Home > RNJ > 2005 > May/June > Commentary: Using Mixed Methods in Disability and Rehabilitation Research

Commentary: Using Mixed Methods in Disability and Rehabilitation Research
Janet Seacrest, PhD RN

Nursing is concerned with the whole person, so is it reasonable to expect one avenue of research to answer a question about a phenomenon concerning complex human beings? Kroll, Neri, and Miller present a thoughtful paper emphasizing the role of mixed methods in examining research questions related to disability and rehabilitation.

The term triangulation mentioned in this paper has an interesting history. It is a term originally used in land surveying to determine a specific point from other known points (Massey & Walford, 1999). This term found its way into the sociology literature as an analogy for mixed-method research. But as an analogy it falls short. In surveys, triangulation confirms an equation to answer a single question. Triangulation with respect to mixed methods refers to qualitative and quantitative approaches. These two approaches have different assumptions, therefore, different questions are asked. So rather than one approach confirming another, instead it adds to a fuller picture of a phenomenon. Understanding the effects of therapy on a person’s physical ability to function does not answer the question of what is meaningful to motivate the person. The authors use the term “complementary,” a term which is most appropriate for mixed methods.

The theoretical bases of the studies cited in this paper draw from disciplines other than nursing, for example, social learning theory and the Health Behavior Model. Yet nursing has a rich and very relevant theoretical tradition upon which rehabilitation research can be built and for which mixed methods are particularly well suited. For example, King’s (1981, 1997) theory of goal attainment leads to questions relating perception (phenomenology) to testing interventions leading to goal attainment (experimental) and to the process of achieving goals (grounded theory).

Nursing’s unique contributions to rehabilitation often are obscured by the discrete functions of the other disciplines; mixed-method research using nursing models and theories will build nursing knowledge and its contribution to the rehabilitation team.



King, I. M. (1981). A theory for nursing. Systems, concepts, process. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers.

King, I. M. (1997). Theory of goal attainment. In M. A. Frey & C. L. Sieloff (Eds.), Advancing King’s systems framework and theory of nursing (pp. 109–125). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Massey, A. & Walford, G. (Eds.). (1999). Explorations in methodology. Studies in educational ethnography, Vol. 2 (pp. 183–197). Stamford, CT: JAI Press.