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Research Questions, Frameworks, and Models
Find one scholarly, quantitative research article in an area of your interest that fulfills
the following criteria. The article must contain:






A conceptual or theoretical framework or model.
One of the quantitative methods covered in the unit readings, media, or research.
One of the research designs covered in the unit readings, media, or research.
In your initial post, address the following. Consider all the readings, resources, and
media from this unit as you formulate your post:
Describe the study’s research question or problem.
Describe (briefly) the conceptual or theoretical framework or model used in the study.
Describe the quantitative method and study design used. What strengths and weaknesses
are associated with this method?
Include at least two APA-formatted citation (in-text, as well as the full reference).
The citation may be from course textbooks, assigned readings, or an outside source.
Your initial post must be a minimum of 300 words in length.
Nurse Researcher
When to use mixed methods
Leslie Gelling outlines the advantages and
challenges in using this approach to research
Cite this article as: Gelling L (2014) When to use mixed methods. Nurse Researcher. 21, 4, 6-7.
Date of submission: March 6 2014. Date of acceptance: March 10 2014.
Correspondence to
leslie.gelling@anglia.ac.uk
Leslie Gelling is reader in
research ethics, Faculty
of Health, Social Care and
Education, Anglia Ruskin
University, Cambridge, UK;
and editor of
Nurse Researcher
Author guidelines
nr.rcnpublishing.com
6
IT WAS not that long ago that combining one
methodological approach with another, most obviously
qualitative and quantitative research designs,
would have been considered fundamentally flawed.
Indeed, there were many researchers who would
have described themselves as either qualitative or
quantitative researchers and, regardless of the research
question or the objectives of the research, they would
have adopted their favored methodological approach
to seek to answer their research question.
Many students will have written about the
qualitative-quantitative debate, which some authors
described as the qualitative-quantitative battle
(Goodwin and Goodwin 1984, Duffy 1987). Fortunately,
sense has prevailed and there has been a growth
in pragmatic attitudes to planning and conducting
research where answering the research question,
using the most appropriate methodological approach,
is more important than being confined within
methodological or philosophical constraints. The result
has been an expansion in the number of researchers
adopting a mixed methods approach.
Seeking to undertake research within a mixed
methods framework is not without its challenges,
not least because of the additional expertise required
to ensure that each of the elements of the research is
conducted with due regard for the principles inherent
within that design. Mixed methods research is about
undertaking research where there is an interaction
between the different methodological components
(Simons and Lathlean 2010). It is not uncommon for
the term ‘mixed methods’ to be used inappropriately
where methods from the same methodological
paradigm are used in the same research.
The themed papers in this issue explore some of
the benefits and the challenges of undertaking mixed
methods research. In the first paper the authors
offer an insight into how mixed methods research
can contribute to the development of knowledge
March 2014 | Volume 21 | Number 4
in nursing and midwifery (Larkin et al 2014). In the
second themed paper, interestingly with some of the
same authors as the first paper, the authors offer a
reflective account of what a mixed methods approach
added to a research project evaluating specialist and
advanced practice (the SCAPE study) (Murphy et al
2014). While there can be advantages of using a mixed
methods approach, there can also be issues that make
this approach more complex and more challenging for
researchers. Simons and Lathlean (2010) describe these
complexities as: inappropriate justification, additional
expertise, team working and maintaining quality.
The two themed papers will be considered through
a brief examination of these complexities because if
these challenges are not addressed then the potential
value of adopting a mixed methods approach risks
being compromised.
Inappropriate justification
Mixed methods research designs have undoubtedly
grown in popularity in recent years, but this
methodological approach is not always the most
appropriate one. Larkin et al (2014) make the
important point that the choice of research design
should be driven by the research question and not vice
versa. Too often researchers have favored research
methods and will ask questions they know can be
answered using those methods. While mixing methods
offers researchers an additional tool, there will also be
some research questions that might be best answered
using either a qualitative or a quantitative approach.
Larkin et al (2014) expand on this point by
describing how they used a sequential approach in
which the qualitative and quantitative part of the
research complemented each other and both added
depth to their research exploring women’s experiences
for childbirth. It is clear, from the authors’ brief
description of their research, that qualitative or
quantitative research alone would not have allowed
© RCN PUBLISHING / NURSE RESEARCHER
Commentary
the researchers to explore the topic of interest in such
depth. Murphy et al (2014) take this even further by
concluding that mixed methods research, when done
properly, can have added benefits and values that
might be treated as a third methodological paradigm.
It is important that researchers only use a mixed
methods approach when it is the best approach to
enable them to answer the research question.
Additional expertise
As noted previously, adopting a mixed methods
approach will usually require that the research
team include collaborators with the knowledge and
experience required to plan and conduct the individual
elements of the research. For example, it would be
unusual for a researcher to be experienced in the
skills required to collect and analyse qualitative data
and also to possess the skills required to undertake
detailed statistical analysis.
