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Review of  Mixed Methods Research in Language Teaching and Learning

Reviewer: Luciana Forti
Book Title: Mixed Methods Research in Language Teaching and Learning
Book Author: A. Mehdi Riazi
Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 29.1840

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REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


Mixed methods research (MMR) in second language teaching and learning is a prospect that has gained considerable attention in the past few years. The basic notion underlying the adoption of a MMR approach to the study of language teaching and learning is that the combination of both qualitative and quantitative strands within a single research design allows the researcher to tackle more complex problems, and make inferences based on results stemming from different kinds of evidence corroborating each other. A. Mehdi Riazi, the author of “Mixed Methods Research in Language Teaching and Learning,” is not new to the field, having published a number of works on the topic (Riazi, 2016b, 2016a; Riazi & Candlin, 2014).

The volume is divided into three parts. The first one, “Theoretical and Philosophical Aspects of Mixed Methods Research”, consists of two chapters and provides an introduction to the volume; the second one, “Practical Aspects of Mixed Methods Research”, is composed of five chapters and deals with the aims, the designs, the questions and the tools that caracterise MMR studies; the third one, “ Review and Analysis of Published MMR studies”, is composed of five chapters and provides a framework to analyse MMR studies in relation to language components, communication skills, motivation and attitude, language testing and assessment, and is rounded off by a final chapter of conclusions.

Part One of the volume, “Theoretical and Philosophical Aspects of Mixed Methods Research”, consists of chapters 1 and 2.

The first chapter, “Researching Language Teaching and Learning: Three Research Approaches”, provides a description of the three main research approaches in language teaching and learning: quantitative, qualitative and MMR. By placing these approaches into the broader field of empirical research, the author provides an overview of how frequently applied each one of these approaches is in the field of applied linguistics, and then describes how the quantitative and qualitative approaches differ in terms of the kind of data collected, the kind of tools used to analyse the data and the underlying logic characterising each one of them. Drawing on the results of a few surveys, the author reports that studies in language learning and teaching have most typically adopted a quantitative approach.

In the second chapter, “Underlying Worldviews (Philosophies) for Mixing Methods”, the author reviews four underlying worldview philosophies for the MMR approach, namely pragmatism, transformativism, dialectical pluralism and critical realism, arguing in favour of the last one. The general aim of this chapter is to provide a theoretical justification for mixing methods.

Part Two of the volume, “Practical Aspects of Mixed Methods Research”, describes the practical aspects of MMR, and consists of Chapters 3 to 7.

“Following a Purpose and Achieving Goals in MMR” is the title of Chapter 3, describing the five purposes underlying the choice of mixing methods: triangulation, complementarity, initiation, development and expansion.

In regard to triangulation, the author describes the differences that characterise the concept whether a quantitative or qualitative framework is being considered, and then goes over the main aspects implied when mixing the two methods. The rationale is that of integrating results gathered from different methods in order to corroborate the findings and make them more solid.
A distinction is made between a broader and narrower definition of triangulation: according to the former, different methods drawn from both the quantitative and qualitative research paradigms can be integrated; according to the latter, only methods within one of the two research paradigms (either quantitative or qualitative) can be integrated. Complementarity seeks to view a research problem as multi-layered or multi-dimensional, where each layer or dimension is characterised by a single kind of data source. Initiation refers to the purpose of adopting an MMR framework when observing gaps in the existing literature on a topic, or issues in a study that is underway. The development purpose allows the researchers to build on the results from a previous strand or conduct an in-depth analysis of results gathered from different strands. Finally, the expansion purpose sees the addition of strands to a specific study after its initiation.

In Chapter 4, “Mixed Methods Research Designs”, the author provides an overview of three series of MMR study designs, from three different published works. In Morse’s design typology (pp. 87-91), an MMR study can be structured in one of six ways, variously combining simultaneous vs. sequential strands together with a more or less accentuated emphasis on either the quantitative or qualitative dimension. According to Teddlie and Tashakkori’s design typology (pp. 91-98), the two strands in a design may be concurrent, sequential, based on conversion, fully integrated or multilevel. Creswell and Plano Clark (pp. 98-100) propose three concurrent designs (triangulation, nested, transformative) and three sequential designs (explanatory, exploratory, transformative).
The last pages of the chapter are devoted to the clarification of concepts and terms across all the design typologies, such as triangulation in the broad and narrow sense, which was introduced at the beginning of the volume.

Specific aspects related to methodology are dealt with in Chapter 5, “Research Questions, Sampling Procedures and Data Collection Strategies”. Research questions in both quantitative and qualitative research designs are described in terms of their purposes and in relation to the underlying worldviews presented in the second chapter. Four sampling types (identical, parallel, nested and multilevel) are described in relation to both concurrent and sequential MMR designs. Finally, data collection is presented in terms of within- and between- strategies.

