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Research Approaches: Quantitative, Qualitative and Mixed Methods

Ryan Bernido is an educator and writer. He has expertise in Education.


Research approach primarily refers to the research design that a researcher applies in the conduct of research. This research design depends on the nature of the research topic, research agenda or research questions. A researcher can use either quantitative research, qualitative research or a mixed approach. Research approach is defined as plans and procedures which include the data collection, analysis and interpretation. As mentioned by Creswell (n.d.), a research approach contains three important elements – the philosophical worldviews, research designs, and research methods. The selection of research approach is said to be affected also by some factors like research problem, personal experience by the researcher, and by the target readers or audience.

Philosophical worldviews that a researcher may select from are postpositivist, constructivist, transformative, and pragamatic. As suggested by Creswell (n.d.), researchers should explicitly identify and state thee philosophical worldviews where their research is grounded from as this will help the readers understand why a certain research design is used in the study. A postpositivist researcher begins with a theory, collects data to see whether the theory is to be accepted or rejected, and provide necessary revisions and holds further tests. A constructivist researcher has the idea that individuals seek understanding of their lived environment and experiences, and makes meaning from the individuals’ view of the situation; addressing the processes of interaction among individuals. A transformative researcher seeks an action agenda for reform aimed to provide change among individuals situations or environment; hence, a transformative researcher focuses on the needs of the individuals. A pragmatist researcher directs on understanding the research problem by using all available approaches or actions; hence, it is often used in mixed method research design.

Research designs are types of inquiry; others called it as strategies of inquiry. Research designs can be quantitative research, qualitative research, or mixed method research. The most common types of quantitative research designs are descriptive, correlational, quasi-experiemntal, and experimental research; while the most common designs of qualitative research are narrative research, case study, phenomenological research, grounded theory, and ethnography. Examples of mixed method research are convergent, explanatory sequential, and exploratory sequential. These will be discussed in the succeeding sections of this article.

Research methods are the data collection, analysis, interpretation and validation; all anchored from the research questions. In a quantitative research, there are pre-determined tools; questions given to the respondents are prepared prior the data collection. It uses statistical tools, analysis and interpretaion. In qualitative research, there are open-ended questions and emerging methods are used; a researcher can provide or ask questions not in the guide questions. Text and image analysis is commonly used and interpretation is done to come up with themes and patterns. The mixed method research uses a combination of research methods used in quantitative and qualitative research.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative Research is a methodical, systematic, and logical inquiry of phenomenon by collecting and gathering quantifiable data (e.g., census data, performance date) and using statistical tools, analysis and interpretation to make meaning from the data. Data collection on quantitative research may include but not limited to sampling methods, survey, use of questionnaires, and other data gathering tools aimed at collecting numerical data. The data taken from the samples are interpreted and often depicted in numerical values to generate results and conclusions which helps in making inferential conclusions about the larger population.


The most common research designs are descriptive research, correlational research, causal-comparative/quasi-experimental research, and experimental research (sometimes called true experimental research).

a. Descriptive Research. This quantitative research design is non-experimental in nature, and there are no control variables. It systematically and accurately describes the phenomenon, events, or population to explain. This research designs can use variety of research methods like survey and quantitative observation. Survey research methods and quantitative observation usually use questionnaire to collect responses from the respondents. This is commonly done through the use of Likert-type scale. Descriptive research is applied when nothing is known more about the phenomenon, events, or population.

b. Correlational Research. This quantitative research design is non-experimental in nature as it only measures the possible relationship between two or more variables. A researcher applying correlational research designs does not control any of the variables being measured. The goal is to look for any of these relationships or correlation: (a) positive correlation – the two variables change in the same direction; (b) negative correlation – the two variables change in opposite directions; and (c) zero variable – no relationship exists between two or more variables. Commonly used research methods for correlational research design are archival data (use of previously gathered data and information about the respondents or subjects), survey method (use of questionnaire), and naturalistic observation (observing the respondents on their own environment.

c. Experimental Research. This is often called true experimental research because there are randomized samples. In this research design, independent variables are manipulated by the researcher to see its effect to the dependent variables. This research design follows well-planned and systematic research procedures to test a hypothesis.

d. Quasi-experimental or Causal-comparative Research. This quantitative research design establishes a cause-and-effect relationship between the dependent and independent variables (manipulated variables). This kind of research design does not have randomized samples but has non-random criteria for selecting the respondents. Also, this research design is applied when true experiment is impossible to use due to practical reasons or ethical reasons.


These are the key characteristics of Quantitative Research.

  1. It uses structured research instruments, with close-ended, to gather quantifiable data. The structured instruments like questionnaires need to be validated and test its validity and reliability.
  2. The samples or respondents must be large enough to represent the whole population.
  3. With the set of procedures established in quantitative research, the research can often be replicated or repeated. Replication of the study may establish the validity and reliability of the previous findings or results.
  4. It is objective because of the well-defined research questions where the structured instruments are based on.
  5. Data in quantitative research are presented in non-textual; commonly it uses tables, charts, figures, and other numerical and statistical presentations.
  6. Findings or results can be used to generalize conclusion about the population. Findings can also generate inferential conclusions to predict future results or causal relationships of variables.