Needing to include this expertise can result in larger
than usual research teams and, sometimes, additional
logistical difficulties. While Larkin et al (2014) make
the point that mixed methods research introduces
an additional complexity to a research project, no
insight is offered into how adopting a mixed methods
approach might have impacted on the methodological
expertise sought to support this research. Murphy et al
(2014) also highlight that expertise can be an issue
when planning and conducting mixed methods
research but they focus on the developmental nature
of conducting this type of research, where researchers
who might be experienced in one methodological
approach are able to develop their understanding of
different methodological approaches.
Team working
There are multiple potential difficulties associated
with effective team working but when members of the
research team come from very different methodological
disciplines, and are possibly working on different
substudies, it is essential to ensure that team working
is managed carefully. There are, of course, also great
benefits to be gained from interdisciplinary team
working when learning environments are created
facilitating personal development among the members
of the research team.
Murphy et al (2014) emphasise the need to bring
together a team, including core working groups and a
steering committee, to enable this research to happen
and this is probably reflected in the number of authors
contributing this paper. It is essential that no single
part of the research is considered more important than
any other part of the research. Mixed methods research
requires that all parts of the research contribute to
answering the research question.
© RCN PUBLISHING / NURSE RESEARCHER
Maintaining quality
One criticism directed at mixed methods research
is that neither approach has been conducted with
due regard to scientific rigour. This risks creating an
imbalance in the quality of the different elements of
the research and in the overall value of mixed methods
research. Larkin et al (2014) highlight that there is a
problem with ensuring that research is not labelled as
mixed methods research inappropriately. Murphy et al
(2014) argue that the volume of evidence collected for
their study made the ‘results more convincing’. While it
might be useful to collect multiple forms of data, it is
also important that those multiple data sets collectively
add value to the research. This can only happen if
the individual parts of the research can demonstrate
scientific rigour, so it would have been interesting to
know more about how the scientific rigour of each
element of their research was ensured.
When used together both approaches can make
a significant contribution to existing knowledge
and understanding. It is important, however, that
researchers adopt this approach for the right reasons
and consider the additional challenges faced by mixed
methods researchers.
References
Duffy ME (1987) Quantitative and qualitative research: antagonistic or
complementary? Nursing and Health Care. 8, 6, 356-357.
Goodwin LD, Goodwin WL (1984) Qualitative vs. quantitative research or
qualitative and quantitative research? Nursing Research. 33, 6, 378-380.
Larkin P, Begley C, Devane D (2014) Breaking from binaries: using a sequential
mixed methods design. Nurse Researcher. 21, 4, 8-12.
Murphy K, Casey D, Devane D et al (2014) Reflections on the added value of
using mixed methods in the SCAPE study. Nurse Researcher. 21, 4, 13-19
Simons L, Lathlean J (2010) Mixed methods. In Gerrish K, Lacey A (Eds) The
Research Process in Nursing. Sixth edition. Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell.
March 2014 | Volume 21 | Number 4
7
3
Choosing Methodological
Approaches
Key points
r Researchers tend to associate inductive reasoning with qualir
r
r
Copyright © 2011. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
r
r
tative research and theory building, and deductive reasoning
with quantitative research and theory testing.
Quantitative approaches emphasise cause–effect relationships
and prediction.
Qualitative approaches emphasise exploration.
Researchers should examine the goals of their research when
choosing methodological approaches.
Consider qualitative approaches first for studies of experience
individuals, research with excluded and hard to reach groups
and pilot studies.
Consider quantitative approaches first for epidemiological
studies of large groups and treatment comparison studies.
Introduction
The choice of a general methodological approach is informed by many
different issues, some subjective, some theoretical and some practical. For example, it used to be common, for undergraduate and
Research for Evidence-Based Practice in Healthcare, Second edition, by Robert Newell and Philip Burnard

C 2011 Robert Newell and Philip Burnard
32
Newell, Robert, and Philip Burnard. Research for Evidence-Based Practice in Healthcare, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,
http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=822493.
Created from capella on 2017-10-07 08:35:19.
Choosing Methodological Approaches
33
Copyright © 2011. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
pre-registration dissertations, and even up to PhD level, to encourage
students to undertake studies using whatever methods most interested them. Intuitively, this seems a good course of action, because
we want students to complete their projects, and have good reason to
believe that they will be more likely to complete undertakings which
involve them in things they are interested in. However, the counterargument is that this kind of supposed freedom has too many negative consequences to make it advisable. First, we might hope that
student research will be useful to others as well as to the student,
and following one’s methodological preferences in an unfettered way
may lead to the undertaking of projects which lend themselves to a
particular methodological approach, rather than to those of obvious
benefit to patients. Moreover, if a student is sponsored by their employer, the employer will very likely have views as to the sort of
project they would like to see carried out. This may not fit with student
methodological preferences. Equally, there is the possibility that
methodological preference may result in a researcher making a research
question fit with a particular approach, regardless of whether that approach is appropriate (see the discussion of qualitative and quantitative
approaches).
