All About Scientific Research

The mixed or multi-method approach constitutes the highest level of integration between qualitative and quantitative approaches. Learn more in this article.
All About Scientific Research
Paula Villasante

Written and verified by la psicóloga Paula Villasante.

Last update: 29 May, 2023

Scientific research is conceived as a process, a term that means something that’s dynamic, changing, and evolutionary. It’s a process composed of multiple stages closely linked to each other, which may or may not occur sequentially or continuously.

Scientific research begins with an idea and an approach, and concludes with data collection, analysis and a study report.

In the area of health, research is carried out mainly within two currents of thought:

  • On the one hand, we find quantitative research, linked to the positivist tradition.
  • On the other, qualitative research, often related to naturalistic inquiry.

Research projects

Research projects normally have two main purposes:

  • To generate knowledge and theories
  • To solve practical problems

A research project is a process aimed at producing scientific knowledge. It’s made up of several closely related stages. In addition, it’s a way of posing problems and looking for solutions due to theoretical or practical interest.

Research approaches

Scientific research.

Throughout the history of science, various currents of thought have emerged such as Empiricism, Dialectical Materialism, Positivism, Phenomenology and Structuralism. These have created different routes in the search for knowledge.

Since the second half of the 20th century, these trends have been divided mainly into two approaches: the quantitative and the qualitative approach to research.

Broadly speaking, both approaches use five similar and related phases:

  • They carry out observation and evaluation of phenomena.
  • They establish assumptions or ideas as a consequence of the observation and evaluation carried out.
  • They test and demonstrate the degree to which the assumptions or ideas are substantiated.
  • They review such assumptions or ideas based on evidence or analysis.
  • They propose new observations and evaluations to clarify, modify, cement, and/or support the assumptions and ideas; or even to create others.

The quantitative approach

The quantitative approach originates from the work of Auguste Comte (1798-1857) and Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). They proposed that the study of social phenomena required being scientific. That is, it can be acquired through the application of the scientific method. The authors argued that all phenomena could be measured.

The following are the characteristics of this approach:

  • Using data collection and analysis to answer one or more research questions and test previously established hypotheses.
  • Relying on numerical measurement, counting, and often the use of statistics to accurately establish patterns of behavior in a population.
  • Based on a deductive and logical scheme. It’s reductionist and seeks to produce the results of the research through representative samples.
  • First, an idea is chosen, which is then transformed into one or more research questions.
  • One or more hypotheses are derived from the research question and a strategy is developed to prove or disprove it.
  • The variables are measured and defined in a certain context.
  • Analysis carried out using the measurements obtained by statistical methods.
  • A series of conclusions regarding the hypothesis are established.
  • Hypotheses are tested using appropriate research designs.
  • The reliable way to find the truth is through the collection and analysis of data according to certain logical rules.
  • It’s associated with experiments, surveys with closed questions, or studies that use standardized measurement instruments.
  • This approach is the most used in the exact sciences and in health sciences.

Examples of this approach are prevalence studies, cases and controls, cohorts, clinical trials, etc., widely used in health, as we have said.

Laboratory scientists.

The qualitative approach

This approach had its origin with Max Weber (1864-1920) and also in the social sciences. This trend recognized that subjective meanings and understanding of the context where the phenomenon occurs should be considered, in addition to the description and measurement of social variables.

This approach is characterized by:

  • It’s usually used first to discover and refine research questions, and hypotheses are sometimes tested.
  • It’s based on data collection methods without numerical measurement, such as the description and observation of the phenomenon. The process is flexible and moves between events and their interpretation.
  • Its purpose is to reconstruct reality. It’s often called ‘holistic’. It’s based on an inductive scheme.
  • It’s guided by significant areas or themes and isn’t intended to generalize the results of its research.
  • The research question and hypotheses can be developed before, during, or after data collection and analysis.
  • It’s frequent in social phenomena, as its emphasis isn’t on measuring the variables involved in sthe aid phenomenon. Its emphasis is on understanding it, and it doesn’t carry out statistical analysis.
  • It’s sometimes termed naturalistic, phenomenological, interpretive, or ethnographic research.
  • Data collection methods use techniques that aren’t intended to measure or associate measurements with numbers. Some of them are:
    • Structured observation
    • Open interviews
    • Document review
    • Group discussion
    • Evaluation of personal experiences
    • Life history inspection
    • Semantic and everyday discourse analysis
    • Integration with groups or communities
  • The research is basically conducted in natural environments. In them, the participants behave as they do in their daily lives.
  • Variables aren’t defined for the purpose of experimental manipulation or control.
  • The researcher observes ordinary events and daily activities as they occur in natural environments. It’s directly involved with the people who are being surveyed and with their personal experiences.
  • Research techniques and social skills are used in a flexible way.

Some examples of this approach are phenomenological, ethnographic, anthropological studies, grounded theory studies, holistic research, case studies, focus group research, etc.

The mixed approach

The mixed or multi-method approach constitutes the highest level of integration between qualitative and quantitative approaches. Both are combined or integrated throughout the research process or, at least, in most stages.

It requires a complete management of the approaches and an open mind. It adds complexity to the study design, but considers all the advantages of each of the approaches.

Advantages of the mixed approach:

  • Complementarity
  • Extension of theoretical understanding
  • Increased validity
  • Expansion of the frontiers of knowledge

Obstacles to the development of research:

  • Epistemological biases
  • Training of the researcher
  • Costs
  • Analytical challenges
  • Editors’ biases

Both scientific research approaches have differences both in methodology and in theory. However, both approaches are about seeking knowledge and they encounter similar constraints and challenges. Therefore, the choice of the appropriate method depends on the sensitivity and philosophy of the researcher, but also on the issue to be researched.

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  • Grinnell, R. (1997). Social Research and Evaluation. Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches.
  • Vargas, A. (1999). Metodología de la Investigación. Spanta. México.
  • Vega-Malagón, G., Ávila-Morales, J., Vega-Malagón, A. J., Camacho-Calderón, N., Becerril-Santos, A., & Leo-Amador, G. E. (2014). Paradigmas en la investigación. Enfoque cuantitativo y cualitativo. European Scientific Journal, ESJ, 10(15).

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