Editor’s note: Julia Maier is an analytics associate at research firm KJT Group, Honeoye Falls, N.Y. 

Research using a single method is quick and cost effective. A short survey with a few direct questions provides descriptive data to summarize people’s attitudes and behaviors. Unfortunately, a single-method design is often unable to capture the full picture and limits the insights that can be derived. 

The parable of the blind men and the elephant demonstrates this shortcoming. In the story, the men, looking to determine what it is, touch a different part of the elephant and describe it based on their limited experience. Depending on their vantage point, the men decide the object is a rope, a tree or a fan. It is only from the integration of multiple pieces of data that they can deduce the object is, in fact, an elephant. 

High-quality research uses mixed methods and multi-method approaches to obtain data via multiple sources to provide more reliable insight narratives.

Qualitative and quantitative approaches to research are the fundamental approaches to collecting data. Qualitative research allows us to take an idiographic approach to understanding respondents’ experiences: each person is an individual with a unique story and perspective. Through in-depth conversations, we learn about aspects of the topic we might never have considered or would have missed using a standard questionnaire. Alternatively, quantitative research allows us to take a nomothetic approach and make inferences about people in general. From these inferences we can attempt to predict how different people would respond in the same situation.

Mixed method research uses qualitative and quantitative research as different phases during which information is gathered about the same research question. From the qualitative phase, we learn about the nuances of experience as unconstrained responses allow for unique information...