Research methods are strategies employed by researchers to solve a problem under study in a scientific manner. There are three main types of research methods: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed. In this article, we will explore each of the three types and look at the advantages of each.
Aside from being tools, research methods, are strategies, processes, or techniques that researchers use to gather data or evidence for further analysis. The different types of data collected from each research method can be used to construct conclusions, highlight new findings about a particular subject and add to the body knowledge on a topic.
Researchers choose their tools based on what they consider the best way to solve their research problem. Therefore, researchers deduce the most effective research method to gather enough data to draw accurate and meaningful conclusions.
Let’s take a look at the different methods available to researchers.
Types of research methods
Quantitative data is usually shown in the form of graphs or charts. As the data is numerical by nature, it can be grouped into categories, ranks, and measurements using statistical analysis. Through quantitative data, researchers can study potential patterns, relationships, quantities, and frequencies, depending on the tools used.
To gather quantitative data, researchers often use the following:
- Surveys or questionnaires, generally designed for larger groups of participants.
- Observations to determine frequency and pattern. Observations can be numerical or code-based, and translated into either form for various purposes.
- Experiments conducted to test specific hypotheses and determine relationships such as cause and effect. One advantage of experiments is that they can be carried out in the field, as opposed to a controlled lab environment.
- Documents such as financial reports or literary works can also undergo quantitative analysis to calculate, for example, word usage and other linguistic components.
Qualitative research is commonly used to analyze the human experience, such as emotions, behaviors, cultures, social interactions, and so on. In terms of the techniques and tools used, qualitative research methods comprise the following:
- Interviews, which can be either structured, semi-structured or unstructured between the researcher and a single participant.
- Focus groups can be set up to enable discussions or conversations between multiple people about certain topics. Questions can also be used as prompts in these groups. The researcher can lead the group or take a step back and observe them.
- Observations carried out in the field using a more distanced approach. Observations may also be carried out as a simulation through role-playing.
- Documents such as reports or personal communications also play a large part in qualitative data collection. Researchers may also use participants’ stories and accounts to describe historical events.
As expected, the mixed-methods approach combines both the qualitative and quantitative methods. Comprising data from multiple perspectives, a mixed methods approach allows more detailed and comprehensive data collection that can be verified by triangulation. Mixed methods research is perhaps better suited to explain unexpected or abstract results.
In a mixed method approach, researchers often design questionnaires that include both open-ended and closed questions to obtain a broader set of answers from the participants. A typical questionnaire of this nature would have a two-part structure, allowing participants to answer questions using a selection of pre-written answers, as well as write more detailed answers of their own in a separate section.
So, which research methods are the most effective? Well, it depends on what type of data you need to gather and the researcher’ preferred mode of analysis, whether observational or numerical. The chart below shows the benefits of each research method.
Choose a quantitative research method when:
- Dealing with numbers and statistics.
- Testing hypotheses
- Measuring variables
Choose a qualitative method when:
- Exploring words, ideas, and meanings.
- You wish to gain insight into a specific phenomenon.
- Aiming to find out participant’s opinions and reasons for their perspectives.
When considering the most suitable research method for your study, ask yourself the following questions:
- Would numbers and/or statistics help me to gather more accurate data?
- Should I conduct face-to-face interviews, design questionnaires, or both?
- What is the time limit to gather the data?
- Which methods take the longest, and which are the most efficient and informative?
- Will there be any expenses involved in conducting the research, and is it within my budget?
- Is a large amount of data necessary? How much data do I need to answer the research question and draw comprehensive conclusions?
- What is the overall purpose of my research (i.e., confirmatory or exploratory)?
And to conclude the article, here are a few useful tips to help you choose the best research method for your study and expand upon the findings:
- Identify any patterns, trends, and problems as you go. Describe each one in detail.
- Do any findings repeat themselves? Take a note when you find any repetition.
- Rank the findings by frequency.
- Rate the strengths and weaknesses of the potential and selected research methods available.
- Look for gaps in the research and any inconclusive of unusual results.
- Evaluate the most efficient methods to analyze the collected data.
- After jotting this information down, construct a list of conclusions and recommendations based on your findings obtained through the chosen research method.
Consider the aims and objectives of your research. If you are looking to prove a theory, test a hypothesis, or measure something, then a quantitative approach would be more appropriate to gather numerical data and content from questionnaires, available statistics, and observations to calculate and confirm the hypothesis. Quantitive research methods, such as surveys, polls, and questionnaires, are often used in hospitals and organizations.
Likewise, if your aims are to explore a research topic, then the data can be obtained from a broader range of sources. In this case, qualitative data collection methods, such as open-ended interviews and observations can gather more information through questionnaires, voice recordings, videos, images, and a review of the existing literature. The qualitative approach is commonly used in the social sciences (e.g., anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc.).
Note that any research conducted must be reliable, accurate, collected within a specific time frame, valid, and complete enough to support any conclusions.