Postgraduate students' understanding of mixed methods research design at the proposal stage

T.E. Mabila


Mixed methods research (MMR) design by postgraduate students planning their research projects is on the rise. However, little is known about their conception of this relatively new methodology as their research begins. We report on an exploratory inquiry into the understanding of MMR by postgraduate students in a South African comprehensive university as revealed in their research proposals. We employed document analysis to examine a total of 67 proposals, and found conflicting and divergent interpretations of MMR. Most proposals gave no philosophical foundation for choosing particular methodological combinations; many were unclear about the selected design, lacked pertinent methodological information, provided insufficient justification for choice of study design, and lacked rigour in addressing data collection and analysis. This situation may have detrimental consequences for the university’s growth of research capacity in this area and future research culture. We conclude with MMR recommendations for research committees, supervisors and candidates for research degrees.


mixed methods, research proposal, postgraduate students, comprehensive university, research culture

Full Text:



Bamberger, M. 2012. Introduction to mixed methods in impact evaluation. Impact Evaluation Notes, 3, 1–38.

Baxter, P. and S. Jack. 2008. Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and Implementation for Novice Researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544–559.

Bazeley, P. 2003. Defining 'early career' in research. Higher Education, 45(3), 257–279.

Bazeley, P. 2004. Issues in mixing qualitative and quantitative approaches to research. In R. Buber, J.

Gadner, & L. Richards (eds) (2004) Applying qualitative methods to marketing management research. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp141-156.

Biesta, G. 2010. Pragmatism and the philosophical foundations of mixed methods research. Sage handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research, 2, 95–118.

Bulsara, C. 1997. Using a Mixed-Method Approach to Enhance and Validate Your Research. PowerPoint presentation, Retrieved 26 August 2016, .

Burrows, T. 2013. A Preliminary Rubric Design to Evaluate Mixed Methods Research. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Blacksburg: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Byrne, A., C. Sampson, J. Baillie, K. Harrison, B. Hope-Gill, R. Hubbard, and A. Nelson. 2013. A mixed-methods study of the Care Needs of individuals with idiopathic Pulmonary fibrosis and their carers—CaNoPy: a study protocol. BMJ open, 3(8), e003537.

Cameron, R. 2011. Mixed Methods Research: The Five Ps Framework. The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, 9(2), 96–208. Retrieved 22 March 2016, < >.

Cameron, R. and Molina-Azorin, J.F., 2011. The acceptance of mixed methods in business and management research. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 19(3), 256-271.

Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET). 2010. Institutional Types in Higher Education in South Africa. Retrieved 16 August 2016,

Chow, M. Y. K., S. Quine and M. Li. 2010. The benefits of using a mixed methods approach–quantitative with qualitative–to identify client satisfaction and unmet needs in an HIV healthcare centre. AIDS care, 22(4), 491–498.

Clark, V. P. and J. W. Creswell. 2011. Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Cloete, N., J. Mouton and C. Sheppard. 2015. Doctoral education in South Africa. Cape Town: African Minds.

Cooper, J. and J. Hall. 2014. Understanding Black Male Student Athletes’ Experiences at a Historically Black College/University: A Mixed Methods Approach. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 10(1), 46–63.

Creswell, J. W. 2014. A concise introduction to mixed methods research. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Creswell, J.W. 2013. Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. London: Sage Publications.

Davies, M. B. and N. Hughes. 2014. Doing a successful research project: Using qualitative or quantitative methods. Palgrave Macmillan.

Denscombe, M. 2008. Communities of practice a research paradigm for the mixed methods approach. Journal of mixed methods research, 2(3), 270–283.

Easton, K. L., J.F. McComish and R. Greenberg. 2000. Avoiding common pitfalls in qualitative data collection and transcription. Qualitative health research, 10(5), 703–707.

Freshwater, D. 2015. Mixed Methods Research: In Pursuit of Excellence. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 9(4), 295–296.

Gibbon, T. 2004. Creating comprehensive universities in South Africa: A concept document. Pretoria: Department of Education.

Guetterman, T. C. 2016. What distinguishes a novice from an expert mixed methods researcher? Quality & Quantity, 1–22.

Hanson, B. P. 2006. Designing, conducting and reporting clinical research: A step by step approach. Injury, 37(7), 583–594.

Harle, J. 2012. Africa's early career researchers need support and so do their universities. The Guardian. 28 November 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2016,

Hurmerinta-Peltomäki, L. and N. Nummela. 2006. Mixed methods in international business research: A value-added perspective. Management International Review, 46(4), 439–459.

Ivanikova, N. 2013. Implementing Quality Criteria in Designing and Conducting a Sequential QUAN - QUAL Mixed Methods Study of Student Engagement With Learning Applied Research Methods Online. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 8(1), 25–51.

