Research designs

This page summarises and provides resources for the most common research designs. Research designs can be considered as approaches, overarching research strategies and action plans. Designs covered include action research, case study, discourse analysis, ethnography, generic qualitative research, grounded theory, mixed methods research, narrative research, phenomenology, co-relational research, cross sectional research, experimental research and longitudinal research.

Most, but not all, research starts with a research design. Using a design is not strictly necessary, some research starts with methods used without referring to a design. Using a design can however be useful as it will ensure that the components of your research integrate in a logical way. A research design somehow acts as a road map guiding the research process. It can help focus and refine research and will also often direct the use of a method.

Choosing a research design

The choice of research design is directed by your field of research, your personal beliefs about knowledge and how knowledge can be developed, and the research problem you are trying to solve.

Research fields tend to have traditions, dominant practices you need to position yourself within (or sometimes against). These practices may direct the type of problems focused on, the approach to research favoured. Research is not a neutral field, there are politics behind research. These politics influence research practices, including what is considered to be ‘good’ evidence.

The choice of research design also needs to be directed by the research problem. There needs to be a logic informing the research design decision. Any decision needs to be part of a strategy developed to answer a research question and whatever choice is made, has to be explained. Do NOT pick a design first and then try to fit your problem in it. Instead try to see how particular designs might address your research question.

Note that the use of two frameworks is possible, as long as they can complement each other.

Getting a sense of possible research designs can be difficult, as they reflect research traditions which are not static. Over time designs are being categorised and characterised in different ways and new designs are developed.

Common design approaches in qualitative research are ethnography, grounded theory, case study and phenomenology. Common design approaches in quantitative research are experimental, co-relational, longitudinal, survey design quasi experimental or pre-experimental. Many other design approaches have been developed to fit specific fields and are not yet referred to in this text.

Designs are presented in alphabetical order.

Action Research and Participatory Action Research


Action research pursues action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time (Dick, 1999). Action research tends to be useful for improving practice, bringing about social change. Participants play a crucial rule in Action Research. Their knowledge is valued and the research aims to help them reflect on a situation, often to allow for a situation, practice or process to change. Participants discuss what will be researched, how it will be researched and what happens to the findings. It is a reflective, democratic practice. In the end participants own the results of the research and use it to change a situation, solve a problem. The idea that research is done with people, rather than on people can be challenging for some researchers.

Action research can involve the self as participants. This is then generally about improving practice through self-reflection, which is a common tradition in education.

Action research can also be a collective, community activity designed to bring about social change. This is referred to as Participatory Action Research.

The process goes as follows (Burns, 2009, p112)



  • Participants and researcher have shared goals
  • Stakeholders want to improve a situation

Researcher’s position

The research is led by participants and the researcher’s role is to provide expertise on how to address an issue.


Methods can be qualitative or quantitative, depending on what participants want to research.

References and resources for action research

Burns, A. (2009). Action research (ch. 9). In Heigham, J. and R. A. Croker (eds.), Qualitative research in applied linguistics: a practical introduction (pp. 112-131). Basingstoke, Hampshire/New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Burns, A. (2013). Action research in TESOL watch video icon 37′.

Dick, B. (1999), What is action research? Available on line at

Herr, K. & Anderson, G. L. (2005). The action research dissertation: a guide for students and faculty. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Kemmis, S. & McTaggert, P. (1988). The action research planner. Geelong, Victoria: Deakin University.

Wadsworth, Y. (1997). Do it yourself social research (2nd ed). Allen & Unwin:St.Leonards. UC Library HM48.W3 1997

Wadsworth, Y. (1997). Everyday evaluation on the run (2nd ed)., Allen & Unwin: St.Leonards. UC Library: H62.W23 1997

Case study

Case study is often defined in different ways, reflecting evolving practice. What is important then is to define the concept for yourself and explain to your audience how you are using the term.


A research approach in which one or few instances of a phenomenon are studied in depth (Given, 2008).

An empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used (Yin, 1984).

Case study involves a detailed in depth analysis of an organisation, person, a group, an event, allowing an understanding of complex phenomena, such as organisations. A case study generally involves looking at a single case (which already exists), an object of study which is easily identified and separated (a bounded system) from other similar objects e.g. an organization, a place, an illness in one patient. Case study is a useful methodology for focussing on relationships connecting everyday practices in natural settings, placing attention on a local situation (Stake, 2006).

The case study is useful to investigate an issue in depth and ‘provide an explanation that can cope with the complexity and subtlety of real of life situation’ (Denscombe, 2010, p55). Research questions revolve around ‘How?’ or ‘Why?’ and may be explanatory, exploratory or descriptive in nature (Yin, 2003).

Case studies have been categorised in a variety of ways according to whether they are exploratory, illustrative or exploratory:

  • Exploratory: first stage pilot to work out something (in some cases refers to descriptive case studies)
  • Illustrative
  • Explanatory (causal case study e.g. how did change occur – we want to explain something that happened) You cannot do explanatory without having a really good theoretical framework.

According to their relationship with theory. According to Yin all cases should be theory led, since one does not just pick cases but there must be a reason for picking a case.  But cases can also be selected because they are accessible and the theory then emerges from cases as you do your research. Sometimes you can have an idea of theory, but them also led theory emerge from the data.

