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EDL 7108 Action Research I: Distinguishing Article Type

This guide will help you determine if an article is...

  • Secondary Research / A Review
  • A Systematic Review / Meta-Analysis
  • A Primary Article
    • With Quantitative Methods
    • With Qualitative Methods
    • With Mixed Methods (both Quantitative and Qualitative)
    • A Retrospective Study / A Case Control Study

Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Methods include focus groups, unstructured or in-depth interviews, and reviews of documents for types of themes Surveys, structured interviews, measurements & observations, and reviews of records or documents for numeric or quantifiable information
Primarily inductive process used to formulate theory or hypotheses Primarily deductive process used to test pre-specified concepts, constructs, and hypotheses that make up a theory
More subjective: describes a problem or condition from the point of view of those experiencing it More objective: provides observed effects (interpreted by researchers) of a program on a problem or condition
Text-based Number-based
More in-depth information on a few cases Less in-depth but more breadth of information across a large number of cases
Unstructured or semi-structured response options Fixed response options, measurements, or observations
No statistical tests Statistical tests are used for analysis
Less generalizable More generalizable

Adapted from

Determining Type

NOTE: Check to see if the study type is at the top or in the title.

If so, skip to questions 3a & 3b.

1. Does it have Method and Results sections?


a) If not, the article is secondary research (typically a review).

b) If it does have Method and Results sections, continue to step 2.


2. In the Method section, does it talk about a literature search strategy?


a) If you answered yes, it is a systematic review or meta-analysis.

b) If you answered no, and that section describes a research study
(research participants, an intervention, etc.), 
it is original research. Continue to step 3 to determine its type.



STEP 3: Now, let's determine what type of original research this is.


3a. In the Method section, is the study described as an interview, observation, or questionnaire? Does the study involve looking into self-reported beliefs, thoughts, etc.?

aIf you answered yes, it’s a qualitative study.

b) If you answered no, see 3b.

3b. In the Method section, does the study describe the use of already-existing data (for example, reviewing patient admissions from the past 3 months)?

aIf you answered yes, it’s a retrospective study.

b) If you answered no, see 3c.


3c. In the Method or Results sections/areas, does it mention using quantitative analyses or statistical tests (e.g., ANOVA, t-test, p values)?



aIf you answered yes, it’s a quantitative study.

b) If you answered no, it’s qualitative.


BONUS. Are 3a AND 3c both true?  In other words, does the study use BOTH  quantitative and qualitative methods?

If so, it's a mixed methods study.