Discount mulberry ledbury handbag Outlet Combining quantitative and qualitative approaches
Last year in Lahti I gave a paper concerning the debates (sometimes called as “paradigm wars”) about differences and similarities between quantitative and qualitative research. I also presented the results of my small scale investigation, which showed that there were studies, which combined qualitative and quantitative approaches in different ways. In this paper I want to look further and address some problems concerning the use and integration of multiple methods in a social scientific study.
In a long run there are three different widely advocated positions towards the possibility and usefulness to use quantitative and qualitative approaches in complimentary, combined or mixed ways:
The advocates of the first position, which I would call strong paradigmatic view, declare that only one of those approaches is good/appropriate/scientific enough for the inquiry about the social life. They say that quantitative and qualitative research methodologies are tightly bound to different mutually exclusive epistemological positions. From here follows that there is no point even to talk about the possibility of combining or mixing of those approaches. The proponents of this position are sometimes called purists.
The advocates of the second position, which I would call week paradigmatic view, are somewhat more tolerant towards different methodologies saying that both of them can be used and are useful, but as they carry with them different philosophical underpinnings they are suitable in very different situations and contexts and therefore one can not and should not mix or combine quantitative and qualitative approaches in the framework of one study. The proponents of this view are sometimes called situationalists.
The advocates of the third position regard quantitative and qualitative approaches both as useful and proper ways of going to study the social world. Although they see some major differences between quantitative and qualitative research they also see some important similarities between them and advocate the integrated use of different methodologies if this can advance our understanding about the phenomenon under the investigation. The proponents of this position are sometimes called pragmatists.
All of these three positions bring up some skeptical questions and problems one needs to address and solve. In this paper I will take the pragmatist position, which means that I will not question the feasibility of combining quantitative and qualitative ways of doing research in general. I rather
try to look more closely on problems, which we have to be aware of in the process of doing so.
Thus, I will not discuss problems, which paradigmatic view brings with it as this subject has been the focus of many previous papers (including mine from the last conference in Lahti).
Calls for multimethod approach.
Although the calls for the use of multiple methods in the framework of one study are maybe even older than the quantitative qualitative debate, the area of ‘how, when and why different methods might be combined’ has got much less attention than the philosophical aspects of paradigmatic view (Bryman 1988, 155). One can not say that there is a complete lack of literature concerning different aspects of combining divergent methodologies. Still most of the literature, which classifies under the broad area of combining qualitative and quantitative approaches, are arguments why this integration is possible and needed. 1996, Bryman 1988, Caracelli Greene 1993, Carey 1993, Maxwell et al. 1986).
As an example of the early call for leaving our methodological preconceptions behind us and for considering all possible ways for advancing our knowledge about the important aspects of social life I would like to quote Trow’s paper where he suggested that we, researchers in social sciences, should:
‘get on with the business of attacking our problems with the widest array of conceptual and methodological tools that we possess and they demand’ (Trow 1957, 35; also quoted in Brewer Hunter 1989). 1966). Although remaining in the framework of quantitative tradition we can see in these early works the attempt to advocate the use of multiple methods as well as the possibility to mix some aspects of quantitative and qualitative methodologies.
Drawing on these ideas Denzin (1978) developed the concept of triangulation the term that is probably most widely used to denote any attempt to combine or mix different methods in a research study. As it often happens, the most widely used terms tend to be the most overused and abused terms as well, and ‘triangulation’ is not an exception here I think. One could draw obvious parallels in how the term’s ‘paradigm’ and ‘triangulation’ have lost their initial quite narrow and well defined meaning and became to denote something general and indefinite.
However, by Denzin triangulation means more than using multiple measurements of the same phenomenon in addition to the use of diverse data, it involves combining different methods and theories,
as well as perspectives of different investigators. Denzin (1978) has clearly identified four different types of triangulation:
data triangulation the use of variety of data sources and data sets in a study. Data may be both qualitative and quantitative, gathered by different methods or by the same method from different sources or at different times.
investigator triangulation the use of several different researchers. Here the importance of partnership and teamwork is underlined as the way of bringing in different perspectives.
theory triangulation the use of different theoretical viewpoints for determining competing hypotheses as well as for interpreting the single set of data.
methodological triangulation the use of multiple methods to study a single problem or phenomenon. It may also include the use of the same method on different occasions and situations.
