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What is mixed methods research?

Mixed methods research is a form of methodology that is a mixture between quantitative and qualitative research. It allows the researcher to develop a greater understanding of the area that they are researching.

By using quantitative data, the researcher can find out about the temperature of a building at a particular time, or about the particular habits of an individual through regular testing. Qualitative research data comes from interviews or focus groups – whilst quantitative research data can often be more authoritative as it often based solely on facts, qualitative data can be equally useful as it provides information on the opinions of individuals or groups which can be used to then project how people feel about a particular product or issue going forward and predict how people may respond to future changes in the product or issue. This is why it is so important – because it allows a researcher, whether they are working in a company or are a university student, to get a broad picture of the issue they are interested in through a variety of different methods. How do you do it exactly though? This article will break down the best ways to conduct mixed methods research.

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Firstly, let’s address why you should pick mixed methods research. It may seem not like the most obvious form of research to do – there are other forms of research which would give similar results and data that is like that produced by it. However, if you are doing a dissertation then you will not only need to understand it well but also be able to put it into practise. This is one of the reasons why understanding it is important – it will help ensure that your dissertation is of the highest quality possible.

Some may criticise mixed methods research because of the concept. Post modernists and post structuralists argue that it cannot be taken as serious research because it mixes more than one type of data – quantitative and qualitive – and thus is not a pure reading of data. This should not put you off using it, however, as this argument is based on a rather limited understanding of the capability of data. To only use quantitative data, for example, would mean you would only know facts, such as how often someone drinks water but without qualitive data you would not know why they drink water or what they think of water, meaning you would have an imperfect reading of any potential situation. It is vital if you want to have a full picture of a situation that you are researching.

There are a variety of ways to do quantitative research and make sure that it works well with qualitative research. You cannot conduct proper quantitative research for a mixed methods research project if you do it on something separate to that which you do the qualitative research on. To ensure that your quantitative research is of a high standard you should follow these specific tips and you’ll be sure to produce some of the best research you can.

  • Be specific. For quantitative research to be effective, it must be specific. For instance, if you want to research the consumption of lemonade in a particular area then you can create a survey to be sent out to the residents of that area asking them about that subject. Of course, in a scenario like this you would need to make sure that your questions were limited and closed so as not to allow qualitive data to seep into your experiment.
  • Be limited. This may seem like an odd thing to say but given that quantitative research is simply gaining facts rather than opinions, you don’t want any experiment to be open to interpretation. Make sure that it is confined simply to factual evidence and not to any speculation that could arise from the research. It is better, particularly when using quantitative research foresearch, that you try to keep your research as limited as possible, within the purview of what you are investigating.
  • Be logical. Quantitative research is about getting as much factual, evidence-based data as possible to use for your research. Make sure that when you prepare the method that you will use to gain the quantitative data you want so that it will work effortlessly with the qualitive data from your research. You have to make sure that it works as well on its own as it does with the qualitive, ensuring that your research is not only in sync but also thoughtful and insightful.
  • Be imaginative. Though you may think that quantitative research should be unimaginative because it is specific and limited, you’d be wrong. The methods may mean that you need to do the research within the box, this doesn’t mean that the ways you get the research must be. Mixed methods research encourages individualism by its combination of quantitative and qualitative to allow the researcher a greater picture of the data as a whole. This allows them to come to a judgement on how best it can be used, either in research or in backing up an argument proposed in a dissertation. This is why mixed method research is so effective – it isn’t a drab or limited form of data gathering, it is alive with possibilities of use that can help you or anyone else with getting the most comprehensive picture you can.

Qualitative research is different from quantitative research in several ways. Aside from being more focussed on imaginative and opinionated means of research, it is less reliable than quantitative research. This doesn’t mean it is less valuable or should be dismissed out of hand – nor should you focus more time on collecting one type of data rather than collecting both types. Both are necessary to ensure that your mixed methods research is of the highest standard. You must put a great deal of thought into both if you want to ensure that your project succeeds. However, to make sure that you do this, you must make sure that you follow some basic but necessary steps to endeavour to make your research as worthwhile as possible.

