Can you provide a proposal guide for Mixed Methods research?

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Mixed and multimethod research is the focus on MethodSpace in May. Find the evolving series of posts here.

We asked for your questions as part of the webinar with Dr. Michael Fetters and Dr. Tashane Haynes-Brown (see recording here.) One participant asked about a proposal guide for mixed methods. In addition to Fetters’ The Mixed Methods Research WorkbookSAGE has published an excellent step-by-step book, Developing a Mixed Methods Proposal: A Practical Guide for Beginning Researchers. I interviewed the authors, Jessica T. DeCuir-Gunby and Paul A. Schutz, about the thinking behind the book and its use by students and others interested in designing mixed methods studies.

JS. One of the fundamental questions you ask readers to consider is: “is a mixed methods design right for you?” What factors should researchers consider when making this decision?

Authors: This is an important question and is the focus of Chapter 1 which is entitled, “Why a Guide for Developing Mixed Methods Proposals?”. There are several considerations readers should take when taking a mixed methods approach. Readers should first consider the research questions they are trying to answer. Research questions help to dictate the type of research methods that should be used. Sometimes research questions are best answered using a singular method (quantitative or qualitative). Research methods knowledge is another important consideration. Researchers should not consider a mixed methods approach if they, or the members of their research team, do not feel competent in both quantitative and qualitative methods. In Chapter 1 we developed the table below to help researchers think through some potential questions that may help them with these decisions.

Table 1.2 When is a Mixed Methods Study Appropriate for You?

 Questions to ConsiderAnswersSuggestions
Study Purpose   
Will I use data to attempt to triangulate, complement, develop, initiate, or expand findings?YesMixed methods is the option for you.
NoConsider using a quantitative or qualitative approach.
Research Methods   
Is a mixed methods approach necessary to answer my research questions?YesMixed methods is the option for you
NoConsider using a quantitative or qualitative approach.
Can I more effectively conduct this study using a singular method?YesConsider using a quantitative or qualitative approach.
NoMixed methods is the option for you.
Do I have the skills, abilities, and resources needed to effectively conduct a mixed methods study?YesConsider using a mixed methods approach.
NoConsider using a quantitative or qualitative approach; become more proficient in quantitative and/or qualitative approaches.
From Developing a Mixed Methods Proposal:A Practical Guide for Beginning Researchers

JS. What knowledge and/or skills do prospective mixed methods researchers need in order to complete a proposal? Is it important to have research experience in at least one of the methods?

Authors. Our view of mixed methods research consists of the combining of both quantitative and qualitative research methods in a study. Most researchers are more proficient in one methodological area. Rarely are researchers equally proficient in both quantitative and qualitative methods. From our perspective, researchers need some knowledge, as an individual or as a research team, in both areas in order to effectively conduct a mixed methods study. While discussing way of answering this question in Chapter 1, we developed the chart below to walk researchers through the important question of what should be considered when developing a mixed methods study.

Table 1.1. What to Consider When Conducting A Mixed Methods Study

 Something To Think AboutAdvice
Personal Experiences and Skills  
How well do you understand quantitative and qualitative research methods?If you do not have an adequate background in either quantitative or qualitative research, you should consider taking additional research courses or attending research workshops.
Do you feel confident enough in your abilities to use either a quantitative or a qualitative approach?Before embarking upon a mixed methods study, you need to be confident in your abilities to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research studies. If you are not confident, take more courses/workshops, or get more hands-on experiences conducting quantitative or qualitative research.
How much time do I realistically have to conduct my study?Create a realistic timeline to help guide your study.
Will you need finances to pay for transcription services or to provide financial incentives for participation?Create a budget to help determine if you can afford such services. If you can’t, you will need to consider adjusting your timeline for transcribing and/or recruiting participants.
Do you have access to the appropriate quantitative and qualitative software?Investigate whether your organization has access to specific software packages. If you need to purchase additional software, make sure to add this to the budget. If you do not have access to the software or have funds to purchase the software, you will need to consider an alternative software package. This may require adjusting your timeline in order to account for learning a new software package.
Do you have access to the population of interest?Make connections and develop relationships with your population of interest while preparing your research proposal. This will help you to gain faster access to participants once you are ready to conduct your study.
Mixed Methods Design  
Do I really need to use a mixed methods design?Use a mixed methods design only if your research questions are best answered by this approach, and you have the abilities, the time, and the resources for such a study.
Can I answer my research questions using a different approach?You should answer your research questions using the simplest approach possible.
From Developing a Mixed Methods Proposal:A Practical Guide for Beginning Researchers

JS. How should prospective mixed methods researchers decide the weighting of qualitative or quantitative parts of a study?

Authors. Determining the weighting of the qualitative and quantitative components parts of a study is a complex process. Again, it all begins with the research questions. The types and number of questions/hypotheses you asked will help you to determine where your emphases are placed. Also, the specific mixed methods research design being used is essential to determining emphasis. Your research questions/hypotheses can lead you to a useful mixed method design, which can inform you about how and when to collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data. In Chapter 6, entitled “Mixed Methods Designs: Frameworks for Organizing Your Research Methods”, we discuss many of the basic mixed methods designs that will help researchers think about potential options for useful designs to help them answer their research questions. In that chapter we also talk about other issues to consider including the instruments being used to assess the constructs of interest, the research context, and the actual participants.

JS. What are some common obstacles mixed methods researchers should consider at the proposal stage?

Authors. We talk about challenges throughout the book and summarize some of them in Chapter 8, “A Little Lagniappe…A Little Something Extra”. Overall, there are several potential obstacles to consider when conducting mixed methods research. Novice researchers in particular need to consider if they have the requisite quantitative and qualitative research methods skills. In addition, data collection and analysis can be a lengthy process. Researchers need to take into consideration the amount of time needed to conduct a mixed methods study. Similarly, it may be difficult getting access to an adequate sample because of the time required to participate in the quantitative and qualitative components. Last, because the emergent components of many mixed method designs, obtaining approval from the IRB can sometimes be challenging.

JS. What is your most important piece of advice for prospective mixed methods researchers?

Authors. Learn as much as you can about mixed methods research before considering a mixed methods study. Mixed methods research is much more than just putting quantitative and qualitive methods together. Mixed methods researchers, as a collective, have developed their own methodologies that includes particular terminology, approaches, and criteria for rigor. As such, it is important to do your “homework” so that you are able to discuss not only your content but the specifics of the mixed methods approaches you are using in your research.

Note: mixed methods books are available at a 30% discount with this code: SAGE2020, through June 2020.

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