The discussions presented will attempt to provide information that can assist the reader in identifying important reasons behind selection criteria and any advantages or aspects behind the use of the methods identified. Just as it was observed that a study is often a step-by-step process where individual stages are related, in a similar fashion, the selection and use of various methods is a result of these processes. To begin with, as earlier mentioned, the research question plays a significant role in the entire study process and selection of the appropriate method of study.
Among the methods, researchers have used over time to identify an appropriate research question is the use of an unbiased literature review on a given topic. Through the review of existing literature on the topic, the researcher gains a deeper understanding of the problem areas. Just as with other stages of the study, it is essential to provide reasons that can validate the selection of a specific research question and evidence to support the need for the study.
In line with the aspect of validating the research question, the researcher may make a decision based on the problems that have been identified to study the effect, impact, or influence of a specific problem. Depending on which of the three is selected, the research scope will be limited to the selection. Studies that will focus on the influence have the widest scope; those focusing on impact have a smaller scope, while those related to effect have the smallest scope.
In a similar fashion, therefore, the method selected will have to be best suited to the scope of the study. A qualitative approach may be assumed to be more appropriate for a study with a wider scope as it will allow the researcher to bring in a wide variety of arguments. On the other hand, the same qualitative approach may not be suited to a study on effect which will not allow a wide scope of data in the study. Such a study would more likely benefit from accurate statistical analysis to prove the validity of the data in relation to the problem.
Another aspect related o the research question that has an influence on the methods used to carry out a study is the nature of the question. In the process of collecting data that can be used to form a research question, the researcher will often use facts identified in the literature review to provide a description of the problem. In this description, the researcher will provide information pertaining to the background of the problem, the purpose of the research, and the significance of the problem. According to De Vaus, a good description of the problem will provoke questions that ask why or what, characterizing explanatory or exploratory research.
Based on the nature of the problem description, it follows that if the questions that arise are of an explanatory nature, the researcher will be required to embark on developing and evaluating causal theories that may be used in explaining the problem. For example, it is not difficult to indicate that crime rates are on the rise, but to provide a plausible explanation for the increase is a very difficult task. To accomplish this would require several hypotheses and an assessment to ascertain which one is best suited for the problem at hand.
The situation itself suggests a qualitative approach to finding a solution, on the other hand, where the problem provokes questions related to what, seeking a description of the problem. The researcher may opt to select a quantitative approach that will use statistical or mathematical methods to confirm the validity of the claim. It can thus be assumed that a clear problem description may be useful in the selection of appropriate methods to use in performing research.
Having had a brief glance at situations where the selection of either qualitative or quantitative methods is most appropriate, the discussion will now also briefly highlight circumstances that favor mixed methods. In doing this, some historical information on the emergence of this concept may be useful. Prior to the 1970s, most research was framed in a positivist or post-positivist paradigm. These paradigms both based their findings upon accepted methods of inquiry used during the period. As a result of this, a researcher gained a reputation through acquiring expertise in utilizing these accepted methods of inquiry. This in itself was highly discouraging as it limited studies to what could be proven using specific tools.
This sparked discontent within the community of social scientists who were interested in studying other complex issues but were constantly limited to the use of the positivist methodology of research. Whereas the positivist paradigm insisted that phenomena are all related to various measurable causes, evidence had arisen that not all phenomena could be measured using the accepted methods. In addition to that, it arose that the inability to measure these phenomena was not adequate grounds to render them inconsequential.
For example, concepts such as peer tutoring may aid one child in learning while having no impact on another. The reason behind this may be that the two children relate to relationships in different ways. The fact that measuring this aspect is not possible, for example, using graphs, does not make it of no importance. After much conflict and discussion, it was established that a combination of methods was a solution to the questions arising, thus leading to the birth of mixed methods in social inquiry.
A common thread that has been identified with all the methods of social inquiry is that a study does not start with the method in use but rather a well-defined purpose and a clear set of questions the study sets out to answer. In a similar fashion, the mixed methods are not a guarantee to performing a successful study but a means of achieving this goal. The main driving factor in selecting mixed methods, therefore, should be what more will the use of mixed methods bring that will best serve the overall objectives of the study.
For example, does the study include abstract aspects making use of quantitative methods alone inappropriate? Does the study include data from other studies that have been measured and may need to be replicated? Questions such as these and others should be the guideline for a researcher in the selection of mixed methods for any specific study. In line with the above-mentioned thoughts, it is important to note that whereas both qualitative and quantitative techniques focus on a positivist approach, mixed methods focus on a pragmatism approach.
This approach rejects concepts such as “truth” and “reality” while opting to focus on “what works” as the basis of truth in a study. Within this approach, the values of the researcher have a major role to play in the interpretation of the results of a study. As such, this method is also best applied in studies where the researcher is undertaking a study that may be challenging existing theories or stances. These are just some of the instances where the selection of one option among those investigated may be suitable.