Exploring Types of Research Methods: A Comprehensive Guide

Exploring Types of Research Methods: A Comprehensive Guide

Grasping the concept of research method is essential for anyone engaged in research or assessing the outcomes of studies. Whether you're an academic student, a dedicated researcher, or just inquisitive about the world, a thorough understanding of the diverse research methods will assist you in sifting through the extensive array of information at your disposal.

Our detailed guide will walk you through the types of research design, including qualitative and quantitative approaches, as well as descriptive, correlational, experimental, and mixed methods research. We will also touch upon the different types of research methodology, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the various types of methods in research.

This article will also highlight the pivotal factors to consider when crafting a study and the inherent strengths and limitations of different type of research methods.Whether you're embarking on your own research project or looking to enhance your critical thinking skills Armed with the research methods definition, this guide will equip you with the essential knowledge to make well-informed decisions and formulate significant conclusions in the field of research.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Methods

Qualitative and quantitative research methods represent two fundamentally different approaches to data collection and analysis. Qualitative observation delves into non-numerical data, while quantitative observation involves the scrutiny of data that is numerical and quantifiable.

Qualitative Research:

  • Involves gathering and interpreting non-numerical data, such as text, video, photographs, or audio recordings
  • Uses sources like interviews, focus groups, documents, personal accounts, cultural records, and observation
  • Characteristics include:
    • Unstructured or semi-structured format
    • Open-ended questions
    • Comprehensive perspective on individuals' experiences
    • Comparison of participants' feedback and input
    • Focus on answering the "why" behind a phenomenon, correlation, or behavior
  • Ethnography, for instance, seeks to gain insights into phenomena, groups, or experiences that cannot be objectively measured or quantified, offering a deep dive into the cultural fabric of a community.
  • This method is used to understand how an individual subjectively perceives and imparts meaning to their social reality, often revealing underlying bias that can influence the interpretation of social phenomena.
  • Data analysis techniques include content analysis, grounded theory, thematic analysis, or discourse analysis

Quantitative Research:

  • Focuses on numerical or measurable data
  • Uses sources such as experiments, questionnaires, surveys, and database reports
  • Characteristics include:
    • Multiple-choice format
    • Countable answers (e.g., "yes" or "no")
    • Numerical analysis
    • Statistical picture of a trend or connection
    • To define research methods, one must focus on answering the 'what' or 'how' in relation to a particular phenomenon, correlation, or behavior. This foundational approach is crucial in the realm of empirical inquiry.
  • Provides precise causal explanations that can be measured and communicated mathematically
  • The objectives of scientific inquiry often include hypothesis testing to examine causal relationships between variables, making accurate predictions, and generalizing findings to broader populations.
  • Aims to establish general laws of behavior and phenomenon across different settings/contexts
  • Used to test a theory and ultimately support or reject it
  • Empirical research in psychology utilizes examples of quantitative data such as standardized psychological assessments, neuroimaging data, and clinical outcome measures to inform its findings.
  • Data analysis techniques include descriptive and inferential statistics

When selecting research methodology types, it's important to consider various factors such as the study's primary goal, the nature of the research questions and conceptual framework, the variables involved, the context of the study, ethical issues, and whether the focus is on individuals or groups, or on comparing groups and understanding their relationships.

Research design methods play a pivotal role in determining the appropriateness of qualitative methods for studies involving individuals or groups, while quantitative methods are often chosen for studies aimed at comparing groups or deciphering the relationship between variables.

Descriptive Research

Descriptive research is a methodological approach that aims to accurately and systematically depict a population, situation, or phenomenon. It adeptly addresses 'what', 'where', 'when', and 'how' questions, although it steers clear of exploring 'why'. Employing a descriptive research design means observing and documenting variables without exerting control or manipulation, which is particularly beneficial when exploring new topics or problems to identify characteristics, frequencies, trends, and categories.

Descriptive research methods include:

  1. Surveys: Survey research is a powerful tool that enables researchers to collect extensive data sets, which can then be meticulously analyzed to uncover frequencies, averages, and emerging patterns.
  2. Observations: Utilizing observation allows researchers to collect data on behaviors and phenomena, ensuring the gathered information is not tainted by the honesty or accuracy of respondents.
  3. Case studies: Case study research delves into detailed data to pinpoint the unique characteristics of a narrowly defined subject, providing in-depth insights.

Descriptive research can be conducted in different ways:

  • Cross-sectional: Observing a population at a single point in time.
  • Longitudinal: Following a population over a period of time.
  • Surveys or interviews: When the researcher interacts with the participant.
  • Observational studies or data collection using existing records: When the researcher does not interact with the participant.

Advantages of descriptive research include:

  • Varied data collection methods
  • A natural environment for respondents
  • Quick and cheap data collection
  • A holistic understanding of the research topic

Limitations of  descriptive research studies:

  • They cannot establish cause and effect relationships.
  • The reliability and validity of survey responses can be compromised if respondents are not truthful or tend to provide socially desirable answers.
  • The choice and wording of questions on a questionnaire may influence the descriptive findings.

Correlational Research

Correlational research, a non-experimental method, delves into the dynamics between two variables, focusing on the strength and direction of their relationship without manipulating any factors, which is pivotal in understanding associations rather than causality.

