Integrating quantitative and qualitative methods – and getting it published

Bill Noble, BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, Editor-in-Chief

Describing a study as ‘mixed method’ never felt very respectable or clever. For years we understood that finding the answer to questions about the value of parts of the health service required different kinds of data. The difficulty was knowing how best to put our findings together. Last week the MoreCare Workshop, led by Irene Higginson and Chris Todd, brought together researchers interested in writing guidelines for effectively designing, analysing and reporting mixed method health service research.

The belief of some researchers that only their methodology had a special relationship with the truth posed another difficulty. Depending on their expertise, they were very antagonistic to either ‘reductionist’ or ‘anecdotal’ ways of thinking.  These people might have been the reason why it was always difficult to publish or get grants for mixed methods. Most members of multidisciplinary research teams have some enthusiasm for the other camp’s trade; and so it was with this meeting.

Alicia O’Cathain was the first to confess the sin that turned out to be everyone’s guilty secret –  we had all reported mixed method studies in separate papers, hermetically sealed by methodology in different journals, with hardly a nod to what we knew about the other aspects of the study. We talked about ways of drawing overarching conclusions from the whole study and making a special effort to get that bit published. There’s a problem with word count when it comes to writing up these studies and as the BMJ‘s Domhnall MacAuley explained, what matters most to editors is new insights. A linked series of papers is one way that reporting these studies could go. Certainly this journal would be interested in mixed methods papers.

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