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Citation Master Pages: Types of Research

Types of Research

Quantitative Research: used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into useable statistics. It is used to quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviors, and other defined variables – and generalize results from a larger sample population.

Qualitative Research: primarily exploratory research.  It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. This data is usually gathered using conversational methods such as interviews or focus groups.

1. Descriptive research: describes the current status of an identified variable. These research projects are designed to provide systematic information about a phenomenon.  The researcher does not usually begin with an hypothesis, but is likely to develop one after collecting data.  The analysis and synthesis of the data provide the test of the hypothesis.  Systematic collection of information requires careful selection of the units studied and careful measurement of each variable.

2. Correlational research: determines the extent of a relationship between two or more variables using statistical data.  In this type of design, relationships between and among a number of facts are sought and interpreted. This type of research will recognize trends and patterns in data, but it does not go so far in its analysis to prove causes for these observed patterns. Cause and effect is not the basis of this type of observational research. The data, relationships, and distributions of variables are studied only. Variables are not manipulated; they are only identified and are studied as they occur in a natural setting. 

*Sometimes correlational research is considered a type of descriptive research, and not as its own type of research, as no variables are manipulated in the study

3. Causal-comparative/quasi-experimental research: establishes cause-effect relationships among the variables.  These types of design are very similar to true experiments, but with some key differences.  An independent variable is identified but not manipulated by the experimenter, and effects of the independent variable on the dependent variable are measured. The researcher does not randomly assign groups and must use ones that are naturally formed or pre-existing groups. Identified control groups exposed to the treatment variable are studied and compared to groups who are not. 

When analyses and conclusions are made, determining causes must be done carefully, as other variables, both known and unknown, could still affect the outcome.  

4. Experimental research: uses the scientific method to establish the cause-effect relationship among a group of variables that make up a study.  The true experiment is often thought of as a laboratory study, but this is not always the case; a laboratory setting has nothing to do with it.  A true experiment is any study where an effort is made to identify and impose control over all other variables except one.  An independent variable is manipulated to determine the effects on the dependent variables.  Subjects are randomly assigned to experimental treatments rather than identified in naturally occurring groups.

Rutgers University Libraries. (2021). Systematic Reviews in the Health Sciences: Types of Research within Qualitative and Quantitative. Direct Link.

What are the main types of qualitative approaches to research?

While there are many different investigations that can be done, a study with a qualitative approach generally can be described with the characteristics of one of the following three types:

Historical research describes past events, problems, issues and facts.  Data are gathered from written or oral descriptions of past events, artifacts, etc.  It describes “what was” in an attempt to recreate the past.  It is different from a report in that it involves interpretation of events and its influence on the present.  It answers the question: “What was the situation?” 

Examples of Historical Research:

  • A study of the factors leading to the historical development and growth of cooperative learning
  • A study of the effects of the historical decisions of the United States Supreme Court on American prisons
  • A study of the evolution of print journalism in the United States through a study of collections of newspapers
  • A study of the historical trends in public laws by looking recorded at a local courthouse

Ethnographic research develops in-depth analytical descriptions of current systems, processes, and phenomena and/or understandings of the shared beliefs and practices of a particular group or culture.  This type of design collects extensive narrative data (non-numerical data) based on many variables over an extended period of time in a natural setting within a specific context. The background, development, current conditions, and environmental interaction of one or more individuals, groups, communities, businesses or institutions is observed, recorded, and analyzed for patterns in relation to internal and external influences.  It is a complete description of present phenomena.

  • One specific form of ethnographic research is called a case study.  It is a detailed examination of a single group, individual, situation, or site. 
  • meta-analysis is another specific form.  It is a statistical method which accumulates experimental and correlational results across independent studies.  It is an analysis of analyses.

Examples of Ethnographic Research:

  • A case study of parental involvement at a specific magnet school
  • A multi-case study of children of drug addicts who excel despite early childhoods in poor environments
  • The study of the nature of problems teachers encounter when they begin to use a constructivist approach to instruction after having taught using a very traditional approach for ten years
  • A psychological case study with extensive notes based on observations of and interviews with immigrant workers
  • A study of primate behavior in the wild measuring the amount of time an animal engaged in a specific behavior

Narrative research focuses on studying a single person and gathering data through the collection of stories that are used to construct a narrative about the individual’s experience and the meanings he/she attributes to them.

Examples of Narrative Research:

  • A study of the experiences of an autistic student who has moved from a self-contained program to an inclusion setting
  • A study of the experiences of a high school track star who has been moved on to a championship-winning university track team 

Rutgers University Libraries. (2021). Systematic Reviews in the Health Sciences: Types of Research within Qualitative and Quantitative. Direct Link.

The term “mixed methods” refers to an emergent methodology of research that “mixes” quantitative and qualitative data within a single investigation or sustained program of inquiry. The basic premise of this methodology is that such integration permits a more complete and synergistic utilization of data than do separate quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. 

Mixed methods research originated in the social sciences and has recently expanded into the health and medical sciences including fields such as nursing, family medicine, social work, mental health, pharmacy, allied health, and others. In the last decade, its procedures have been developed and refined to suit a wide variety of research questions (Creswell and Plano Clark, 2011). These procedures include advancing rigor, offering alternative mixed methods designs, specifying a shorthand notation system for describing the designs to increase communication across fields, visualizing procedures through diagrams, noting research questions that can particularly benefit from integration, and developing rationales for conducting various forms of mixed methods studies.

The core characteristics of a well-designed mixed methods study in PCMH research include the following:

  1. Collecting and analyzing both quantitative (closed-ended) and qualitative (open-ended) data.
  2. Using rigorous procedures in collecting and analyzing data appropriate to each method’s tradition, such as ensuring the appropriate sample size for quantitative and qualitative analysis.
  3. Integrating the data during data collection, analysis, or discussion.
  4. Using procedures that implement qualitative and quantitative components either concurrently or sequentially, with the same sample or with different samples.

Wisdom J and Creswell JW. Mixed Methods: Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection and Analysis While Studying Patient-Centered Medical Home Models. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. February 2013. AHRQ Publication No. 13-0028-EF.