  • Case study can be used to develop theory. Yin (2003, p 1) notes that a case study is a way to ‘contribute to our knowledge of individual, group, organisational, social, political and related phenomena’
  • Case study can be used to test theory : what is it supposed to do and does it do that?
  • Case studies can be used to trace a process, developing an understanding and then test it (Bennett, Andrew)

Case studies can involve:

  • Case studies with ‘embedded units’ (subunits) which are also examined
  • Case studies with only one unit of analysis which focuses solely on the global nature of a phenomenon
  • Multiple cases

Case studies are also categorised as intrinsic, instrumental or collective (Stake, 2000).

  • Intrinsic case study: aims to obtain a better understanding of a particular case itself rather than particular phenomena. Theory building or transferability are not concerns. Example: evaluation of an existing program.
  • Instrumental case study: case selected to provide insight into a particular issue. Case is a means to an end.
  • Collective case study: focus is on studying a number of cases with the aim of understanding a phenomenon or a population. Multiple cases allow for comparison.


Case studies generally use a combination of methods. Data can include observations, interviews or documents.

Data can be collected over time: diachronic data collection – or prospective: data is collected as things are unfolding – something that is tracked over time.

Note that generalisabilty in case study design is not often possible. Instead concepts/theories with wider application can sometimes be generated.

Multiple case studies

In multiple cases research single cases are meaningful in relation to the other cases cited. Multiple case study research needs to use cases that are similar in some ways. The cases become ‘members of a group or examples of a phenomenon’ (Stake, 2006, 6). This allows examine what is similar and dissimilar about the cases. The researcher is looking for patterns and uniqueness, particulars and generalisations in the cases developed.

  • Comparative case study is typically explanatory, looking for causal, for making causal claims . Try to answer question about cause when you cannot have a treatment and a non treatment group.
  • Collective cases study – one type is comparative. Comparative case study is typically explanatory, looking for causal, for making causal claims . Try to answer question about cause when you cannot have a treatment and a non treatment group.

Resources and references on case studies

Online lecture on case studies part 1 (Gibbs)Online lecture on case studies part 2 (Gibbs)Case study: replication or single case (Gibbs).

Denscombe,Martyn (2010)(4th ed). The good research guide for small scale social research projects. Maidenhead: Open University Pres McGraw Hill.

Dufour, S. & Foutin, V. (1992)., ‘Annotated bibliography of case study method’, Current Sociology 40/1, 166-181.

Fidel, R. (1984). ‘The Case Study Method: A Case Study’, Library and Information Science Research 6/3, 273-288.

Gerring, J. (2007), Case Study Research: Principles and Practices, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Gilbertson, D. W. & Stone, R. J. (1985) (2nd ed). Human resources management: cases and readings. Sydney : McGraw-Hill, 1985.LIBRARY – HF5549.G48 1985.

Giving, L. M. (2008) (ed.), The Sage Encyclopaedia of Qualitative Research Methods, Los Angeles: Sage.

Goodrick, Delwyn (2014). Comparative case studies. Methodological briefs.Impact Evaluation No. 9. Unicef. Available from

Hossain, Dewan Mahboob (2009). ‘Case Study Research’, Social Science Research Network

Marshall, C. & Rossman, G.B. (2006) (4th ed). Designing qualitative research, Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Merriam S. (1998). Qualitative research and case study application in education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Ragin, C.C. & Becker, H.S. (1992). What is a Case? Exploring the foundations of social enquiry, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Sadler, D. Royce (1985). ‘Evaluation, Policy Analysis and Multiple Case Studies: Aspects of focus and sampling’, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 7/2, 143-149.

Simons (2009). Case study research in practice. London: Sage.

Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. UC Library ref LB1028.S73 1995.

Stake, R.E. (2006). Multiple Case Study Analysis, New York & London: Guildford Press.

Soy, Susan K. (1997). The case study as a research method. University of Texas (Austin) Available from

Stoecker, R. (1991), ‘Evaluating and rethinking the case study’, The Sociological Review, 39/1, 88-112.

Thomas, Gary (2011). How to do your Case Study: A Guide For Students And Researchers. London: Sage

Yin, R.K. (1989). ‘Case study research design and method’. Applied Social Research Methods Series 5. Newbury Park: Sage.

Zach, L. (2006), ‘Using multiple case studies design to investigate the information-seeking behaviour of arts administrators’, Library Trends 55/1, 4-21.

Co-relational research

To determine a relationship exists between two or more quantifiable variables. Watch out co-relational research may not allow generation of new knowledge and does not establish a cause-effect relationship.

Cross sectional design

Cross sectional design is also referred to as social survey design (Bryman & Bell 2011, p 53).


Data is collected on more than one case at one point in time with at least two variables. Variables are then examined to uncover patterns or association. Data can include surveys, interviews, documents, observations and statistics. Patterns and associations in variables are explored.

Descriptive quantitative research

Collection of data to test hypothesis or find out how something is.  Descriptive quantitative research works with large number of participants and provides answers to specific sets of questions. It is useful to assess:

  • attitudes, beliefs and behaviours and their changes over time
  • differences between groups of people

Discourse analysis

Discourse analysis involves an ‘analysis of the ways in which discourses – which can be read in texts and talk – constitute the social world (Mason, 2006). Developed from linguistics, literary criticism, semiotics, discourse analysis looks at meaning behind ‘text’ or implied meanings’. Discourse analysis situates a text within a context and unpacks what people are implicitly trying to do in a text. It is largely concerned with language, but text can also refer to images and film. The methodology assumes that words and images do not depict reality, but create reality, that words are chosen to have an effect to readers.

Unlike grounded theory, discourse analysis works with prior assumptions, since existing knowledge about society informs the analysis.

