation and falsification, and that
these methods and procedures are to be carried out objectively.
However, they disregard the fact that many human (i.e., subjective) decisions are made throughout the research process and that
researchers are members of various social groups. A few examples
of subjectivism and intersubjectivism in quantitative research include deciding what to study (i.e., what are the important problems?), developing instruments that are believed to measure what
the researcher views as being the target construct, choosing the
OCTOBER 2004
15
specific tests and items for measurement, making score interpretations, selecting alpha levels (e.g., .05), drawing conclusions and
interpretations based on the collected data, deciding what elements of the data to emphasize or publish, and deciding what
findings are practically significant. Obviously, the conduct of
fully objective and value-free research is a myth, even though the
regulatory ideal of objectivity can be a useful one.
Qualitative researchers also are not immune from constructive
criticism. Some qualitative purists (e.g., Guba, 1990) openly
admit that they adopt an unqualified or strong relativism, which
is logically self-refuting and (in its strong form) hinders the development and use of systematic standards for judging research
quality (when it comes to research quality, it is not the case that
anyone’s opinion about quality is just as good as the next person’s, because some people have no training or expertise or even
interest in research). We suspect that most researchers are soft relativists (e.g., respecting the opinions and views of different people and different groups). When dealing with human research,
soft relativism simply refers to a respect and interest in understanding and depicting individual and social group differences
(i.e., their different perspectives) and a respect for democratic approaches to group opinion and value selection. Again, however,
a strong relativism or strong constructivism runs into problems;
for example, it is not a matter of opinion (or individual reality)
that one should or can drive on the left-hand side of the road in
Great Britain—if one chooses to drive on the right side, he or she
will likely have a head-on collision, at some point, and end up in
the hospital intensive care unit, or worse (this is a case where subjective and objective realities directly meet and clash). The strong
ontological relativistic or constructivist claim in qualitative research that multiple, contradictory, but equally valid accounts of
the same phenomenon are multiple realities also poses some potential problems. Generally speaking, subjective states (i.e., created and experienced realities) that vary from person to person
and that are sometimes called “realities” should probably be
called (for the purposes of clarity and greater precision) multiple
perspectives or opinions or beliefs (depending on the specific phenomenon being described) rather than multiple realities (Phillips
& Burbules, 2000). If a qualitative researcher insists on using the
word reality for subjective states, then for clarity we would recommend that the word subjective be placed in front of the word
reality (i.e., as in subjective reality or in many cases intersubjective reality) to direct the reader to the focus of the statement. We
agree with qualitative researchers that value stances are often
needed in research; however, it also is important that research is
more than simply one researcher’s highly idiosyncratic opinions
written into a report. Fortunately, many strategies are recognized
and regularly used in qualitative research (such as member checking, triangulation, negative case sampling, pattern matching, external audits) to help overcome this potential problem and
produce high-quality and rigorous qualitative research. Finally,
qualitative researchers sometimes do not pay due attention to
providing an adequate rationale for interpretations of their data
(Onwuegbuzie, 2000), and qualitative methods of analyses too
“often remain private and unavailable for public inspection”
(Constas, 1992, p. 254). Without public inspection and adequate standards, how is one to decide whether what is claimed is
trustworthy or defensible?
16
EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER
Fortunately, many (or most?) qualitative researchers and quantitative researchers (i.e., postpositivists) have now reached basic
agreement on several major points of earlier philosophical disagreement (e.g., Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Reichardt & Cook,
1979; Reichardt & Rallis, 1994). Basic agreement has been
reached on each of the following issues: (a) the relativity of the
“light of reason” (i.e., what appears reasonable can vary across persons); (b) theory-laden perception or the theory-ladenness of facts
(i.e., what we notice and observe is affected by our background
knowledge, theories, and experiences; in short, observation is not
a perfect and direct window into “reality”); (c) underdetermination of theory by evidence (i.e., it is possible for more than
one theory to fit a single set of empirical data); (d) the DuhemQuine thesis or idea of auxiliary assumptions (i.e., a hypothesis
cannot be fully tested in isolation because to make the test we
also must make various assumptions; the hypothesis is embedded
in a holistic network of beliefs; and alternative explanations will
continue to exist); (e) the problem of induction (i.e., the recognition that we only obtain probabilistic evidence, not final proof in
empirical research; in short, we agree that the future may not resemble the past); (f) the social nature of the research enterprise
(i.e., researchers are embedded in communities and they clearly
have and are affected by their attitudes, values, and beliefs); and
(g) the value-ladenness of inquiry (this is similar to the last point
but specifically points out that human beings can never be completely value free, and that values affect what we choose to investigate, what we see, and how we interpret what we see).
Pragmatism as the Philosophical Partner
for Mixed Methods Research
We do not aim to solve the metaphysical, epistemological, axiological (e.g., ethical, normative), and methodological differences
between the purist positions. And we do not believe that mixed
methods research is currently in a position to provide perfect solutions. Mixed methods research should, instead (at this time),
use a method and philosophy that attempt to fit together the insights provided by qualitative and quantitative research into a
workable solution. Along these lines, we advocate consideration
of the pragmatic method of the classical pragmatists (e.g.,
Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey) as a
way for researchers to think about the traditional dualisms that
have been debated by the purists. Taking a pragmatic and balanced or pluralist position will help improve communication
among researchers from different paradigms as they attempt to
advance knowledge (Maxcy, 2003; Watson, 1990). Pragmatism
also helps to shed light on how research approaches can be mixed
fruitfully (Hoshmand, 2003); the bottom line is that research approaches should be mixed in ways that offer the best opportunities for answering important research questions.
The pragmatic rule or maxim or method states that the current
meaning or instrumental or provisional truth value (which James
[1995, 1907 original] would term “cash value”) of an expression
(e.g., “all reality has a material base” or “qualitative research is superior for uncovering humanistic research findings”) is to be determined by the experiences or practical consequences of belief
in or use of the expression in the world (Murphy, 1990). One
can apply this sensible effects- or outcome-oriented rule through
thinking (thinking about what will happen if you do X), practi-
cal experiences (observing what happens in your experience when
you do X), or experiments (formally or informally trying a rule
and observing the consequences or outcomes).
In the words of Charles Sanders Peirce (1878 …
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