Social Work Mixed Methods Research
Denise Burnette, Kimberly Spencer Suarez
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0234


The 1962 publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a watershed in the history, philosophy, and sociology of scientific knowledge. At the core of Kuhn’s thesis was the concept of the “paradigm”—a general term he used to describe a group of researchers having a common education and an agreement on “exemplars” of high-quality research or thinking. In contrast to the basic axiom of “normal” science that progress is achieved through steady development of accumulated facts and theories, Kuhn argued that episodic revolutionary periods lead to “paradigm shifts” that extend beyond gap-stopping and routine puzzle-solving. The notion of shifting paradigms in knowledge development sparked avid interest—and heated debate— among social scientists. At the apex of the clash of objective-quantitative, interpretive-qualitative, and critical-theoretical paradigms, N. L. Gage proffered three alternative future scenarios (see N.L. Gage's article "The paradigm wars and their aftermath: A "historical" sketch of research on teaching since 1989," cited under Philosophical Issues). In the first, the positivist approach would capitulate under the weight of its critics; in the second, the realization that each approach has merits and drawbacks would lead to a methodological rapprochement; and in the third and final scenario, the “paradigm wars” would continue unabated. In retrospect, the emergence of mixed methods research since the late 1980s has helped actualize each of these scenarios—a détente in which positivist principles have ceded to those of post-positivism, singly and in combination with constructivist, critical theory, and participatory research paradigms. This trend grew slowly through the 1990s, with only a handful of “mixed method” and “multiple method” articles published annually in peer-reviewed social science journals. But by the middle of the 2000s, mixed methods research was on the ascent. In 2013, social science periodicals published nearly 1,800 mixed methods articles (see C. Biddle and K.A. Schafft's article "Axiology and anomaloy in the practice of mixed methods work: Pragmatism, valuation, and the transformative paradigm," cited under Philosophical Issues). This rapid growth, coupled with the complexity of mixed method approaches to social science research, raises many challenges, and, as seen in the works cited in this bibliography, the field is still very much in the process of being developed and refined.

Introductory Works

As a relatively new and still evolving research strategy, much of the methodological literature to date on mixed methods has dealt with conceptualizing and defining the approach. An entire volume of the International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches (Collins, et al. 2009) provides newcomers to the field with a good overview of important issues. Johnson and colleagues also provide an excellent introduction (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie 2004) and background to the field (Johnson, et al. 2007). One strand of work on conceptualizing mixed methods research seeks to capture common and core features (Creswell, et al. 2011; see also Plano Clark 2010); a second thread contrasts the methods with other approaches, usually qualitative methods (Bergman 2010); and still others favor innovative frameworks and typologies that distinguish the approach and define its potential functions (Greene 2006; Greene 2008; Greene, et al. 1989) and typologies (Teddlie and Tashakkori 2009; see also Guest 2013). There are thus multiple definitions of mixed methods research, all of which involve the use of qualitative and quantitative data, methods, methodologies, and/or paradigms within a single research study or set of related studies.

  • Bergman, M. M. 2010. On concepts and paradigms in mixed methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 4.3: 171–175.

    DOI: 10.1177/1558689810376950E-mail Citation »

    Bergman explicates the central role of concepts and paradigms in social science research and relates these to qualitative and quantitative research. He argues that mixed methods are notably well suited for assessing variations in meaning and boundaries of social constructs in surveys, for validation, and for complementary results that enrich findings.

  • Collins, K. M. T., A. O’Cathain, N. L. Leech, and A. J. Onwuegbuzie, eds. 2009. Special issue: Mixed methods for novice researchers. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches 3.1.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume is oriented to researchers who are interested but less experienced in mixed methods approaches to social science research. Of interest are two introductory articles: “Introduction: Ten Points about Mixed Methods Research to Be Considered by the Novice Researcher,” by Kathleen M. T. Collins and Alicia O’Cathain, and “Prologue: Mixed Methods for Novice Researchers: Reflections and Themes,” by Julia Brannen. Available online by subscription.