Discourse analysis can mean different things, since many strands developed over the years. It is therefore important to define how the term is used. Some see discourse analysis as method rather than a research approach or strategy. Indeed there is some overlap between linguistic phenomenology and discourse analysis.

Critical discourse analysis explores how text serves the interest of powerful groups and how discourse achieves power. Discourse analysis can also examine the blending together of different texts. This assumes that knowledge and meaning are produced through interaction with multiple discourses (Starks and Brown 2007, p 1373).


Language is itself meaningless; a system of signs, but agreed meaning generates meaning. Words are not determined by what they represent, they are chosen to have an effect (same for images and photo). Language thus reveals background assumptions and has to be examined within the context in which it is produced.


Written and spoken texts and images. Method involves examining how language is used to accomplish certain objectives and positions in relation to others. Involves deconstruction of data to show how texts sustain particular ideas about social life, to find out what a text is trying to do and how this is achieved (Denscombe, 2010). Discourse analysis is generally qualitative, but can be empirical and quantitative, e.g. linguistic study of texts scrutinised as separate from their author.


Denscombe, Martyn (2010). The Good Research Guide. (4th ed).Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

Potter, J. and Wetherell, M. (1994). ‘Analysing discourse’, in A Bryman and R.G. Burgess (eds). Analysing qualitative data. Routledge: London.

Woofit, R. (2005).Conversation analysis and discourse analysis: a comparative and critical introduction. Routledge: London.


Ethnography has its roots in anthropology. Anthropologist used to examine the way of life of tribal communities. Ethnography has been extended to focus on micro-societies, social groups, cultural groups and work locations. Ethnography seeks to explore culture and cultural groups. (Richards and Morse, 2007, p53).

The emphasis is on studying an entire culture. Watch out for the many definitions of culture. ‘The term culture is multi discursive, it can be mobilised in a number of different discourses’(Hartley, 2002). In ethnography, culture is generally defined by ethnicity and geographic location, group or organisation. Culture is transmitted within a group, by its members and is dynamic, adapting and changing over time.

The researcher’s position

Different views co-exist as to how the ethnographic researcher is to position him/herself in relation to what is researched.

One view is that, because culture is not always evident to those who are part of a group, ethnography is best conducted by those who are not part of the group (Richards and Morse, 2007). Ethnographers are expected to immerse themselves in the culture or organisation they are studying, becoming a part of the culture in order to learn about it “from the inside out.”

Of relevance here are the concepts of etic (a researcher taking an outsider position) and emic (insider). However, integration in the group is also needed, so it is to become as integrated as possible, yet remain etic.

Some researchers believe that insiders can research their own culture providing they are self-reflective. Carolyn Ellis (1992, 1996) has produced interesting literature on ethnography of the self or auto-ethnography.

Ethnographic research is always conducted in the natural setting and context in which the group studies exists.


Ethnographic data is generally collected in different stages, as researchers need to first negotiate entry into a cultural group and go through various stages to become familiar with and be accepted by the group.

The most common ethnographic approach is participant observation. The ethnographer becomes immersed in the culture as an active participant and takes field notes.

Other methods commonly used are interviews, diaries or consultation of documents.

Ethnography can provide thick description, narratives and classificatory systems (e.g. taxonomies) of cultural groups. The quality of the results is largely dependent on the capacity and willingness to consistently reflect on the results in the context of the cultural values, beliefs and behaviours of the group.

Ethnographic can also be used to develop theory or test existing theory.

Creative work, dance and theatre are developing as new ways of describing ethnographic results.

Ethnograhpic design can be combined. Check for instance Kusenbach, M. (2003), Street Phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool . Ethnography, 4, 455–485.

References and resources on ethnography

AIGA (The Profesional Association for Design)An ethnography primer. This is a ‘simple and straight-forward primer introducing the crucial role that ethnography plays in designing’.

Denscombe,Martyn (2010)(4th ed). The good research guide for small scale social research projects. Maidenhead: Open University Pres McGraw Hill.

Ellis, Carolyn and Bochner Arthur (eds)(1996). Composing ethnography : alternative forms of qualitative writing, London : AltaMira Press.

Ellis, Carolyn and Flaherty Michael G.(1992). Investigating subjectivity: research on lived experience. Newbury Park : SAGE Publications, c1992 HM251.S8369 1992.

Ellis, Carolyn (2004). The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel About Autoethnography. Rowman and Litlefield.

Genzuk, Michael (.d.), A synthesis of ethnographic research. Center for Multilingual, Multicultural Research, University of Southern California.

Hammersley, M. AND Atkinson, P. (2007). Ethnography : principles in practice (3rd ed) Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York : Routledge UC GN345.H35 2007.

Hammersley, M. (1990). Reading Ethnographic Research. New York: Longman. UC GN307.5.H35 1991.

Hartley, John (2002). Communication, cultural and media studies. The key concepts. London: Routledge.

Silverman, David (2007). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about qualitative research. London, Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Experimental research

Experimental research involves the testing of hypothesis by manipulation of variables (generally causes) and sees the effect it has on other controlled variables. It is generally used to establish causation.


Experimental research involves manipulations of independent variables to determine impact on dependent variable. Manipulations can be in laboratories or in real life. Generally involves an experimental group and a control group, sometimes also the use of a placebo.

Techniques to avoid Hawthorne effect (effect of being studied on experimental group) (Bryan and Bell (2011, p 50):

  • single blind (subject don’t know what is being measured)
  • double blind (neither subjects nor research technicians know what is being measured)

Quasi experiments  are often used to study social settings and involve the manipulation of some of the social settings. For example, selecting specific non-randomised groups and test a variable on these groups.

