Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Methods & Reporting

Three techniques for integrating data in mixed methods studies

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 17 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4587
  1. Alicia O’Cathain, professor1,
  2. Elizabeth Murphy, professor2,
  3. Jon Nicholl, professor1
  1. 1Medical Care Research Unit, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4DA, UK
  2. 2University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A O’Cathain a.ocathain{at}
  • Accepted 8 June 2010

Techniques designed to combine the results of qualitative and quantitative studies can provide researchers with more knowledge than separate analysis

Health researchers are increasingly using designs that combine qualitative and quantitative methods, and this is often called mixed methods research.1 Integration—the interaction or conversation between the qualitative and quantitative components of a study—is an important aspect of mixed methods research, and, indeed, is essential to some definitions.2 Recent empirical studies of mixed methods research in health show, however, a lack of integration between components,3 4 which limits the amount of knowledge that these types of studies generate. Without integration, the knowledge yield is equivalent to that from a qualitative study and a quantitative study undertaken independently, rather than achieving a “whole greater than the sum of the parts.”5

Barriers to integration have been identified in both health and social research.6 7 One barrier is the absence of formal education in mixed methods research. Fortunately, literature is rapidly expanding to fill this educational gap, including descriptions of how to integrate data and findings from qualitative and quantitative methods.8 9 In this article we outline three techniques that may help health researchers to integrate data or findings in their mixed methods studies and show how these might enhance knowledge generated from this approach.

Triangulation protocol

Researchers will often use qualitative and quantitative methods to examine different aspects of an overall research question. For example, they might use a randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a healthcare intervention and semistructured interviews with patients and health professionals to consider the way in which the intervention was used in the real world. Alternatively, they might use a survey of service users to measure satisfaction with a service and focus groups to explore views of care in more depth. Data …

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