Perhaps most important, however, is the view of science that the
‘personal preference’ approach to methodological choice supports. This
is the view that science is an individual, personal activity. Whilst this is
certainly true in the sense that considerable personal skill and commitment are involved, science is mostly (and, arguably, most importantly)
a social activity. It is carried out by groups of people, reviewed by and
communicated to groups of people, and, at least in health research, undertaken for the good of society. In our view, any teaching of research
which does not emphasise that gives at best a partial view of the nature
of the research endeavour. Accordingly, we advise that the only reasonable rationale for deciding on a methodological approach is on the basis
of its fitness for purpose.
When is a methodological approach fit for purpose?
Fitness for purpose requires that something does the job it is intended for. In research terms, this implies a number of things. First, the
methodological approach must be capable, in principle, of answering
the question it seeks to answer. Second, it must be practicable. Third,
it must be within the expertise of the researcher. More broadly, there
must, as we saw in the previous chapter, be a question which is worth
answering (because it has not been adequately answered before and
will tell us something of value).
Newell, Robert, and Philip Burnard. Research for Evidence-Based Practice in Healthcare, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,
http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=822493.
Created from capella on 2017-10-07 08:35:19.
34
Research for Evidence-Based Practice in Healthcare
Copyright © 2011. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
Two different approaches to knowledge
Writers about epistemology (the study of the nature of knowledge) like
to talk about deductive and inductive approaches to knowledge as
representing two broad approaches to its generation. Although there
has been debate about whether these two terms are truly separate, the
distinction is certainly current in science. Basically, deductive investigation is said to proceed from a general standpoint (such as a known theory) and examine specific instances which confirm or disconfirm that
general view. By contrast, inductive investigation is supposed to involve starting with specific instances and deriving a general conclusion
from them. These are sometimes described as top-down and bottom-up
approaches, respectively.
For example, investigating the general concept of habituation (the
tendency to cease to respond to repeatedly presented stimuli) by conducting a series of experiments in which students were submitted to
sudden, loud noises, and recording variations in their heart rates on
successive presentations is an example of deductive research. Asking
students about their experiences of such loud noises and seeking to
find commonalities in their responses which might lead us to theorise
about the nature of that common experience is inductive.
As we noted above, there is debate about the independence of
these forms of inquiry. For example, the philosopher John Stuart Mill,
in his discussion of deduction, regards induction as part of the process. Part of the issue here is that different writers use these terms
in slightly different ways, and this has affected the way in which we
talk about the distinction between induction and deduction. A detailed discussion of the relationship between deductive and inductive reasoning is beyond the scope of this book. However, many people are familiar with the deductions of Sherlock Holmes, and a very
readable and enjoyable account of inductive and deductive reasoning
using Holmes as an example is available at http://www.bun.kyotou.ac.jp/∼suchii/holmes 1.html.
Different broad methodological approaches and
their appropriateness
In research, there has been a tendency to associate inductive reasoning
with qualitative research and theory building, and deductive reasoning
with quantitative research and theory testing. However, this is not a
hard and fast rule. For example, a small survey might possibly be a
reasonable way of generating ideas which would then lead to some
general hypotheses about the world which would be tested in larger
studies. Here, a quantitative method is proceeding from the specific
Newell, Robert, and Philip Burnard. Research for Evidence-Based Practice in Healthcare, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,
http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=822493.
Created from capella on 2017-10-07 08:35:19.
Copyright © 2011. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
Choosing Methodological Approaches
35
to the general. Likewise, many qualitative studies end up by referring
back to existing theories, although whether they could justifiably be
called tests of such theories is another matter. Finally, mixed methods
studies seek to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches, but
do not necessarily combine theory building and theory testing.
Nevertheless, the broad alignment of qualitative research with inductive reasoning and quantitative with deductive is probably a useful rule of thumb. For the researcher, it may be most useful to combine
such ideas with an examination of the researcher’s goals for the project.
These will almost always be framed as research questions. Looked at
in this way, our grounds for choosing qualitative versus quantitative
methods are clearer. Broadly speaking, qualitative methods are better
employed at the beginning of the life of a research question, when little
is known about the subject. You can see that this is tied to the idea of
theory building. By its nature, a problem we know little about is often
unlikely to be associated with major existing theories. However, one
thing which the novice should beware of is assuming that this is the
case. For example, imagine we are examining the information needs
of people who have experienced surgery which has caused a change
in their facial appearance. As it happens, there is comparatively little
research into this area. Nevertheless, there are any number of theories
which are relevant and might bear testing in this group. We do not necessarily have to assume that a new series of qualitative studies using
inductive methods is necessary to build new theory. However, it may
still be the case that we will want to do some initial qualitative work to
get an idea of these people’s experiences.
Quantitative approaches, by contrast, are best used when quite a lot
is known about a topic area. Often, quantitative approaches, particularly treatment comparisons, come at a stage when a research question
has been under examination for some considerable time, and is well integrated with a particular theory. Indeed, there may actually be competing accounts of what factors impact on the question, and these may be
associated with different theories. Quantitative approa …
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