Generic Qualitative Inquiry

Sometimes, design approaches are not appropriate. In those cases, researchers can consider a more generic qualitative inquiry approach.

Generic qualitative inquiry is not guided by an explicit set of philosophical assumptions as is the case in ethnography, grounded theory and phenomenology. It has to be valid and apply rules and methods recognised in qualitative research – exploratory research that seeks understanding and discovery.


Generic qualitative inquiry generally uses thematic analysis to analyse data.

Grounded Theory

The method of grounded theory was developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967). rounded theory was rooted in induction and started form positivism. Today grounded theory has become very important in interpretivist research. As many other approaches, it can mean different things for different people. It is important to define what it means for you.

Grounded theory aims to develop theory which is grounded or rooted in reality. In Glaser and Strauss (1967) words, grounded theory aims to develop explanatory theory of basic social processes studied in the environments in which they take place. It is not a testing theory approach and it does not aim to provide descriptive accounts (Denscombe, 2010), but goes beyond this, to provide an explanation of the phenomena researched.

Grounded theory typically involves questions that seek to understand what is going on here? It is about learning from participants how to understand a situation. Grounded theory is often used in health and business, where change and processes are important (Richards and Morse, 2007).


Pure grounded theory suggests that the researcher is supposed to work without any preconceptions, to not be influenced by previous theories, ideas or existing literature. Any existing knowledge needs to be put on hold. The researcher is expected to construct a theory emerging from the data, not from what he already knows.

The idea that one’s mind can be a tabular rasa with no existing ideas at all is of course very contested. Can we really wipe out everything we know to start from zero?


Empirical fieldwork is important as theories are not developed abstractly. Multiple methods can be used, but preference is for methods that provide relatively unstructured data or raw data, such as unstructured interviews and open ended questions.

Grounded theory involves extracting concepts from data, while testing them, testing their relationships to continuously verify emerging theory. The analysis involves finding basic elements of complex things through categorising and comparing. This implies an ongoing interplay between data collection, analysis and writing.

Since grounded theory develops theory, results generally concentrate on a single concept.

watch video icon

Gibbs, Graham R. (2010) Grounded theory. Core elements part one and part two. In these two videos, Gibbs introduces the idea of developing grounded theory and discusses some of the core elements of the approach to qualitative data analysis. The coding process is developed in detail in videos Grounded theory open coding part 1, part 2 and part 3, Grounded theory axial coding.


Gibbs, Graham Robert. (2012) ‘Grounded theory, coding and computer-assisted analysis’. In S. Becker, A. Bryman & H. Ferguson (eds.),Understanding Research for Social Policy and Social Work: Themes, Methods and Approaches. 2nd edn. Bristol: Policy Press. pp. 337-343.

Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A.L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldeline.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park , Calif. : Sage Publications. Available at UC Library HA29.S823 1990.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (2007). Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks : Sage. Available at UC Library HA29.S77 2007.

Charmaz (2000). ‘Grounded theory: objectivist and constructivist methods’ in Denzin and Lincoln (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research, 105-117. H62.H2455 2000.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: a practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage, 2006. UC Library – general collection – H61.24.C53 2006 or 7 day loan shelves- H61.24.C53 2006.

Mixed methods

While we have hinted at links between a particular method and a particular epistemological position, in practice ‘aligning a particular epistemology and paradigm with a particular methodology is not necessarily straightforward or helpful’ (Goodrick, 2011, p 11). Treating the two main approaches as totally separate, denying the possibilities for working back and forth between these two extremes is problematic according to Morgan (2007), who advocates a more pragmatic approach, examining ‘what people can do with the knowledge they produce and not on abstract arguments about the possibility or impossibility of generalizability’ (Morgan, 2007, p 72). Moving beyond attachment to one paradigm generally has’ greater power to convince a reader/examiner of the quality and value of your findings’ (Cooksey & Mc Donald, 2011, p 199).  Mixed methods assumes that a methodology is chosen simply for its capacity to address research objectives. When using mixed methods  is important to keep in mind

  • how different data sets will co-operate
  • different guiding assumption underlying each method chosen

Mixed methods involves collecting data in a simultaneous or sequential manner using methods drawn from both quantitative and qualitative traditions.

Mixed methods advantages

  • Balances strengths and limitations of quantitative and qualitative
  • Facilitates view from different perspectives
  • Enhances credibility among a wider group

Combining quantitative and qualitative research allows (Bryman, 2004)

  • triangulation
  • ability to fill in gaps
  • use of one methodology to facilitate other
  • combining of static and procedural features
  • gaining perspectives of researcher & participant

Possible issues

  • role of theory in relation to research (deductive or inductive)
  • epistemological orientation
  • ontological orientation

Mixed methods requires

  • Broader skill set
  • Broader experience
  • Time and resources
  • Acceptance and understanding of mixed methods

Mixed methods research design

  • What kinds of methods can be mixed?
  • How can they be mixed?
  • What is the rationale for mixing these particular methods?
  • Are the methods being applied at the same time?
  • Are the methods used in a chronological/sequential sequence?
  • What is the relative weight given to each method? Is there a dominant method?

Major Designs

Adapted from Creswell & Plano-Clark (2007/2011), and Creswell (2009), I have listed major mixed methods designs below. The list is not exhaustive, for more check

Convergent parallel or concurrent triangulation design

Example of concurrent triangulation design:

Purpose: Examine adolescents’ attitudes towards recreation alcohol

Methods: Total of 563 adolescents were asked to complete a structured questionnaire on alcohol use.  At the same time four focus group sessions with 8 to 10 young people in each were held

Concurrent embedded Design

In a concurrent design the quantitative and the qualitative parts are carried out simultaneously. A  qualitative phase is embedded within a predominantly quantitative project or vice versa.  For example: research in organisation carries out quantitative study of all employees, and at the same time qualitative interviews of cleaners.

