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Research methods

Dr Sakul Kundra
Friday, February 09, 2018

STUDENT enrolments at various universities are in full flow in the different courses offered, from graduate to doctorate level. The students will be groomed to develop skills and taught research methodologies as per the course requirement.

Thus, learning and applying research methodology successfully is a gradual process, usually, the foundation stone is laid down in school, building constructed at college level and implication done during higher studies.

Therefore, it is paramount to know, what the research approaches are.

David E. Gray's book "Doing Research in the Real World" gives an insight into research strategies, methodologies, approaches and methods of research that can help researchers to develop the necessary skills to design and implement a research project.

As per John W. Creswell's popular book "Research design" qualitative, quantitative and mixed method approaches, research approaches are plans and methods for research which commence from broad assumptions to detailed methods of data collection, analysis and interpretation.

The choice of a research approach depends on the nature of research problem or the issue being addressed, personal experience of researcher and the viewers for the study.

The researcher needs to identify the research methodology before commencing the research. Broadly, there are three major research approaches used by the researchers. They are quantitative, qualitative or mixed method.

This article synoptically reviews three research approaches which are useful by scholars, students, novice researchers and audience at large.

Historically, quantitative methods have dominated the earlier part of researches, around the 1970s came qualitative methods in mainstream and in the 1990s, the mixed method emerged.

Quantitative research approach

The word "quantitative" comes from the word "quantity" or involving information or data in the form of numbers.

This allows the research to measure or to quantify a whole range of things. Usually quantitative is 'associated with numbers or using close ended questions, in brief it uses surveys and experimental designs, including population and sample, instrumentation, variables, experimental procedures, data analysis, and interpretation of results'. Creswell explains quantitative research as "an approach for testing objective theories by examining the relationship among variables".

These variables, in turn, can be measured, typically on instruments, so that numbered data can be analysed using statistical procedures.

The final written report has a set structure consisting of introduction, literature and theory, methods, results, and discussion … those who engage in this form of inquiry have assumptions about testing theories deductively, building in protections against bias, controlling for alternative explanations, and being able to generalise and replicate the findings.

This research is much closer to objectivity as the researcher prejudices, perceptions and experiences are set aside from the possible outcomes.

C.R. Kothari's book Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques has further sub-classified this quantitative approach into "inferential (it forms a database from which infer characteristics or relationships of population, as a sample population, is studied to determine it's characteristics and later inferred that the population has the same characteristics), experimental (it has greater control over research environment and in some case variables are manipulated to observe their effects on other variables) and simulation (it's based on construction of an artificial environment within which relevant information and data can be generated.)".

Creswell added quantitative approach had post-positivist knowledge claims, "based on surveys and experiments; using methods of close ended questions, predetermined approaches and numeric data; and method used are test or verifies theories or explanations, identifies variables to study, relates variables in questions of hypotheses, uses standards of validity and reliability, observes and measures information numerically, uses unbiased approach and employs statistical procedures".

Qualitative research approach

This is used in terms of words or using open ended questions or this is concerned with subjective assessment of attitudes, opinions and behaviour.

Creswell stated it examined different philosophical assumptions; variations in strategies of inquiry; the role of the researcher; and steps in data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Michael R. Harwell's article Research Design in Qualitative/Quantiatitive/Mixed Method explains that this method focuses on "discovering and understanding the experiences, perspective and thoughts of participants… as it explores the meaning, purpose or reality".

Ranjit Kumar's book "Research Methodology" explain main focus in 'qualitative research is to understand, explain, explore, discover and clarify situations, feelings, perceptions, attitudes, values, beliefs and experiences of a group of people".

Scholars stated study as "qualitative", including a concern with what, why and how questions rather than how many, a focus on processes, and the flexible nature of qualitative research design.

It attempts to understand something and usually going beyond the numbers and statistics, exploring the meaning individuals or group assign to a social or human problem.

It gathers in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons that govern such behaviour as it investigates why and how of decision-making, not just what, where and when.

Creswell listed strategies of inquiry in qualitative method, "narratives, phenomenological studies, grounded theory studies, ethnographies and case studies".

Mostly, the techniques of focus group interviews, projective techniques and depth interviews are used in this approach.

This approach has cannot be fully objective, as researchers experiences, perceptions and biases go hand in hand while conducting this kind of research.

Mixed method

This research inquire involves collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, with the integration of two forms of data, and using distinct designs that may include philosophical assumptions and theoretical frameworks.

This approach provides a complete understanding of research problem because it involves both approaches.

Michael R. Harwell stated, "Johnson and Turner have argued that the fundamental principle of mixed methods research is that multiple kinds of data should be collected with different strategies and methods in ways that reflect complementary strengths and non-overlapping weaknesses, allowing a mixed methods study to provide insights not possible when only qualitative or quantitative data are collected".

Creswell explains this approach has advance use of multiple forms of data-collection, data-analysis, and data-validation procedures and report-presentation structures.

David L. Driscoll's article Merging Qualitative and Quantitative Data in Mixed Methods discusses the benefits and challenges of mixed method research.


Irrespective of the critics of varied research methodologies, it is the researcher who is the supreme judge to choose his or her own methodology in order to achieve the objective results.

Lastly, where there's a will there's a way to do research, only the researcher needs to take a step closer to commence one's research to meet the end.

? Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history at the FNU's College of Humanities and Education. Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email.

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