Kawulich, B., M. Garner and C. Wagner. 2009. Students' Conceptions-and misconceptions-of Social Research. Qualitative Sociology Review, 5(3), 5–25.

Leech, N. L. and A.J. Onwuegbuzie. 2009. A typology of mixed methods research designs. Quality & Quantity, 43(2), 265–275.

Leech, N. L., A.B. Dellinger, K.B. Brannagan and H. Tanaka. 2010. Evaluating mixed research studies: A mixed methods approach. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 4(1), 17–31.

Long A.F., M. Godfrey, T. Randall, A. Brettle and M.J. Grant. 2002. HCPRDU Evaluation tool for mixed methods studies. University of Leeds, Nuffield Institute for Health, Leeds. Retrieved 24 May 2016, .

MacGregor, K. 2010. South Africa: New university clusters emerge. University World News 23 May 2010. (Issue 125). Retrieved 13 November 2016,

Mann, C. J. 2003. Observational research methods. Research design II: cohort, cross sectional, and case-control studies. Emergency Medicine Journal, 20(1), 54–60.

Mertens, D. M. 2014. Research and evaluation in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods. London: Sage Publications.

Meyer, J., M. Shanahanb and R. Laugkschc. 2005. Students' Conceptions of Research. I: A qualitative and quantitative analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 49(3), 225–244.

Munhall, P. L. 2012. Nursing research. London: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Munyaradzi Muchacha, B. S. W. and E. Mtetwa. 2015. Social and Economic Barriers to Exclusive Breastfeeding in Rural Zimbabwe. International Journal of MCH and AIDS (IJMA), 3(1), 16–21.

Murtonen, M. and E. Lehtine. 2005. Conceptions of Research and Methodological Learning. Scandanavian Journal of Educational Research, 49(3), 217–224.

National Planning Commission. 2012. National Development Plan 2030: Our future, make it work. Retrieved 27 September 2016,

Ngulube, P. and B. Ngulube. 2015. Mixed methods research in The South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences: An investigation of trends in the literature. South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences, 18(1), 1–13.

O’Cathain, A., E. Murphy and J. Nicholl. 2010. Three techniques for integrating data in mixed methods studies. BMJ, 341, c4587.

O'Cathain, A. 2009. Editorial: mixed methods research in the health sciences: a quiet revolution. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 3(1), 3–6.

Odom, S. L., E. Brantlinger, R. Gersten R., R.H. Horner, B.

Thompson and K.R. Harris. 2005. Research in special education: Scientific methods and evidence-based practices. Exceptional children, 71(2), 137–148.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J. 2002. Why can't we all get along? Towards a framework for unifying research paradigms. Education, 122(3), 518.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., R.B. Johnson and K.M. Collins. 2011. Assessing legitimation in mixed research: a new Framework. Quality & Quantity, 45(6), 1253–1271.

Plowright, D. 2013. To what extent do postgraduate students understand the principles of mixed methods in educational research? International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 7(1), 66–82.

Sandelowski, M. 2004. Using qualitative research. Qualitative health research, 14(10), 1366–1386.

Starr, M. 2012. Qualitative and Mixed-Methods Research in Economics: Surprising Growth, Promising Future. Journal of Economic Surveys, 28(2), 238–264.

Stockman, C. 2015. Achieving a Doctorate through Mixed Methods Research. The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, 13(2), 74–84.

Stubba, J., K. Pyhältöb and K. Lonkaac. 2014. Conceptions of research: the doctoral student experience in three domains. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 251–264.

Tashakkori, A., and C. Teddlie. 2008. Quality of inferences in mixed methods research: Calling for an integrative framework. Advances in Mixed Methods Research, 101–119.

Tashakkori, A., and C. Teddlie. 2010a. Epilogue: current developments and emerging trends in integrated research methodology. In A. Tashakkori, and C. Teddlie (Eds.), Sage Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research (pp. 803–826). New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Tashakkori, A., and Teddlie, C. (Eds.). 2010b. Sage handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Ukwuoma, U. 2015. Mixed Research: Exploring Postgraduate Students’ Perspectives. International Journal of Novel Research in Education and Learning, 2(4), 134–141.

Van Griensven, H., V. Hall and A. Moore. 2014. Mixed methods research - The best of both worlds. Manual Therapy, 19, 367–371.

Vermunt, J. 2005. Conceptions of Research and Methodology Learning: A Commentary on the Special Issue. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 49(3), 329–334.

Wong, P.T.P. 2016. How to Write a Research Proposal. Langley: Trinity Western University Langley. Retrieved 26 July 2016, .

Zheng, M. 2015. Conceptualisation of cross-sectional mixed methods studies in health science: A methodological review. International Journal of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods. 3(2), 66–87.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

eISSN: 1753-5913

Copyright © 2016 South African Journal of Higher Education

Hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2016.

Creative Commons License -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.