Be general but don’t lose focus of the subject you are researching. Qualitive data is often about opinion; that’s why focus groups and open-ended interview questions are used, so that the researcher may elicit a genuine reaction from the participants. Whilst they may bias the data in some way – if you have a focus group that all like the particularl project or product you are testing or researching then your data will reflect a prejudiced opinion of it – it will allow you to build up a more specific picture of the people who are involved. It will thus allow you, when working with both sets of data, to have a full grasp of the facts and be able to either confirm or amend the argument you are putting forward. This is particularly useful when writing a dissertation as it allows the writer to help support their argument in a more authoritative way or to amend their argument because of the data and give a stronger argument as a result.

Try to vary the way that you gather the data. This can be invaluable as it means that you will be able to get a wide array of different opinions and thus it won’t feel as if you are simply getting information from one type of person. If your subject is general enough, for example it is consumption of chocolate, you can try and set up an online questionnaire and share it to gather as much information as possible. If you do this, remember to make the questions open or else you will simply be repeating the process of the quantitative data and that would make your research pointless. Your research must work both on its own and as a combined unit therefore you must make sure that you don’t mix the methods during the initial research period.

Once you have done research for both the quantitative and qualitative parts of your research, it is time to combine them and compare and contrast them. The best way to do this is to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each side. Once you have identified them then you can see if the opposite research answers for the failings in its contemporary. This helps with interlinking the research to ensure that it helps provide one conclusive and convincing argument.

For example, if you were doing a dissertation on the popularity of a TV programme such as Game of Thrones, then you could utilise each type of research to answer the central question of why the programme is popular and what effect it has on popular culture. Using quantitative research you could demonstrate that the programme is popular by registering the amount of views the programme gets on an annual basis, conduct a brief survey to see how many people in certain percentages of the population watch the programme and look at the amount of activity that is generated on the internet regarding the programme during its broadcast or immediately after and compare that to the same amount of traffic for other programmes from similar of different genres. This would provide you with proof as to the show’s popularity and how people who watched it engaged with the shows in comparison to other programmes. This would only give you one half of the story however, demonstrating why it is so effective – it uses multiple strands of research to find a variety of data that can then be used to form a strong conclusion that will give you a concert answer to your question and provide you with firm evidence for your dissertation or business plan.

However, though you may have evidence to prove the television programme is popular, you do not have evidence to prove that why it is popular or more general questions about the viewers other viewing habits, their lifestyle or their enjoyment of the programme. This is where the qualitative research really comes into its own. Using the techniques mentioned, you can conduct focus groups that are fans of the show to ascertain why they enjoy the programme and what other programmes they watch. Alternatively, you could have a focus group of people who simply enjoy television and ask them if they enjoy the programme and if so why. You could then have a less biased picture of people who like the show rather than having a biased one from the focus group consisting of fans of the programme.

Alternatively, you could run both focus groups simultaneously and thus ensure that you have a full picture of the television public’s relation to the programme you are researching. You could also conduct a more extensive one on one interview with potential responders. This would take more time than simply working with one or more focus groups but it could provide a much stronger profile for the average watcher of the programme which you could extrapolate out to help determine what the general public thought of the programme – this would obviously have to take into account factors such a gender, race and social status more than in a focus group but it would help you have a fuller understanding of the average viewer.

The suggestions above are simply that, suggestions, but it is necessary to include them in this piece to help with fully understanding the process behind it. The suggested data above will help you with understanding not only whether the programme is popular or not but why it is popular, what sort of people enjoy it and how they represent a cross section of society. This allows a dissertation student to be able to support their theory, but it also allows a business to understand the market they are pitching to and change or improve their product based on the research provided. Therefore, mixed methods research is so useful, not only in academia but also in real life as well.

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