We can see that the concept of triangulation is based on the assumption that by using several data sources, methods and investigators one can neutralize bias inherent in one particular data source, investigator or method (Jick 1979). It is often stressed out that different methods have different weaknesses and strengths and therefore the main effect triangulation can offer is to overcome the weaknesses of any single method. Thus, if we use several different methods for investigation of the phenomenon of our interest and the results provide mutual confirmation we can be more sure that our results are valid. Within this context, quantitative and qualitative approaches are usually seen as different ways of studying the same phenomenon and able to answer the same research questions (Bryman 1988). Bryman (1992) has raised three alarming questions. First, as quantitative and qualitative research have different preoccupations it is highly questionable whether they are tapping the same things even when they are examining apparently similar issues. Second, if quantitative and qualitative findings do not confirm each other how should the researcher respond. And third, if the conflict in results is present what it actually means and comprises. Thus, in the context of combining qualitative and quantitative approaches the concept of triangulation is not as unproblematic as it may appear.
On the other hand in the wider framework of integrated use of qualitative and quantitative approaches the triangulation is offering quite limited possibilities. As in the case of triangulation the results of different methods are supposed to validate each other it means that different methods have to be highly independent throughout the study. This approach excludes the possibility to mix quantitative and qualitative aspects on different levels of investigation. For example one of the few books devoted entirely to the problems of combining quantitative and qualitative approaches Multimethod Research. They classify studies into three categories: a) monomethod studies, b) composite method studies, which combine some elements of the basic monomethod styles and c) multimethod studies, which combine the basic styles of research.
Other rationales for combining quantitative and qualitative research
Regardless of this extensive critique of composite method designs several studies have indicated that we can find considerable number of studies which actually combine some elements of quantitative and qualitative approaches on the various stages of the study (See for example Bryman 1988, Datta 1994, Greene et al. 1989, Niglas 1999). Maybe the most interesting (although definitely not the most systematic) of theses studies is Datta’s analysis of several papers given to her as examples of good qualitative and quantitative research by the proponents of monomethod approach. Her conclusion was that ‘the best examples of both paradigms seem actually to be mixed models’ (Datta 1994: 67). As a result of the extensive literature review and a small scale empirical analysis of published research papers I have suggested that quantitative and qualitative approaches have been combined in various ways and various levels of the inquiry. Different possibilities for mixing quantitative and qualitative research can be illustrated by the Figure 1 (Niglas 1999). Thus, we can see that in the practice researchers mix and combine qualitative and quantitative methodologies, but the question remains if this kind of action has to be approved and what is the rationale for doing so.
Figure 1. Different levels of research in practice
There are some methodologists who propose that the combination of various elements of quantitative and qualitative approaches can offer much wider possibilities than Brewer and Hunter describe (See for example Brannen 1992, Bryman 1992, Datta 1994, Patton 1990, Cresswell 1995, Tashakkori and Teddlie 1998).
There have been several attempts to clarify the issue and develop taxonomies for classification of studies combining quantitative and qualitative approaches. For example Mark and Shotland (1987) introduce in addition to triangulation two other ways of combining methods to enhance an investigation. They describe the bracketing model, which says that we should consider the results of different methods as alternative estimates. Thus, by using methods that are biased in opposite directions the true value can be bracketed. The third model they describe is complementary multiplism. Here diverse methods play complementary roles and offer different viewpoints; together, they provide evidence that is markedly strengthened.
In one of the most important books on the field Bryman (1988) described in addition to triangulation ten other ways in which quantitative and qualitative research have been combined in the research practice. Although it is a quite long list Bryman conceded that very likely it is not exhaustive (See Table 1). Drawing on the results of extensive literature review Greene, Caracelli and Graham (1989) developed a system consisting of five different mixed method purposes. The results of their empirical study proved this taxonomy to be exhaustive as it was possible to match all mixed method studies, they looked at, to one or more of these five purposes. I have tried to compare these two lists of purposes for mixed method studies in Table 1. We can see that there are some remarkable similarities: in addition to triangulation the common purposes seem to be development and expansion. In the former case the results from qualitative research help to inform the use of quantitative research or vice versa and in the latter the quantitative and qualitative approaches are used sequentially on different stages of the study. It is not so easy to draw parallels between other categories as many of Bryman’s ways of integration can serve diverse purposes from complementarity through initiation to expansion.