Sequential explanatory design

Qualitative is used here as a follow up to explore result from quantitative. This is often chosen by researchers who favour quantitative approach (Creswell, 2009). Research steps need to be clear separate stages

Sequential exploratory

The research is mainly qualitative, but quantitative research is added to build on the result of the qualitative part. This can be useful to develop an instrument, a model…

Example of sequential explanatory design

Purpose : examine and compare science classroom learning environments in Singapore and Australia from different perspectives.

Methods : Large scale quantitative questionnaire  collecting data from 1081 students in Australia and 1879 students in Singapore

Data used as a springboard for further data collection involving interviews with participants, observations, and narrative stories

Triangulation was used to secure an in-depth understanding of the learning environment and to provide richness to the whole.

Concurrent transformative

Requires the concurrent collection of quantitative and and qualitative data. The aim is to ‘confirm, cross-validate, or corroborate findings within a single study’ (Creswell et al., 2003).

Design issues in mixed method research

  • What is the purpose of the research? – Who is the audience?
  • What are your research questions?
  • What methods will best help you answer those questions?
  • Who do you need to ‘find out’ from? –Data sources
  • What is the approximate sample size you will require to generate credible evidence?
  • How will you analyse the data?
  • How will validity/trustworthiness issues be addressed?
  • What are your timelines? What skills/resource/ constraints/personal factors might enhance or limit the study?

Triangulation and mixed methods

Mixed methods involves more complex research. AND there is NO guarantee that research converges into one single story – multiple methods, multiple data sources, multiple analysts, multiple perspectives multiple or contradictory stories may need to be reconciled (Cooksey & Mc Donald, 2011). The aim is to understand areas of convergence and divergence for  opening  up a new understanding.

Consider the following vocabulary to explain how findings may link together (Based on Greene et al. 1989, p 259):

Triangulation: convergence, corroboration, correspondence or results from different methods.

Crystallisation: bring together findings

Complementarity: seeks elaboration, enhancement, illustration, clarification of the results from one method with the results from another

Development: seeks to use the results from one method to help develop or inform the other method

Initiation: seeks the discovery of paradox and contradiction, new perspectives frameworks, the recasting of questions or results from one method with questions or results from the other method

Expansion: seeks to extend the breadth and range of enquiry by using different methods for different inquiry components

Mixed methods: data collection

Methods for collecting data in a mixed methods design are those used in qualitative and quantitative research and include

  • Clinical/Medical data collection (quant)
  • Diaries (qual/quant)
  • Document analysis (qual/quant)
  • Focus groups and group interviews (qual)
  • Individual interviews (qual/quant)
  • Observational strategies (qual/quant)
  • Photographs and videos
  • Q-sort (qual/quant)
  • Scales – Quant- Semantic differential/Goal Attainment scales
  • Survey (quant/qual)
  • Tests (quant)

References and resources

Bryman, A and Bell, E. (2011). Business Research Methods. Oxford University Press

Cooksey, Ray & McDonald, Gael (2011), Surviving and thriving in postgraduate research. Tilde University Press, Prahran.

Cooper, J., & Hall, J. (2016). ‘Understanding Black Male student athletes’ experiences at an historically black college/university:  A mixed methods approach’.  Journal of Mixed Methods Research 10/1.

Cresswell, JW., & Plano-Clark, V.L. (2011).  Designing and conducting Mixed Methods Research (2nd Ed). Sage: Los Angeles.

Creswell, J. W. (2003). Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Creswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five traditions, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research Design. Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches, Sage: Thousand Oaks.

Denzin, N & Lincoln, Y. (eds.) (1994). Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Fetters, M., Freshwater, D. (2015).  Publishing a methodological mixed methods research article.  Journal of mixed methods research, vol 9(3), 203-213

Goodrick, D. (2011), Qualitative Research, Design, Analysis and Representation, unpublished notes from workshop presented at ACSPRI Canberra 2011

Greene, J. (2007). Mixed methods in social inquiry.  San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Guba, E.G & Lincoln, Y.S. (1994). ‘Competing paradigms in qualitative research’.  In Denzin N.K. and Lincoln Y.S. (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research, 105-117.

Johnson, R.B. & Onwuegbuzie, A.J.(2004). ‘Mixed Methods Research: A Research Paradigm Whose Time Has Come’, Educational Researcher 33:14-26.

Moffatt S, White M, Mackintosh J, Howel D. (2006).’Using quantitative and qualitative data in health services research – what happens when mixed method findings conflict?’ ‘ BMC Health Serv Res. 8, 6-28.

Morgan, David L.(2007), ‘Paradigms Lost and Pragmatism Regained : Methodological Implications of Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods’.  Journal of Mixed Methods Research 1/1, 48 –

O’Cathain A, Murphy E, Nicholl J. (2008). ‘The quality of mixed methods studies in health services research’. J Health Serv Res Policy 13/2, 92-8.

Onwuegbuzie, A.J. & Johnson, R.B. (2006).  ‘The validity issue in mixed research’. Research in the schools 13(1), 48-63

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Leech, N. L. (2006).’ Linking research questions to mixed methods data analysis procedures’. The Qualitative Report, 11, 474-498.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Teddlie, C. (2003). ‘A framework for analyzing data in mixed methods research’. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (pp. 351-383). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Stange, K. Crabtree, B. & Miller, W. (2006) “Multimethod Research”, Annals of Family Medicine 4, 292- 294.

