Guest blog

Guest Blog – A guide to Mixed Methods research design

Blog from Nathan Stephens

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As someone who would have identified at the beginning of their PhD as a qualitative researcher, a consequence of doing qual research in the past and not because of any partisan faith to the paradigm, embracing mixed methods research has been both challenging and rewarding.

Through the process of planning and conducting mixed methods research I have engaged with the challenges relating to definition, design, and more recently, the messiness of actually doing mixed methods research in an applied context.

In this post I summarise the things you’ll need to think about when planning a mixed methods research study, including characteristics and key design elements like sequencing, point of interface, and methodological priority.

Characteristics of mixed methods research

There are varying ways mixed methods research has been defined since the paradigm emerged in the mid-to-late 1980s. For example, mixed-method (with hyphen), mixed methodology, methodological triangulation, multimethod research, integrated research, combined research, and mixed research. The nature and controversies of definitions depend on the ‘scientific community’ and focus of the work, whether that be methods, methodology, or methods, methodology and philosophy.

Given the evolutionary nature of concepts of mixed methods research, another approach to what Creswell and Clark describe as a “vague and often confusing priority”, that is a definition of mixed methods research, is to understand the key characteristics and appraise your research in respect of these. This should avoid the use of acontextual definitions borrowed from others.

There is general consensus that key characteristics of mixed methods research are the:

  • Collection and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data
  • Integration of qualitative and quantitative data sets
  • Organisation of research processes into a specific research design that provide the logic and procedure for conducting the study, and
  • Framing these procedures within theory and philosophy

Key mixed methods research designs

Once you understand the key attributes it is much easier to apply them to a mixed methods research design. For example, if you need to firstly develop understanding of a phenomena to discover hypotheses to test, you may find yourself using an exploratory mixed methods design. Examples of the key mixed methods research design are provided below but if you wish to delve deeper into more complex designs such as mixed methods evaluation and trials Creswell and Clarks 2017 guidance listed at the bottom of this post is where I would go.

Convergent design, top left, box saying quantiative data collection, top middle, box saying quantative analysis, middle right, box saying interpretation. rown down, box on the left, says qualitative data collection, middle box on the second row says qualitative analysis, then back to interprestation. Explanatory design row of five boxes leading arrows to each other, first says quantative data collection, next says quantative analysis, next says qualtatiative data collection, next days qualitative analysis and the last says interpretation. Exploratory design, 5 boxes with arrows leading across in a sequence, first says qualtiative data collection, next says qualitative analysis, next says quantative data collection next says quantative analsysi and the next / last says interpretation

Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2017). Designing & conducting mixed methods research + the mixed methods reader. Designing & Conducting Mixed Methods Research + the Mixed Methods Reader, 1(2), 24–27.


A further consideration at this point is the sequencing of qualitative and quantitative phases in the research design. For example, applying the earlier example, exploring an area to uncover a hypothesis to test would suggest a sequential design whereby the initial qualitative phase informs the quantitative phase. This would be called an exploratory sequential mixed methods research design. Examples of sequencing in mixed methods research are provided below.


A. Sequestion explanatory design, three boxes leading to each other in a row, first says, Quantitative next says qualitative and the last says data interpretation. B. Sequential exploratory design, three boxes with arrows with arrows leading from the first to the second and then the third, the first says Qualitative the next says quantitative and the last says data interpretation. C. Concurrent triangulation design, two boxes above and below each other, with arrows leading from both into a single box, and from that into a final single box. The first top box says Quantitative, the one below says Qualitative, they both lead to a box which saya data convergence and that leads to the final box which says data interpretation.

Greene, J. C. (2007). Mixed methods in social inquiry. John Wiley & Sons.


Point of interface between quantitative and qualitative data sets

Understanding and clarifying the point at which qualitative and quantitative phases interface, integrate, or connect as it has been termed, is an integral part of mixed methods research. Key types of integration are presented below.


Three boxes down the left under column heading "Types of integration" each with dotted lines leading to three other seperate boxes, under a column heading "Strategies" that column has nine boxes in total, top left box in the integration column says "Comparison - the comparison of results from the quantitative and qualitative phases" this leads to a first box in the strategies column which says "Comparison of findings from independent data collection and analysis" a second box which says "Comparison of findings obtained from independent data collection and analysis" and a third box which says "Comparison of findings with a focus on identification and interpretation of diverging findings" . The next box in the integration column on the left says "Connection The results from the first phase inform the data collection of the second phase" This leads to a box in the Strategies column which says "Connecting a quantitative phase to a qualitative phase" and another in that column which says "Connecting a qualitative phase to a quantitative phase" and a third box in that column which says "Follow-a-thread technique". The third and last box in the integration column at the bottom says "Assimilation The transformation of one type of data, so that it is more easily compared with other types of data" this leads to three more boxes in the strategies column the first says "Transformation of qualitative data into quantitative data" the second says "Transformation of quantitative data into qualitative data" and the third says "Inter-case analysis with the merging of quantitative and qualitative data for each case"

Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (1998). Mixed methodology: Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches (Vol. 46). Sage


Considering and clarifying the point of interface ensures you are not just reporting on ‘distinct strands of qualitative and quantitative research’ and instead engaging with questions relating to the approach and purpose of mixing methods, for example through comparison, connection, or assimilation of different data sets. A thread on ResearchGate suggests asking yourself the following questions to determine the point at which quantitative and qualitative phased mix.

  1. Is my quantitative aspect descriptive and cross-sectional or analytical and cohort longitudinal while my qualitative aspect historical or narrative?
  2. Are data collection and analysis in my study to be done at same time (concurrent) or in succession (sequential)?
  3. Is the mix coming up during data collection, analysis and/or interpretation? Am I going for merge, build, connect or embed?
  4. Should the analysis, interpretation and discussion of quantitative and qualitative data be triangulated?

Weighting quantitative and qualitative phases

As well as determining the sequencing or order of quantitative and qualitative phases in the design, their priority needs to be clarified also. Simply this means considering out of each which has greater importance in the study. Once you are aware of the order and priority of the mixed methods design you can apply a formula. For example, in my research I use a sequential mixed methods design whereby qualitative research methods inform the development of quantitative procedures. Each phase is given equal priority also referred to as dietetic pluralism. A simple formula for this mixed methods research design is QUAL + QUAN, other formulas you may come across are presented below.

  • QAUNT + qual = quantitative first with higher priority and qualitative second with lower priority
  • quant+ QUAL = quantitative first with lower priority and qualitative second with higher priority
  • quant + qual = quantitative first and qualitative second and both have equal priority
  • qual + quant = qualitative first and quantitative second and both have equal priority

Dealing with the complexities of key mixed methods research design elements such as those that have been merely touched on in this post, is key to helping you convey methodological rigour and for those less familiar with mixed methods paradigm, providing guidance and aiding accessibility.



Nathan Stephens


Nathan Stephens is a PhD Student and unpaid carer, working on his PhD at University of Worcester, studying the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme. Inspired by caring for both grandparents and personal experience of dementia, Nathan has gone from a BSc in Sports & Physical Education, an MSc in Public Health, and now working on his PhD.



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Nathan Stephens

PhD Candidate at Association for Dementia Studies, Worcester.

Working on the Meeting Centres Support Programme (see link below), specifically to understand regional approaches to 'scaling up' Meeting Centres nationwide.

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