Nowadays, research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, complex and ever changing hence researchers need to understand the underlying principles in all those methods. The huge majority of scientific, technological and educational scholars are exclusively consumers of qualitative, quantitative and mixed method research. The three types of research complement one another. Qualitative and quantitative researchers have become particular and therefore lack respect for the other research approach. This means that prefer their research methods. What needs to appreciated is that both approaches are two totally different types of research each with its own accepted procedures and methodology.
Qualitative research is designed to answer questions about a complex situation with the aim of describing, explaining, and gaining know how the phenomena being researched (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2011). Qualitative research includes field observations, case studies, ethnography, and narrative reports. Thomas et al. (2010) noted that in qualitative research the researcher gathers data in a natural phenomenon such as a classroom, fitness counter or a sport facility. In this type of research inductive reasoning is stressed in which the researcher seeks to develop hypothesis from observation (Thomas et al., 2010). They further noted that in qualitative research data analysis involves organizing, abstracting, integrating and synthesizing. Qualitative research involves taking detailed notes, recordings, conversations and writing detailed information (Thomas et al., 2010). The questions answered in qualitative research provide important insight to the topic being studied.
Quantitative research is concerned with positivistic inquiry into observable facts. Glidden (2007) mentioned that quantitative research is based on the imperative to explain events, mostly in terms of cause and effect. This type of research entails establishing hypotheses based on earlier research findings. The participants are selected through random sampling with a purpose of creating a statistical depiction of a specified population (Glidden, 2007). It important to note that in quantitative research, observations are carried out in controlled settings decided by the researcher. The observations in quantitative research are converted into discrete units of data and afterwards compared to other similar units of data via statistical analysis (Glidden, 2007). These findings are then interpreted as confirming or not confirming null hypothesis.
Mixed methods research is the process of collecting, analyzing and inferring both quantitative and qualitative research techniques into a single study on the basis of priority and series of information (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2011). Mixed methods research is used when both quantitative and qualitative data provide a better more thorough understanding of the research question being studied (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2011). In mixed method research, quantitative data can be collected first then based on these results; qualitative data collection can be incorporated to provide more imminent, in-depth understanding of the qualitative results. Thomas et al. (2010) noted that in mixed methods research, an individual may collect descriptive quantitative measures and qualitative interview data based on an aspect of the quantitative data. According to Thomas et al. (2010) mixed methods of research can occur sequentially where one part comes first and other part of the study follows. This type of research can also be parallel or concurrent when quantitative and qualitative components occur at the same time or are independent (Thomas et al., 2010).
Mixed methods of research have faced various challenges over the time. Katsirikou & Skiadas (2010) says that in mixed methods research, the challenge of representation refers to the difficulty in capturing the lived experience using text in general and words and numbers in particular. The second dispute is based on validity. This is because on the basis of quantitative research, validity has been acknowledged but with respect to qualitative the issue of validity has been controversial. In mixed methods research the challenge of validity is on the grounds of complexity of getting findings or making inferences that are believable, dependable and confirmable (Katsirikou & Skiadas, 2010). The third challenge of mixed methods research originates from integration. Mixed methods researchers are not sure if or not to triangulate, compare or consolidate qualitative data from large random sample with qualitative data from small purposive sample (Katsirikou & Skiadas, 2010).
There are several differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods. Somekh & Lewin (2005) indicated that quantitative researchers are aspired to realism, objectivity, causal explanation and universal truth. On the other hand Somekh & Lewin says that qualitative researchers advocate for interpretive, value-laden, contextual and contingent nature of social knowledge (2005). Another major difference is that quantitative research identifies variables that can be observed and measured. Cottrell & McKenzie (2011) says that these variables are recorded as numbers, and statistics is applied to establish relationship between and among the variables. On the other hand qualitative research uses words instead of numbers to represent data. The words used describe their observations, interactions and insights. Cottrell & McKenzie (2011) observed that “categories or variables emerge from the word data and qualitative researchers use interpretive narratives to explain the occurrence being studied” (p. 4).
Quantitative research method is specific, narrow and measurable while qualitative research is general and broad. Data collection in quantitative research is predetermined and uses great number of individuals while in qualitative research data collection is general and comes from text or image data and small number of individuals are involved (Cottrell & McKenzie, 2011). The main similarity between quantitative and qualitative research approaches is that both are systematic investigations involving the analysis of collected information or data that ultimately is used to enhance knowledge, theory, behavior or phenomenon. Being a combination of qualitative and quantitative approach, mixed method complements the two research methods by providing a more intricate approach than most quantitative research methods.
Those favoring quantitative methods insist that qualitative methods are outweighed by quantitative methods on the basis of generalizing correlational relationships. Scholars however, say that qualitative research enriches quantitative research. Donaldson (2006) mentioned that “purely quantitative research designs can at times be logistically or economically difficult” (p. 33). He further noted that the random selection often required in quantitative research prevents quantitative methods from being a viable option in places where such selection is prohibited. Donaldson (2006) indicated that the greatest value in the qualitative research is the openness to rethinking and finding new themes that explain the subject’s experiences. Unlike quantitative research approaches, qualitative research methods do collect information from exactly the type of attitude questionnaires, notebook entries and other observations available in that study (Donaldson, 2006).
In conclusion, for research to be considered good and comprehensive, it must be designed in a manner that it can be validated. Most current research methods are utilizing both qualitative and quantitative approaches. As a result researchers have capitalized on the merits of combining both approaches to assist them in answering complex research questions. The primary importance of using mixed methods research is that both qualitative and quantitative data are collected at the same time and outcomes studied simultaneously to come up with conclusions related to the original research question. Scholars should therefore realize that the decision to use quantitative, qualitative or mixed method is based particularly on the research question.