Tashakkori, A, and Teddlie, C. (Eds.) (2003). Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research, Sage, California.

Tashakkori, A. and C. Teddlie (2010a) Sage Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research. Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage Publications.

Narrative inquiry

Narrative research has many different perspectives and is still a ‘field in the making’ (Chase, cited in Cresswell et al, 2007).

Contemporary narrative research is rooted in:

  • Post war rise of humanist approaches within Western sociology and psychology; and
  • Structuralism, post-structuralism postmodern, psychoanalytical and deconstructionist approaches to narrative (Andrews, Squire & Tambouctou, 2008).

These traditions assume multiple, disunified subjectives involved in the production and understanding of narratives (Andrews et al, 2008, p 3).

Humanist and poststructuralist approaches have a tendency to treat narratives as modes of resistance to existing structures of power. Their assumptions about subjectivity, language, social and narrative are in contradiction.

  • Narrative inquiry focusing on stories individuals tell (orally or written) about an event or an experience seen as ‘individual, internal representations of phenomena to which the narrative gives expression’ (Andrews, Squire & Tambouctou, 2008).
  • Narrative inquiry focusing on events tends to assume representations are more or less constant.
  • Narrative inquiry that focusses on experience tend to stress that representations ‘vary drastically over time and across circumstances, so that a single phenomenon may produce different stories’ and that stories allow experience to become part of consciousness (Andrews, Squire & Tambouctou, 2008).

The various approaches in narrative inquiry reflect:

  • Beliefs about whether stories represent internal individual states or external social circumstances – are narratives shaped by audiences and if so, to what extent? (Andrews, Squire & Tambouctou, 2008).
  • Whether they reveal thinking/feeling or events and experience.
  • Whether narratives are about the building of personal identity and agency. For example, how personal stories get built up through conversation, or how narrative are about the negotiation of social identity.


Data can be collected from individuals, groups, communities, organisations or nations. Riessman (2008) refers to these as ‘cases’. Narrative inquiry in that sense works well with case study design.

Narrative research can involve individual and co-constructed narratives. Narratives collected are often interviews but can include notes, observation or letters. Narrative applies in a wide variety of ‘texts’. Narrative inquiry is generally based on extended accounts.

The analysis involves ordering the meaning of the experiences in the stories, in other words, re-story the stories (Riessman, 2008). Narrative inquiry is often much more than just an analysis of content of a narrative, it is an exploration of the how and why of experiences, but also of how and why events are storied, for what purpose, how events are sequenced and how language communicates meaning.

This can lead to:

  • The analysis of themes across stories
  • A collection of descriptions, retold in a story
  • Biographies and autobiographies

Resources and references on narrative research

watch video icon Prof. Jean Clandinin on narrative inquiry Narrative research overview in images

Andrews, M., Squire, C. and M Tamboukou (eds) (2008). Doing narrative research Sage: London. UC library H61.295.D65.2008.

Baker Mona (n.d.) Narrative Analysis: Translation as Renarration. Methods @ Manchester, University of Manchester.

Clandinin, D.j. & Connelly, F.M. (2000), Narrative inquiry: experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Morny, J. (ed) (1997). Paul Ricoeur and narrative. University of Calgary Press. UC Library B2430.R553.P38.1997.

Riessman, Catherine Kohler (2008) Narrative methods for the human sciences. Los Angeles : Sage Publications, c2008. Uc library H61.295.R54 2008.

Longitudinal research

Longitudinal research is used to map change over time. This method requires a lot of time, therefore often not possible in the context of a PhD.

Data collection

Data collected at various points in time. Example, Graduate Longitudinal Study, New Zealand.


The phenomenologist wants to understand how the world appears to others and how it is lived by others. Phenomenology seeks to understand what (the phenomenon) people see as significant, how a phenomenon is perceived, interpreted and lived.

Phenomenology refers to a philosophical movement, as well as to a methodological framework based on ideas developed by philosophers. The introduction of phenomenology is generally attributed to Edmund Husserl, who proposed it as a way of doing philosophy. Different versions of phenomenology developed over time, but they all centre on investigating the essence of human experience.

As a researcher you are more likely to see references to descriptive and hermeneutical or interpretative phenomenology.

  • Descriptive (or eidetic) phenomenology aims to describe characteristics of a phenomenon, rather than experiences of an individual to determining the essence of a phenomenon. Van Manen (2011) also refers to this trend, proposed by Husserl and Giorgi as transcendental phenomenology.
  • Interpretative (or hermeneutic) phenomenology aims to describe, understand and interpret participants’ experiences. Paul Ricoeur, for example, argued that meanings are mediated through language as well as art, myths and religion. Meaning has to be sought behind words, interactions and images people use.

Moustakas (1990 cited in Richards and Morse, 2007) also distinguishes heuristic phenomenology – experience-based techniques when researchers seek to understand themselves and their lived worlds. This is largely autobiographical research.


  • Descriptive phenomenology seeks to derive the essence of experience and to expose taken for granted assumptions (Sokolowski, 2000 cited in Starks and Brown, 2007). To understand this essence, the phenomenon in its purest form, natural everyday assumptions need to be set aside through bracketing or reduction.

Bracketing: the art of suspending everyday beliefs.

  • Interpretative phenomenology assumes the researcher is part of the research and the researcher has knowledge and understanding of participants, a situation that can influence interpretation. What is important here is not setting aside biases but acknowledge them, which is a different way of bracketing, achieved through reflection.

