Crimson Research Institute
Common Types of Research Methods
When conducting research at any level of study, we need to employ certain methods to explore and analyze our data, but which methods should we choose and why? What even are the most common types of research methods?
This is an important question that we should be asking ourselves before we rush out into the field collecting data on, say, the abundance of birds in a mangrove, or local community members opinions’ on important issues. If we go down the rabbit hole of selecting a method of research that doesn’t suit our data and what we want to discover, then we might end up not finding out what we wanted to.
Generally speaking our research will fall into either a purely quantitative or qualitative category, but there are also mixed methods of research which combine both quantitative and qualitative elements to create more of a holistic understanding of our research.
Consider the natural world we live in: we might want to explore the ecology of an area, down to the smallest microbe or investigate why certain areas are rich in species and not in others. This would naturally lead us to quantitative research, whereby we count species, measure environmental variables and analyze this data through both univariate and multivariate analyses. This might give us an answer to a question or refute a hypothesis. We will end up with a p-value and maybe some nice correlations, which we can visualize with graphs. This could be perfect for our study and all we need to do.
From a qualitative angle: we can explore the opinions of people towards particular subjects and ask them open-ended questions, which can provide us with rich data that we can then analyze in a variety of ways, for example, using inductive coding and finding patterns in peoples’ responses. A good package for this would be NVivo.
We might start our qualitative research with a theory such as grounded theory , which generates a theory based on the data that we have collected and analyzed.
Or we could really mix it up and go for a mixed methods approach. This combines both qualitative and quantitative data to answer a research question and involves different sequences of collecting data (e.g quantitative before qualitative, vice versa or parallel approaches) in order to strengthen and back up our claims and questions. This approach can be complex as we need to be strong in both quantitative and qualitative analyses, but it can also be very insightful and provide a deep exploration of our research.
We must also consider our own biases and associations with our subjects. Sometimes it’s very difficult to dissociate ourselves from our own research. We may feel passionately about protecting marine waters for example, but need to interview people who pollute them. This can make our research challenging. It can be important to be objective in our outlook, this is sometimes easier in empirical data research and collection. Conversely, we might be exploring a topic in which we want to change people’s minds about something, to bring to light social justice and human rights issues through using a transformative research paradigm. This kind of research can be very empowering for marginalised communities and suits a mixed methods approach.
Regardless of our chosen research methods, a good way to check if we are using an appropriate methodology would be to ask ourselves if we can answer our research questions and address our hypotheses with the methods we hope to employ before we conduct our research. If the answer is a resounding “yes!” then go ahead and explore and investigate something new and amazing. If it’s a “no” or “I’m not sure” it might be worth exploring other options. We want our research to be meaningful and to defend why we did what we did for any examination panels. We can also look at our mistakes or what we would change in the future by recognising the limitations to our research; nothing can ever be fully explored and things change all the time, which is what makes research so exciting!
At the end of the day, there are a variety of research methods at your disposal and as a researcher it is your job to make sure the method you choose serves the purpose of your research and will result in information that will help you address your research question.
Want more support? Reach out to Crimson’s highly skilled team of research mentors at Crimson Research Institute!