Before beginning any research project, you must decide which methodology to use. This will guide your study, help you to choose a way to collect data and aid in your analysis. Researchers use three primary methodology types: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods. Within these broad categories, more specific methods include an array of options, such as case studies, self-reporting and surveys.
Qualitative research seeks to explore a specific phenomena, not prove a prediction, according to "Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector's Field Guide," published by Family Health International. Often used in the social sciences and education, qualitative methodologies use interviews, focus groups and observations to collect data. Qualitative methods provide rich, contextual explorations of the topic that are often personally or culturally meaningful.
Quantitative research is is more objective than qualitative methods. In this type of methodology, the researcher crafts a hypothesis and then tests it through structured means. Instead of exploring or describing a phenomena, quantitative methods deal with facts and statistics. This type of research is often used in science or medicine.
Mixed methods combine qualitative and quantitative research. This type of methodology uses several different measures that include both contextual understanding like interviews or observations along with facts or statistics. Using mixed methods can help the researcher investigate a topic on multiple levels, gaining different views and a comprehensive look at the subject. A mixed methodology meshes more than one philosophical perspective, allowing for the integration of different theories and ideas.
Methodologies and Design
Within each major methodology are various designs. These provide a framework or philosophy for the study, and are different than the actual methods used. For example, a case study design focuses on exploring and describing a specific instance, person or group. A researcher may use observations, interviews or self-reports from the subject to create a complete picture. This picture, or case, provides a detailed example of a phenomenon that can then be generalized to a similar population.
- Harvard: Research Design Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches
- Family Health International: Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector's Field Guide
- University of Northern Iowa: Quantitative Methods
- National Institutes of Health: Best Practices for Mixed Methods Research in the Health Sciences
- USC Libraries: Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
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