Reflectivity: think back about practices and bring things out in the open.

Reflexivity: thinking from within oneself, seeing oneself within the experience.

The researcher’s position

Traditionally researchers using phenomenology will adopt a subjective position, considering that experience and the defining of experience produce and reproduce reality.

Phenomenology encourages a critical position, as it requires setting aside as well as sometimes questioning of what is taken for granted. In descriptive phenomenology preconceptions have to be consciously reduced (if not eliminated) so that existing interpretations do not interfere nor filter through (or as little as possible).

Phenomenology aims to get at someone’s experience. It is about understanding the lived experience of a particular phenomenon (e.g. in health – exploration of experience of illness – child of someone with illness).


Phenomenology collects views from participants and describes what participants have in common as they describe a phenomenon (Cresswell et al, 2007). Phenomenology typically uses unstructured, conversational interviews, where participants are asked to describe their experience, to pay attention to a phenomenon, talk about it and describe it openly. The emphasis is on people’s subjective experiences and interpretations, the ‘lived experience’ of the phenomenon. It is not a 30’ interview. It is fixing in to an experience of something – e..g trauma….flow. In a phenomenological interview you may be learning things about yourself that you never knew.

While interviews are commonly used as data, phenomenology can also work with literature, poetry, art, observation and focus groups.

Phenomenology tends to generate large amounts of unstructured data. The analysis would then involve several stages:

  • Getting a sense of what the data is about
  • Identify and aggregate themes/concepts on mind maps or note books
  • Go back to interviews and see what is being said about themes/concepts identified

Descriptive phenomenology will then focus on the perspective of the participants in their own voices, rather than an interpretation of what is being said.

Interpretative phenomenology will bring interpretation by looking across themes and try to identify relationships and relate this to what is known by the researcher.

Resources on phenomenology

Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology

Colaizzi, Pr. (1973) Marton, F., & Booth, S. (1997). Learning and Awareness. New Jersey: Lawerence Erlbaum Associates.

Embree, L. (2009). ‘Phenomenology and social constructionism: Constructs for political identity’. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40/2, 127–139.

Englander, M. (n.d.). ‘The Interview: Data Collection in Descriptive Phenomenological Human Scientific Research’ . Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 43, 13–35.

Gibson, S. K., & Hanes, and Lisa A. (2003). ‘The Contribution of Phenomenology to HRD Research’. Human Resource Development Review 2, 181–205.

Holstein, J.A. & Gubrium, J.F. (1994), ‘Phenomenology, ethnomethonology and interpretive practice’, pp 262 – 272 in Denzin N.K. 7 Lincoln Y.S. (1994) Handbook of Qualitative Research, Sage: Thousand Oaks.

Kusenbach, M. (2003). ‘Street Phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool’ . Ethnography, 4, 455–485.

Lester, S (1999). An introduction to phenomenological research, Stan Lester Developments: Taunton UK (An easy practical overview accessed from on 12/09/2013).

Langdridge, D. (2007). Phenomenological psychology: theory, research and method. Prentice Hall: Pearson.

Moustakas, C. (1990). Heuristic research: design, methodology and applications. Newbury Park: Sage.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Starks, Helen and Grown, Susan (2007), ‘Choose your method: a comparison of phenomenology, discourse analysis and grounded theory’, Qualitative Health Research 17/10, 1372-1380.

Tuohy, D. CooneyA., DowlingM., Murphy K. and Sixmith J. (2013). ‘An overview of interpretive phenomenology as a research methodology’, Nurse Researcher 20/6, 17-20.

Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. State University of New York Press: New York.

Van Manen (2007)

Social Network Analysis using Qualitative Methods


qual reserach

Research design – recommended readings and references

Angen, MJ. (2000). ‘Evaluating interpretive inquiry: Reviewing the validity debate and opening the dialogue’. Qualitative Health Research. 10(3) pp. 378-395.

Babbie, Earl (1998), The Practice of Social Research, London: Wadsworth.

Booth, W., Colomb. and Williams J. (2008). The craft of research (3rd ed). The University of Chicago press.

Bryman, A. (2004) Quantity and Quality in Social Research. London: Routledge, 2nd ed.

Bryman, A and Bell, E. (2011). Business Research Methods. Oxford University Press.

Burrell, G. and Morgan, G. (1979) Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Heinemann: London. (Available from UC Library HM131.B82 1979).

Cook, Thomas D and Reichardt, Charles S (eds. 1979), Qualitative and quantitative methods in evaluation research, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

Cooksey, Ray & McDonald, Gael (2011), Surviving and thriving in postgraduate research. Tilde University Press, Prahran.

Cresswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks : Sage.

Cresswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative research designs: choosing among five approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Cresswell John W, Hanson W. E., Clark Plano V. L and Morales A. (2007). ‘Qualitative research designs: selection and implementation’. The Counselling Psychologist 35, pp236 -264.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundation of social research: meaning and perspective in the research process. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage Publications.

Cunliffe, A. L. (2011). ‘Crafting qualitative research: Morgan and Smircich 30 years on’.Organisational Research Methods, 14/4, 647–673.

Denscombe,Martyn (2010)(4th ed). The good research guide for small scale social research projects. Maidenhead: Open University Pres McGraw Hill.

Denzin, N. K and Lincoln Y. S. (eds) (2000). Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed) Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications. (UC – H62.H2455 2000).

Denzin, N. K and Lincoln Y. S. (eds) (2005). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research/editors. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, c2005. (UC LIBRARY – 7 day loan – H62.H2455 2005).

