When to Use Mixed Methods

When to Use Mixed Methods

The following module includes a discussion on when to use mixed methods in research and why it may be advantageous.

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of mixed methods research
  • Explain the ways in which qualitative and quantitative methods may be combined to create mixed methods research
  • Give examples of the application of mixed methods and explain the benefits of using mixed methodology


The following video, Developing Mixed Methods Research with Dr. John W. Creswell, provides an example of mixed methods research.  Following through the steps in a specific research project, Dr. Creswell demonstrates when and why using mixed methods is advantageous in a research project.

Mixed methods research includes collecting, analyzing and interpreting data using both quantitative and qualitative methods in a single study or series of studies in order to investigate a phenomenon or attempt to answer a research question.  In successful mixed methods research, the methodologies chosen will have complementary strengths and nonoverlapping weaknesses.  This will result in a comprehensive look at the research problem from many perspectives and will offer a more complete picture when analyzing results.

To determine whether or not mixed methods are appropriate for a particular research project, the researcher needs to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a mixed methods approach.  Following is a list of common strengths and weaknesses to consider:


  • Data is more comprehensive. It can include numbers, statistics, words, pictures and narrative.
  • Can be used to answer a broader range of research questions because the researcher can use more than one approach.
  • The strengths of one method can be used to overcome the weaknesses of another method.
  • The results from the methods may validate each other each and provide stronger evidence for a conclusion.
  • Can add insights and understanding that may be otherwise missed.
  • Increases the generalizability of the results.


  • Researchers may only be trained or familiar with quantitative or qualitative methods.
  • Choosing the appropriate methods and creating the overall design of the research project may be more challenging.
  • May be difficult to manage the projects if both methods are being used simultaneously.
  • May be more time-consuming and require additional funding.

Researchers should consider these strengths and weaknesses as they examine the best way to study their own research question.  The researcher will have to decide if using mixed methods is appropriate and necessary in order to gather the evidence needed in their study. Considering the following list of common rationales for using mixed methods research may be helpful:

  • Triangulation – The researcher needs to use mixed methods to converge, corroborate or validate results from different methods.
  • Complementarity – Mixed methods may be useful when the researcher wants to elaborate, enhance, further illustrate or clarify the results of a method.
  • Development – The researcher may need to use one method to help develop the other method. A great example of this was shown in the video above where Dr. Creswell used journals and focus groups to develop a better survey to distribute to a wider audience in order to obtain the data he was seeking.
  • Initiation – Researcher may use mixed methods when looking for contradictions and new perspectives. The results of one method may be used to examine and change the questions for the other method. The intention is to obtain divergent information.
  • Expansion – A researcher may want to expand the breadth, depth, and range of the research by using different methods and different ways of inquiry, resulting in more comprehensive results. This will expand the scope of study.

As shown in these lists, there are numerous reasons and rationales for choosing a mixed methods approach.  As seen Dr. Creswell’s video, there are distinct advantages and times when it is appropriate and or necessary to use mixed methods .  Dr. Creswell could have developed his final survey without the qualitative input from the journals and focus groups.  However, that input was vital in the survey development and led to more accurate results and a more comprehensive and reliable set of data to answer the research question.  Once the researcher has determined that a mixed methods approach would be advantageous to their project, the next step is to choose the appropriate research design.  Research design will be covered in the next module.


Suggested Readings

Bergman, M. M. (Ed.). (2008). Advances in mixed methods research: Theories and applications. Sage.
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage Publications, Incorporated.
Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2007). Designing and conducting mixed methods research.
Johnson, R. B., Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Turner, L. A. (2007). Toward a definition of mixed methods research. Journal of mixed methods research, 1(2), 112-133.
Johnson, R. B., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2004). Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational researcher, 33(7), 14-26.
Sale, J. E., Lohfeld, L. H., & Brazil, K. (2002). Revisiting the quantitative-qualitative debate: Implications for mixed-methods research. Quality and quantity, 36(1), 43-53.
Teddlie, C., & Tashakkori, A. (2003). Major issues and controversies in the use of mixed methods in the social and behavioral sciences. Handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research, 3-50.

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