Researchers may choose correlational research in the following situations

  1. When manipulating the independent variable is impractical, impossible, or unethical
  2. When exploring non-causal relationships between variables
  3. When testing new measurement tools

In correlational research, the correlation coefficient is measured, which can range from -1 to +1, indicating the relationship's direction and strength. A comprehensive meta-analysis can further elucidate these types of correlations.

  • Positive correlation: Both variables change in the same direction
  • Negative correlation: Variables change in opposite directions
  • Zero correlation: No relationship exists between the variables

Data collection methods for correlational research include

  1. Surveys
  2. Naturalistic observation
  3. Archival research or secondary data

Analytical research methods, such as correlation or regression analyses, are employed to analyze correlational data, with the former yielding a coefficient that clarifies the relationship's intensity and direction, and the latter forecasting the impact of variable changes.

Experimental Research

Experimental research, a methodical scientific approach, manipulates variables to observe their effects and is indispensable for establishing cause-and-effect relationships and making informed decisions in the face of inadequate data.

  1. Pre-experimental research design: Includes One-shot Case Study Research Design, One-group Pretest-posttest Research Design, and Static-group Comparison.
  2. True experimental research designStatistical analysis, a cornerstone in testing hypotheses, is pivotal in research for its accuracy in proving or disproving a hypothesis. It's uniquely capable of establishing a cause-effect relationship within a group, making it an indispensable tool for researchers.
  3. Quasi-experimental design: Similar to an experimental design but assigns participants to groups non-randomly.

Experimental research is essential for various fields, such as:

  • Developing new drugs and medical treatments
  • Understanding human behavior in psychology
  • Improving educational outcomes
  • Identifying opportunities for businesses and organizations

To conduct experimental research effectively, researchers must consider three key factors:

  1. A Control Group and an Experimental Group
  2. A variable that can be manipulated by the researcher
  3. Random distribution of participants

Experimental research, whether conducted in laboratory settings with high control variables and internal validity or in field settings that boast both internal and external validity, presents a spectrum of advantages and challenges. Researchers must navigate potential threats to internal validity, including history, maturation, testing, instrumentation, mortality, and regression threats.

Mixed Methods Research

Mixed methods research, an approach that synergizes the rigor of quantitative and qualitative research methods, capitalizes on the strengths of each to provide a comprehensive analysis. This integration, which can occur during data collection, analysis, or presentation of results, is a hallmark of mixed methods research designs.

  1. Convergent design
  2. Explanatory sequential design
  3. Exploratory sequential design
  4. Embedded design

The practice of triangulation in mixed methods research enhances the integration of quantitative and qualitative data, offering multiple perspectives and a more comprehensive understanding. It also allows for a deeper explanation of statistical results, as exemplified by the EQUALITY study's exploratory sequential design for patient-centered data collection.

In mixed methods research, the intricate research design and methodology combine qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. This purposeful mixing of methods and data integration at strategic stages of the research process can reveal relationships between complex layers of research questions, although it demands significant resources and specialized training.

  • Explanatory
  • Exploratory
  • Parallel
  • Nested (embedded) designs

Mixed methods research, characterized by its diverse research design and methods, integrates quantitative and qualitative approaches within a single study. Grounded in positivism and interpretivism, it provides a multifaceted understanding of research topics, despite the challenges of mastering both methodologies and collaborating with multidisciplinary teams.


In sum, a thorough grasp of the various research methodologies is crucial for conducting robust research and critically assessing others' findings. From qualitative to quantitative, descriptive, correlational, experimental, and mixed methods research, each approach offers distinct strengths and limitations, guiding researchers to the most suitable methods for effective data collection and analysis.

As we navigate the vast landscape of information available, understanding what are research methods empowers us to make informed decisions, draw meaningful conclusions, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge across various fields. Embracing the diversity of research methods, whether you're a student, researcher, or simply curious, will enhance your critical thinking skills and enable you to uncover valuable insights that shape our understanding of the world.


What are the seven most commonly used research methods?The seven most commonly used research methods are:

  1. Observation / Participant Observation
  2. Surveys
  3. Interviews
  4. Focus Groups
  5. Experiments
  6. Secondary Data Analysis / Archival Study
  7. Mixed Methods (a combination of some of the above)

What does comprehensive research methodology entail?

Comprehensive research methodology involves conducting a thorough and exhaustive investigation on a specific topic, subject, or issue. This approach is characterized by the meticulous collection, analysis, and evaluation of a wide array of information, data, and sources, with the objective of achieving a deep and comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.

What are the three primary methods to investigate a specific research question?

To investigate a specific research question, you can use:

  1. Quantitative methods for measuring something or testing a hypothesis.
  2. Qualitative methods for exploring ideas, thoughts, and meanings.
  3. Secondary data analysis for examining a large volume of readily-available data.

What does exploration mean in the context of research methodology?

Exploration in research methodology signifies a research approach that aims to delve into questions that have not been extensively explored before. Exploratory research, often qualitative and primary in nature, is focused on uncovering new insights and understanding. Nonetheless, it can also adopt a quantitative stance, particularly when it involves analyzing a large sample size, to further the scope of exploratory research.