Embree, L. (2009). ‘Phenomenology and social constructionism: Constructs for political identity’. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 40/2, 127–139.

Englander, M. (2012.). ‘The Interview: Data Collection in Descriptive Phenomenological Human Scientific Research’.Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 43, 13–35.

Ezzy, Douglas. 2002. Qualitative Analysis: Practice and Innovation. London: Routledge.

Flick, U., 2002, An Introduction to Qualitative Research, London: Sage.

Gibson, S. K., & Hanes, and Lisa A. (2003). ‘The Contribution of Phenomenology to HRD Research’.Human Resource Development Review 2, 181–205.

Golden-Biddle, K. (2007). Composing qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Goodrick, Delwyn (2011), Qualitative Research, Design, Analysis and Representation, unpublished notes from workshop presented in the context of ACSPRI 2011 (Canberra).

Guba, EG and Lincoln, YS. (1994). ‘Competing paradigms in qualitative research’ 105-117 in NK Denzin and YS Lincoln (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research.

Huberman M. A. and Miles, M. B. (eds) (1994). Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, Calif.; London: Sage Publications. (look out if a later edition is available).

Huberman M. A. and Miles, M. B. (eds) (2002). The qualitative researcher’s companion. Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London : Sage Publications. (UC LIBRARY – H62.Q356 2002).

Kamberilis, G.. & Dimitriadis, G. (2005). Qualitative inquiry: approaches to language and literacy research. NY and London: Teachers College Press.

Lee, N and Lings, I. (2008) Doing Business Research: a guide to theory and practice, Sage. (UC library HD30.4.L44 2008).

Le Gallais, Tricia (2008) ‘Wherever I go there I am: reflections on reflexivity and the research stance’, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives 9/2, 145-155.

Lincoln, Y. and Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Newbury Park: Sage.

Mann, C. and F. Stewart. 2000. Internet Communication and Qualitative Research: A Handbook for Researching Online. London: Sage Publications.

Marsh D. & Stoker, G. (Eds) (2010) (3rd ed). Theory and Methods in Political Science (Political Analysis). Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke. (2002 edition at UC library: JA71.T53 2002).

Mason, Jennifer (2006). Qualitative research (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, London : Sage. This book can be found at the LIBRARY – H63.M285 2002.

Maxwell, JA. (1992). ‘Understanding validity in qualitative research’. Harvard Educational Review. 62(3),  279-300.

McNeill, P. and Chapman, S. (2005) Research Methods (3rd ed), Routledge: New York.

Mikkelsen, B., 2005. Methods for Development Work and Research: A new guide for practitioners, London: Sage.

Miller R. L., Brewer J. D. (2003) The A-Z of Social Research: A Dictionary of Key Social Science Research Concepts. Sage: London.

Morse J. and Field P. (1995) (2nd ed). Qualitative research methods for health professionals. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Richards, Lyn and Morse, Janice (2007) (2nd ed). User’s guide to qualitative methods. Thousand Oaks, London : Sage. (UC LIBRARY – H62.M67 2007).

Savigny, H. & Marsden, L. (2011). Doing Political Science and International Relations. Theories in Action (Political Analysis), Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke.

Seale, Clive (1999). The Quality of Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publications.

Silverman, David (2000). Doing qualitative research: a practical handbook. Thousand Oaks, London : Sage. This book can be found at the LIBRARY – H62.S472 2000.

Silverman, D. (2001). Interpreting qualitative data: methods for analyzing talk, text, and interaction. 2nd ed.. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Thomas A., Chataway J., Wuyts M., (1998). Finding Out Fast: Investigative Skills for Policy and Development, London: Sage.

Thomas R., (2003), Blending Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods in Thesis and Dissertations, Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Winter, Glyn (2000), ‘A Comparative Discussion of the Notion of ‘Validity’ in Qualitative and Quantitative Research’. The Qualitative Report, Volume 4, Numbers 3 & 4, March, 2000, available at

Online resources

Experimental design worksheet. A simple worksheet to help plan your experimental designs

Guidelines for keeping a laboratory record

Lather Patti, Multiple qualitative research paradigms. Inaugural lecture for Qualitative Education Research Community (CQERC) (Video)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Courseware offers free online course which include for example Multivariate calculus, Time series analysis.

The methods map. A tool for building your own map, including ontology, epistemology, methodologies and techniques.

Neil, James (2006). Qualitative research methods

Qualitative Report – An online journal dedicated to qualitative research and critical inquiry since 1990.

Qual Page: Resources for Qualitative Research a site managed by the Qualitative Research Program at the University of Georgia and  Judith Preissle, Kathleen deMarrais, Kathryn Roulston, Melissa Freeman, and Jori Hall.

Research Methods Knowledge Base. A comprehensive web-based textbook that addresses all of the topics in a typical introductory undergraduate or graduate course in social research methods.

Sage research methods provides materials to guide users through every step of the research process. It includes more than 1000 books, reference works, journal articles, and instructional videos by world-leading academics from across the social sciences. The UC Library has a subscription to Sage research methods.

Social Science Research Network – a network for exchanging research papers, information on jobs, conferences

Systematic reviews resources are available from the Australasian Cochrane Centre and the Joanna Briggs Institute approach to evidence-based health care

University of Manchester Methods Resources is a great resource for exploring research methods.

aquestionWhat do you think Richard and Morse meant by the following?

What differentiates one strategy from another is how researchers think about the data, and they then conceptualise, and think from the data (Richard and Morse, 2007, p 48).

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