  • Creswell, J. W., A. C. Klassen, V. L. Plano Clark, and K. C. Smith. August 2011. Best practices for mixed methods research in the health sciences. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health.

    E-mail Citation »

    The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research commissioned this report to guide investigators on rigorous development and evaluation of mixed methods research applications. The multidisciplinary team describes core features of the approach, standards and contributions of qualitative and quantitative components, and various processes of combining the two.

  • Greene, J. C. 2006. Toward a methodology of mixed methods social inquiry. Research in the Schools 13.1: 93–98.

    E-mail Citation »

    Greene proposes a mixed methods framework in human sciences that comprises four interrelated but distinct domains: (a) philosophical assumptions/stances; (b) inquiry logics; (c) practice guidelines; and (d) sociopolitical commitments. As the final article in a special issue on mixed methods, it links other papers to each domain and suggests future priorities.

  • Greene, J. C. 2008. Is mixed methods social inquiry a distinctive methodology? Journal of Mixed Methods Research 2.1: 7–22.

    DOI: 10.1177/1558689807309969E-mail Citation »

    This article advances Greene’s framework for mixed methods as a unique methodology. The author reviews key accomplishments of mixed methods research in the domains of philosophy, methodology, practical guidelines, and sociopolitical commitments, and concludes with priorities for further development of a distinctive mixed methods framework for social science inquiry.

  • Greene, J. C., V. J. Caracelli, and W. F. Graham. 1989. Toward a conceptual framework for mixed-method evaluation designs. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 11.3: 255–274.

    DOI: 10.2307/1163620E-mail Citation »

    This article reports on the inductive process of identifying five broad purposes or reasons for mixed methodology studies: (a) triangulation, (b) complementarity, (c) development, (d) initiation, and (e) expansion. These rationales form the bases for a variety of typologies that seek to capture the characteristics and logic of mixed method designs.

  • Guest, G. 2013. Describing mixed methods research: An alternative to typologies. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 7.2: 141–151.

    DOI: 10.1177/1558689812461179E-mail Citation »

    Critiquing typologies for classifying mixed methods designs, Guest concludes this approach is inadequate for complex designs. He suggests more parsimony in (1) shifting attention and focus to the point of integrating qualitative and quantitative data, and (2) limiting the number of descriptive dimensions to the timing and purpose of integration.

  • Johnson, R. B., and A. J. Onwuegbuzie. 2004. Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher 33.7: 14–26.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X033007014E-mail Citation »

    This widely cited article argues that quantitative and qualitative methods are compatible, as are mixed methods and pragmatism. The authors evaluate (and present in tables) characteristics and limitations of pragmatism and strengths and weaknesses of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods. Proposed typologies are distilled into mixed-model and mixed-method designs.

  • Johnson, R. B., A. J. Onwuegbuzie, and L. A. Turner. 2007. Toward a definition of mixed methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 1.2: 112–133.

    DOI: 10.1177/1558689806298224E-mail Citation »

    The authors conceptualize the field as a third “research paradigm.” Based on a survey of leading mixed methods researchers, they posit a definition of mixed methods research as research that “combines elements of qualitative and quantitative approaches . . . for the purpose of breadth and depth of understanding and corroboration” (p. 123).

  • Plano Clark, V. L. 2010. The adoption and practice of mixed methods: U.S. trends in federally funded health-related research. Qualitative Inquiry 16.6: 428–440.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077800410364609E-mail Citation »

    This article examines trends in U.S. federal funding for health-related mixed methods research from 1997 to 2008. The author reviews the “emergent status” of the approach and outlines the parameters of funded projects and specific methodological approaches used. Federal funding for health-based mixed methods studies is increasing, but still uncommon.

  • Teddlie, C., and A. Tashakkori. 2009. Foundations of mixed methods research: Integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches in the social and behavioral sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    E-mail Citation »

    This foundational text describes five reasons for intensive efforts to classify (i.e., develop typologies) mixed methods designs: (1) as tools to help researchers design studies, (2) to establish a common language for the field, (3) to structure the field, (4) to legitimize the field, and (5) as useful pedagogical tools.

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