Choosing a Mixed Methods Design

Choosing a Mixed Methods Design

In this module, different types of mixed methods research designs will be discussed.

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss key considerations when designing a mixed methods approach and the fundamental principle of mixed methods research.
  • Explain the types of mixed method designs and when they may be used.


Developing a mixed methods research design can be challenging.  Researchers must choose the appropriate quantitative and qualitative approaches necessary to answer the research question and design their mixed methods project using those approaches.  There are many ways combine these approaches and there are no rigid formulas for designing a mixed methods project.  However, the following guidelines may be helpful  for a researcher to consider as he or she designs the overall methodology of the project.

  • Consider your own philosophy and comfort level with quantitative and qualitative approaches.
  • Spend time considering your resources, including time, skills and funding. Be certain that the approaches you select are realistic for your timeframes and parameters.
  • List the goals/aims of each part of the study and determine whether these portions of the study will require quantitative or qualitative methods.
  • The fundamental principle of mixed methods research is that the researcher will use a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods that have complementary strengths and do not have overlapping weaknesses. Haphazardly choosing quantitative and qualitative approaches will result in poor results.  Choosing the appropriate methods to mix in the study requires logical and purposeful thought and planning. 
  • Consider methods of data collection for both the quantitative and qualitative approaches in the design. What type of data will be collected? When will it be collected?  Will the data be collected simultaneously (concurrent designs) or in different stages of the project (sequential designs?  How will it be integrated?  How will it impact other parts of the study?
  • Consider how the data collected may impact the development of the study over time. Will it be a pre-determined fixed methodology throughout the project?  Or will is it best suited to an emergent methodology that is flexible and may change over time based on data being collected?

Once the researcher has considered the factors listed above, he or she can use that information to choose an overall mixed methods design.  Following is a list of six mixed methods design strategies as developed by Dr. John Creswell (2003), a leading expert in mixed methods research.

  • Sequential Explanatory Design – This method is a two phase design where the quantitative data is collected first followed by qualitative data collection. The purpose is to use the qualitative results to further explain and interpret the findings from the quantitative phase.  For example, a survey may be used to collect quantitative data from a larger group.  Members of that group may then later be selected for interviews where they can explain and offer insights into their survey answers.
  • Sequential Exploratory Design – This method is also a two phase design. The qualitative data is collected first, followed by collection and analysis of quantitative data.  The purpose of this design is to develop an instrument (such as a survey), to develop a classification for testing, or to identify variables. Using the information from journals or diaries to develop an appropriate survey to administer to a larger sample would be an example of this design.
  • Sequential Transformative Design – This type of design also has two phases, but allows the theoretical perspective of the researcher to guide the study and determine the order of data collection. The results from both methods are integrated together at the end of the study during the interpretation phase.
  • Concurrent Triangulation Design – In this design, qualitative and quantitative data are collected concurrently in one phase. The data is analyzed separately and then compared and/or combined. An example would be if a researcher collected survey data and interview data at the same time and compared the results.  This method is used to confirm, cross-validate or corroborate findings.  It is often used to overcome a weakness in one method with the strengths of another. It can also be useful in expanding quantitative data through collection of open-ended qualitative data.
  • Concurrent Nested (Embedded) Design – This design includes one phase of data collection in which priority is given to one approach that guides the project, while the other approach is embedded or nested into the project and provides a supporting role. The embedded approach is often addressing a different question then the primary research question.
  • Concurrent Transformative Design – This method involves concurrent data collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. It is guided by a theoretical perspective in the purpose or research question of the study.  This perspective guides all methodological choices and the purpose is to evaluate that perspective at different levels of analysis.

In the following video, What is Mixed Methods Research, Dr. John W. Creswell describes mixed methods research and discusses the basics of research methodology, types of mixed methods designs and why mixed methods provides distinct advantages.


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.
Creswell, J. W., Plano Clark, V. L., Gutmann, M. L., & Hanson, W. E. (2003). Advanced mixed methods research designs. Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research, 209-240.
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.

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