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Research methods

As a researcher, you need to find the most appropriate method to answer your research question. There are three broad approaches to research, otherwise referred to as research methods. These are the quantitative method, the qualitative method and the mixed method.

As you have learned earlier, research in various disciplines can be generally situated in an intellectual or philosophical tradition such as positivism, interpretivism or constructivism, and pragmatism (Punch 2013). These are regarded as the worldviews or the philosophical underpinning of a research, also referred to as the research methodology. Let’s look at how these philosophies connect to the research approaches.

The three research approaches are not as distinct as they appear; rather they represent different ends of a continuum with mixed methods residing in the middle of this continuum (Creswell 2011, Newman and Benz 1998). The choice of research method you adopt is influenced by the type of research you are looking to do: descriptive or explanatory.

Quantitative research approach

This is a research approach that tests objective theories through the examination of variables. These variables can be measured with instruments that can collect and analyse data statistically. Quantitative research methods approach a problem by adopting a ‘scientific method’. Initial analysis of a topic produces defined questions that can be answered using an inductive approach, or that can then be used to formulate hypotheses which can be tested using a deductive approach.

The quantitative research approach is generally positivist.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is an approach for understanding, exploring and investigating a human problem (Creswell 2007). Typically the research question emerges from a research problem, with data being collected from the site of the research problem. Some of the major research designs that are associated with qualitative studies include ethnography, grounded theory, case studies, phenomenology, and narrative design. Adoption of any particular method must be justified by the research problem that is under investigation and the research objectives.

The qualitative research approach considers a topic in an exploratory fashion, without the constraints imposed by the more rigid scientific approach of quantitative research. The aim of the quantitative approach is to gain an understanding of underlying reasons and motivations, developing new theories during the exploratory exercise. In this type of research, data is collected in the participants’ setting, analysed and interpreted to make meaning of the complexity of a situation.

The qualitative research approach is generally interpretivist.

Mixed methods

This research approach involves collecting data both qualitatively and quantitatively. It combines the strengths of both the philosophical assumptions and theoretical framework of quantitative and qualitative approaches to provide a rich understanding of a research problem. Typically, a mixed method research design is based on the ability of the quantitative and qualitative methods to complement each other.

Mixed method research design invites the use of multiple methods, worldviews and different assumptions. The standard philosophical underpinning of mixed methods research is pragmatism, however, it has also been argued that realism can provide suitable philosophical underpinning (Allmark and Machaczek 2018).

According to Creswell (2011), a mixed method study may be carried out to broaden understanding by incorporating both qualitative and quantitative research, or to use one approach to better understand, explain, or build on the results from the other approach.

Your task

What method do you think would suit your research best and why? Share your thoughts with the learning community.


Allmark, P., Machaczek, K. (2018) ‘Realism and Pragmatism in a Mixed Methods Study’. Journal of Advanced Nursing [online] June: 74 (6) Epub 2018 Feb 22. available from https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.13523 [9 April 2019]

Creswell, J. W. (2007) Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. California, USA: Sage Publications

Creswell, J. W. (2011) ‘Controversies in Mixed Methods Research’. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th edn., 269-284

Newman, I., Benz, C. R. (1998). Qualitative-Quantitative Research Methodology: Exploring the Interactive Continuum. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press

Punch, K. F. (2013) Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. London: Sage Publications

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Research for Construction Management

Coventry University