Methodological fit

Do you know what methodology you should use for your research project?

If there is a lot of extensive literature for a topic, then, according to Edmonson and McManus (2007) one could make a contribution to a mature theory then quantitative methodology would be the best methodological fit. If one strays and does a qualitative methodology in this case, they could run into reinventing the wheel error and may fail to fill a gap in the body of knowledge.

If there is just a little literature for a topic, then one could make a contribution to a nascent theory via qualitative methodologies, which in turn would be the best methodological fit (Edmonson & McManus, 2007).  If you do a quantitative research project here, you may be jumping the gun and running into possible false conclusions caused by confounding variables and may still fail to fill the gap in the body of knowledge.

Finally, one can stray from both pure qualitative and quantitative methodologies, and go into a mixed-methods study, and this can occur when there is enough research that the body of knowledge isn’t considered nascent, but not enough to be considered mature (Edmonson & McManus, 2007). Going one route here would do an injustice in filling in the gap in the body of knowledge, because you may be missing key insights that the each part of the mixed methodology (both qualitative and quantitative) can bring to the field.

So, prior to deciding which methodology you should choose, you should do an in-depth literature review.  You cannot pick an appropriate methodology without knowing the body of knowledge.

Hint: The more quantitative research articles you find in a body of knowledge, the more likely your project will be dealing with either a mixed-methods (low number of articles) or a quantitative method (high number of articles) project. If you see none, you may be working on a qualitative methodology.


  • Edmondson, A., & McManus, S. (2007). Methodological fit in management field research. Academy of Management Review, 32(4), 1155–1179. CYBRARY.

Worldviews and Approaches to Inquiry

The four worldviews according to Cresswell (2013) are postpositivism (akin to quantitative methods), constructivism (akin to qualitative methods), advocacy (akin to advocating action), and pragmatism (akin to mixed methods).   There are positives and negatives for each world view. For pragmatists, they use what truth and what methods from anywhere that works at the time they need it, to get the results they need.  Though the pragmatist research style takes time to conduct.  The advocacy places importance on creating an action item for social change to diminish inequity gaps between asymmetric power relationships like those that exist with class structure and minorities.  Though this research is noble, the moral arc of history bends towards justice, but very slowly, it took centuries for race equality to be where it is at today, it took over 60 years for gender equality, and 40 years for LGBT equality.  Yet, there are still inequalities amongst these groups and the majority that have yet to be resolved.  For instance: Equal Pay for Equal Work for All, Employment/Housing Non-Discrimination for LGBT, Racial Profiling, etc.  The constructivist viewpoint researchers seek to understand the world around them through subjective means.  They use their own understanding and interpretation of historical and cultural settings of participants to shape their interpretation of the open-ended data they collect.  This can lead to an interpretation that is shaped by the researcher’s background and not representative of the whole situation at hand.  Finally, postpositivism looks at the world in numbers, knowing their limitation that not everything can be described in numbers, they choose to propose an alternative hypothesis where they can either accept or reject the hypothesis. Numbers are imperfect and fallible.

My personal world view is akin to a pragmatist world view.  My background in math, science, technology, and management help me synthesize ideas from multiple fields to drive innovation.  It has allowed me to learn rapidly because I can see how one field ties to the other and makes me more adaptable.   However, I also lean a bit more strongly to the math and science side of myself, which is a postpostivism view.


The Role of Theory

The theory is intertwined with the research process, thus a thorough understanding of theory must involve the understanding of the relationship between theory and research (Bryman & Bell, 2007).  When looking at research from a deductive role (developing and testing a problem and hypothesis) the theory is presented at the beginning.  The theory here is being tested, as it helps define the problem, its parameters (boundaries) and a hypothesis to test.  Whereas an inductive role uses data and research to build a theory.  Theories can be grand (too hard to pinpoint and test) or they can be mid-range (easier to test, but it is still too big to test it under all assumptions) (Bryman & Bell, 2007).

Where you write your theory depends on the type of world view you have (positivism at the beginning of the paper, or constructivism at the beginning or end of the paper) (Creswell, 2013).   My particular focus will be on the postpositivism view (quantitative methods), so I will dissect the placement of the theory primarily on a quantitative research study (which are mostly deductive in nature).  Placement of the theory in the introduction lit review, or after the hypothesis runs into the issue that it will make it harder for the reader to isolate and separate the theory from their respective sections (Cresswell, 2013).  There is another disadvantage from what Creswell (2013) states for the after the hypothesis approach: you may forget to discuss the origins and rationale for the theory.  Cresswell (2013), suggests as a research tip to separate the theory and create a brand new section for it so that it is easily identified and its origin and rationale can be elaborated on.

However, separating the theory section from the rest of the paper can still get the paper tossed out of being published in a journal if it is still fuzzy to decipher amongst your peers and the editor.  Feldman’s 2004 editorial states that if the question & theory is succinct, grammatically correct, non-trivial, and makes a difference, it would help you get your results published.  However, he also states (like many of our professors do) we need to find what are the key articles and references in the past 5 years, that we should be exhaustive yet exclusive with our dataset, and establish clear boundary conditions such that we can adequately define independent and dependent variable would help you get your results published (Feldman, 2004).  The latter set of conditions helps build your theory, whereas the first set of conditions speaks to the readability of the theory.  If it is hard to read your theory because it’s so convoluted, then why should anyone care to read it?


  • Bryman, A. & Bell, E. (2007) Business Research Methods. (2nd ed.). Location: Oxford University Press.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 4th Edition. [VitalSource Bookshelf version]. Retrieved from
  • Feldman, D. C. (2004). What are we talking about when we talk about theory? Journal of Management, 30(5), 565–567.