What are research paradigms and what is their importance in research? Once the researcher finalizes the research topic the next thought is about the approach or methodology to follow for the research. There are three questions that the researcher need to ask before beginning the actual research:
- The ontological inquiry: What is the reality that the researcher wants to explore and know?
- The epistemological inquiry: What is it (the ontology) that is available to explore and how to reach it?
- The methodological inquiry: What are the methods and procedures that will make this inquiry possible?
All of the three above questions are part of the paradigms of research. A paradigm is worldview about how to conduct a research. Paradigm include the methodology, approach, ontology, and epistemology to conduct the research. In one paradigm there can be several methodologies and the researcher can follow anyone of that. These methodologies are approaches to research that can help the researcher conduct a systematic research. For example, if ontology asks does God exist? The epistemology will ask how to know that God exist? and the methodology will focus on what procedures and methods one can use to find the existence of God.
The paradigms however are four or five that are internationally accepted, depending on whether you are conducting research in pure sciences or in social sciences. For the new researcher the choice of the right paradigm and research methodology is a difficult task. The researcher get better understanding of the paradigm as they work on their research project.
Definition of research paradigms
The term paradigm was first used by Kuhn in his work The Structure of Scientific Revolution he defined research paradigm as “an integrated cluster of substantive concepts, variables and problems attached with corresponding methodological approaches and tools”.
As a researcher you will be curious to know the answers to your research questions. The answers to the research questions can be solved in an informal manner but you will not be able to inform the readers how you conduct the research. It is absolutely important for a researcher to provide step-by-step guide to the readers about how the research proceeded and how the researcher got the answers to the research question. As we know that every research should have some characteristics these research characteristics give the research meaning and value. Unless the researcher follows a well-defined path to conduct the research he could not justify his findings to the readers. Additionally other researchers cannot replicate the study nor they can learn from it. A paradigm provides the researcher a guide to follow throughout the research.
The novice student finds it difficult to understand research paradigms and their importance in research. This article will introduce the researchers about what are paradigms and how the methodology, epistemology, and ontological approaches are related to the research paradigms. Before beginning your research you must be fairly familiar with the basics of research paradigms and their underlying fundamentals of each of these paradigms.
Ontology and research paradigms
The ontology is the reality of knowledge that exist and that the research wants to seek. For each research paradigm there is an ontological view that the researcher seeks through research. Monism, pluralism, idealism, dualism, materialism are some of the ontological views that one can follow. The ontology cannot be reached without knowing the epistemology of research. In pure sciences for example, the scientist will use a real reality as an ontological view and to know that real reality the scientist will use objectivity as an epistemological stance, quantitative methods as the methodology and hence the scientist is using positivism as the paradigm to find answers to the research questions.
Reality of real reality is totally an objective way to find answers to the research questions. While interpretivism, constructivism, and pragmatism paradigms have relativism as ontological approach.
Epistemology and research paradigms
Epistemology is the philosophical view to seek the reality. It paves the way to find the truth that is ontology. Epistemology and ontology are weaved together and none is possible without each other. Realism, rationalism, relativism, and irrationalism are some of the epistemology that are out there. Epistemology and ontology are like nail and hammer none can work without each other. If you want to know the reality you should use an epistemology to get the answer. In each research paradigm there are some epistemology the researcher can choose one that suits the research question.
Methodology and research paradigms
The methodology can be quantitative or qualitative and within each of these methodology there are several research techniques. In pure sciences quantitative research methodology is commonly used. In social sciences qualitative research methodology is more common in use. As a combination of both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies there is mixed-method methodology that is more adaptable and in use in both pure sciences and social sciences.
For a positivist , quantitative research methodology is more suitable and for a interpretivist qualitative and mixed-method approaches are more common to be used. In interpretivism and pragmatism statistical inquiry or analysis is not always required.
One very important point o be considered here is that once you decide about either one of the ontology, epistemology, or methodology of the research you are bound to choose the other two from some restricted choices. The reason being that you cannot apply subjective epistemology to positivism or qualitative methodology to objective inquiry. This also reveals how all three are connected to each other and combined they form a research paradigm.
Although ontology, epistemology, and methodology have a relationship with the research paradigm but as a student you should know the difference between all of them. You cannot call quantitative approach a paradigm, it is a methodology or approach to research. A research paradigm is a worldview about conducting research. Research paradigm however provides the students an idea to choose methods and research design. The research paradigm is the one that addresses what should be the method to follow for the research and not the other way around.
- Makombe, G. (2017). “An expose of the relationship between paradigm, method and design in research.” The Qualitative Report, 22(12), 3363-3382. Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol22/iss12/18
- Shah, S. R. and Abdullah A. (2013). “Research Paradigms: Researchers’ Worldviews, Theoretical Frameworks and Study Designs.” Arab World English Journal, 4(4), 252-264.