Knowing that quantitative research uses structured research instruments, a researcher can quickly collect information and can reach a higher sample size. However, specific feedback from the respondents is hard to gather; hence, the every answer on the questionnaire must stand on its own, and may not generate useful information to generate conclusions on the essence behind the phenomenon.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is defined as the systematic scientific inquiry concerned about the the non-numerical data (text, video, audio) to describe and understand the meaning of the phenomenon, concept or experiences. Commonly applied research methods for qualitative research are interviews, focus group discussions (FGD), or participant observation; dependent on the research design used by the researcher.


A researcher selecting qualitative research as an approach can utilize case study, narrative research, phenomenological research, grounded theory, or ethnography. Each is described below.

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a. Case Study. This qualitative research design generates in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of the complex issue under study, in its real-life context (Bernido, 2021). This involves studying one or more individuals, events, programs or activities; referred to as “case”. In case study, a researcher can employ different research methods to collect the needed data. Research methods can be interviews, observations, use of documents and artifacts. Data collected are interpreted through description of the case and themes, including the so-called cross-case themes. A well-developed and detailed analysis of one or more cases can be the written report in a case study.

b. Narrative Research. This qualitative research design explores and conceptualizes human experience by examining how stories are told by the participants or respondents. It involves gathering the perceptions of participants and how they make sense of their own experiences. Examples of this type of qualitative research designs are biographical study, oral history, and life history. Since it explores the life of individuals, it involves the need to tell the stories of individual experiences requiring the researcher to carefully study individuals’ life. Data are collected through interviews and analysis of existing documents related to the participants or respondents. The use of re-storying and developing themes is commonly applied to understand the qualitative data; and often done in chronological sequence of story telling to develop a well-develop narrative about the stories of the individual’s life.

c. Phenomenological Research. This qualitative research design describes the essence of the lived experiences of the participants or individuals by exploring it from the participants’ perspectives. It aims to provide a description and understanding of the meanings of the individuals’ experience, how it was experienced and what was experienced. Descriptive phenomenological research and interpretive phenomenological research are two types of phenomenological research. To understand the essence of the lived experiences of the indivudals means there is really a need to describe it, and this is done through studying several individuals who have shared the experience. Interviews, observations, and document analysis are the most commonly used data gathering methods in phenomenological research. The data analysis involves analyzing the data for significant statements, meaning units, textual and structural descriptions, and description of the essence of the lived experiences. One example of the phenomenological data analysis is the Colaizzi’s method.

d. Grounded Theory. This qualitative research design gathers rich data about the topic of interest to generate theory not just to provide a description of the research topic. The theory generated must be anchored from the views of large number of participants. A researcher applying grounded theory needs to study the process, action or interaction of the individuals. The data must be collected from 20-60 participants, and analysis involves open coding, axial coding, and selective coding. Findings and the generated theory are often presented and illustrated in a figure.

e. Ethnography. This qualitative research design describes and interprets the shared and earned patterns of behaviors, values, beliefs, and language of a culture-sharing community. Participant observations, and interviews are commonly used data collecting methods. The analysis of data involves descriptions of the culture-sharing community and themes about the community.


These are the key characteristics of Qualitative Research.

  1. It uses semi-structured research instruments with open-ended questions. Follow-up questions can be given or asked by the researchers during interviews.
  2. Participants may not be given similar questions unlike in quantitative where all participants receive similar set of questions.
  3. It may not require large samples to gather data. In Case Study, for example, a researcher can have one participant for the whole study.
  4. Replication of qualitative research is hard to do.
  5. Data collected are usually in text, video, audio, or any non-numerical data forms.
  6. Data and findings cannot be used to generalize about the population.

Mixed Methods Research

The combination of qualitative research design and quantitative research design is called mixed methods research. Creswell (n.d) mentioned in his paper three mixed methods research designs – convergent parallel mixed methods, explanatory sequential mixed methods, and exploratory sequential mixed methods. Creswell described each as follows:

a. Convergent Parallel Mixed Methods. A researcher using this design collects both quantitative and qualitative data at the same time or period. Both data forms are used to provide meanings and interpretation of results. When contradictions are found, a researcher is required to further explain and probe.

b. Explanatory Sequential Mixed Methods. Quantitative data is first gathered by the researcher to come up with results. Any findings or results is then explained and supported by qualitative data. This means that explanatory sequential mixed methods employs two-phase study – (1) collecting quantitative data, then (2) collecting qualitative data.

c. Exploratory Sequential Mixed Methods. This is the opposite of the explanatory sequential mixed methods. It collects qualitative data prior quantitative data collection. Researcher can use the qualitative phase to build a structured research instrument for the quantitative phase of this mixed methods design.


Creswell (n.d). The selection of a research design - Sage Publications Inc.. Retrieved March 19, 2022, from

Bernido, R. (2021, March 11). Characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of quantitative research. HubPages. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Bernido, R. (2021, March 9). Five qualitative approaches in qualitative research. HubPages. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Bernido, R. (2021, October 20). Quantitative research designs: A brief discussion. HubPages. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ryan Bernido

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