The three approaches to research

A more complete way to view the gradations of differences between them is in the basic philosophical assumptions researchers bring to the study, the types of research strategies used in the research (e.g., quantitative experiments or qualitative case studies), and the specific methods employed in conducting these strategies (e.g., collecting data quantitatively on instruments versus collecting qualitative data through observing a setting).

There are three approaches:

  1. Qualitative: an approach for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to a social or human problem.
  2. Quantitative: an approach for testing objective theories by examining the relationship among variables.
  3. Mixed methods approach: an approach to inquiry involving collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, integrating the two forms of data, and using distinct designs that may involve philosophical assumptions and theoretical frameworks.

What types of research are there?

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The three components

Two important components in each definition are that the approach to research involves philosophical assumptions as well as distinct methods or procedures. The broad research approach is the plan or proposal to conduct research, involves the intersection of philosophy, research designs, and specific methods.

The three components involved with an approach:

  1. Philosophical worldview assumptions
  2. Research design related to this view
  3. The specific methods and procedures of research that translate the approach into practice

Philosophical worldviews

"A basic set of beliefs that guide action"

Also referred to as paradigms, epistemologies and ontologies or broadly concieved research methodologies.

This information will help explain why they chose qualitative, quantitative or a mixed methods approaches.

A proposal may include a section that addresses:

  • Philosophical worldview proposed
  • Definition of basic ideas of that worldview
  • How the worldview shaped their approach to research

Although there is ongoing debate about what worldviews or beliefs researchers bring to inquiry, we will highlight four that are widely discussed in the literature: postpositivism, constructivism, transformative, and pragmatism.

Postpositivist worldview

  • Represented transitional form of research. Assumptions hold true more for quantitative research.
  • Also referred to as the scientific method.
  • Challenges the traditional notion of absolute truth of knowledge.
  • Deterministic philosophy in which causes (probably) determine effects or outcomes.
  • Reductionistic in that the intent is to reduce the ideas into a small, discrete set to test, such as the variables that comprise hypotheses and research questions.

Constructionist worldview

  • Constructivism or social constructivism (often combined with interpretivism) is such a perspective, and it is typically seen as an approach to qualitative research.
  • Social constructivists believe that individuals seek understanding of the world in which they live and work.
  • The questions become broad and general so that the participants can construct the meaning of a situation, typically forged in discussions or interactions with other persons.
  • Rather than starting with a theory (as in postpositivism), inquirers generate or inductively develop a theory or pattern of meaning.

Transformative worldview

  • This position arose during the 1980s and 1990s from individuals who felt that the postpositivist assumptions imposed structural laws and theories that did not fit marginalized individuals in our society or issues of power and social justice, discrimination, and oppression that needed to be addressed.
  • These inquirers felt that the constructivist stance did not go far enough in advocating for an action agenda to help marginalized peoples.
  • A transformative worldview holds that research inquiry needs to be intertwined with politics and a political change agenda to confront social oppression at whatever levels it occurs.
  • This research also assumes that the inquirer will proceed collaboratively so as to not further marginalize the participants as a result of the inquiry.
  • Transformative research provides a voice for these participants, raising their consciousness or advancing an agenda for change to improve their lives. It becomes a united voice for reform and change.

Pragmatic worldview

  • There are many forms of this philosophy, but for many, pragmatism as a worldview arises out of actions, situations, and consequences rather than antecedent conditions (as in postpositivism).
  • Instead of focusing on methods, researchers emphasize the research problem and question and use all approaches available to understand the problem.
  • Pragmatism is not committed to any one system of philosophy and reality.
  • Individual researchers have a freedom of choice.
  • Pragmatists do not see the world as an absolute unity.
  • The pragmatist researchers look to the what and how to research based on the intended consequences.
  • Pragmatists agree that research always occurs in social, historical, political, and other contexts.

What are the three components involved with an approach?

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