Chapter 6, “Analyzing Data and Making Inferences”, presents the range of data types and how they can be analysed in relation to different MMR designs. Research questions, whether quantitative, qualitative or mixed, are connected with different kinds of data sources, and their related data analysis methodologies. References are made in regard to how computer assisted data analysis (CADA) can aid the researcher, and how specific programs such as NVivo or SPSS are used to treat qualitative and quantitative data respectively. But how are we then able to draw inferences from the analysis? This question is addressed in the last part of the chapter, by stating a series of specific principles that should guide the interpretation of correlation coefficients (p. 149).

This second part of volume is then rounded up by an overview of how a MMR study proposal should be written. Chapter 7, “Writing Proposals for MMR Studies”, describes in fact the typical structure that the proposal should have, and provides suggestions as to how each section within the structure should be built in order to make a compelling argument and persuade the reader that the study is worth pursuing. In particular, it clarifies the links between the nature of different types of research questions and the kind of data sources and data analysis that each one of them implies (p. 168).

Part Three is devoted to a review and analysis of published MMR studies, and is formed by chapters 8 to 12.

In Chapter 8, “A Framework for Analyzing MMR Studies”, the author describes a framework to analyse and review MMR studies. This framework is made by the following three sections: annotation of the study, which is intended as an extended abstract of the study; design and strands, where the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of the study are identified in relation to how they position themselves within the study; and finally, commentary, which represents the critical part of the analysis, discussing the conceptual, methodological and inferential aspects of the study. This framework is used to analyse and review 8 MMR studies, which are evenly distributed in the subsequent 4 chapters according to the language learning area they focus on.

Chapter 9, “Researching Language Components”, reviews a study on the effectiveness of an inductive vs. a deductive approach in the learning of grammar, and a study on learning vocabulary through technology. Chapter 10, “Researching Communication Skills”, focuses on a longitudinal study on the development of ESL learners’ fluency and comprehensibility, and on an exploratory study on the effectiveness of a pen pal project. In Chapter 11, “Researching Motivation and Attitude”, the author reviews a study on language learning motivation and another one on teachers’ attitudes towards teaching English in India. Finally, Chapter 12, “Researching Language Testing and Assessment”, contains a review of a study focused on the predicted validity of an ESL placement test, and of another one regarding AFL research and its usefulness in the classroom. Each one of these four chapters, containing a review of two MMR studies, also provides the reader with guidance to review two additional studies for each of the areas that were considered.

The last chapter is devoted to providing a final round up to the book. The author provides a synopsis of the book, by going over the major steps that need to be taken in designing and carrying out an MMR study: design, rationale, data collection methods, data analysis, inferences from results. He reiterates the importance of the underlying abductive and retroductive logic characterizing these studies, and discusses the challenges that a researcher faces each step along the way. Overall, conducting MMR studies is seen as a recursive process, in the sense that each step can inform and be informed by other ones.


The volume presents both an introduction to the MMR approach to second language learning and teaching studies, as well as a defense of its importance and usefulness. It is well structured, clearly written, and dense with references. It sits well within the author’s publishing history on the topic, and the reader can conveniently look at works such as Riazi & Candlin (2014) to expand on some of the theoretical points, or Riazi (2016b) for a reference resource based on an alphabetically ordered list of key concepts related to MMR methods. It distinguishes itself from other works related to methodology in second language learning and teaching research because of its orientation towards the adoption of a specific approach.

It seems to be mainly aimed at graduate students, who find themselves in the position of applying for a postgraduate position through the presentation of a research project. This is reflected especially in Chapter 7, where very practical and useful recommendations are made in relation to how one should go about conceiving and designing a study, and then writing up a persuasive proposal. The recommendations are practical and specific, and relate to each single phase of the development of a project. In the space of very few pages, the author manages to effectively pinpoint the key factors that are needed in order to produce a solid research proposal. It is very easy to imagine that these would be the most bookmarked pages by a graduate student.
It may be noted that graduate students may not be overly familiar with all aspects involved in quantitative and qualitative methodology, and may have to consult other resources such as Larsen-Freeman & Long (1991) for a general overview, or Gass & Mackey (2007) and Mackey & Gass (2012) for specific guidance in relation to different kinds of data.

However, the ideal reader of the volume might in fact be a relatively experienced researcher wishing to broaden his or her horizons in relation to methodology. In this case, the basic notions connected to the quantitative and qualitative methodological dimensions of research into second language learning and teaching are assumed to have been acquired, and the reader’s attention would be concentrated on how the two dimensions can be integrated into a single study. As a result, Chapter 7 would perhaps be not as useful as for the graduate students, but on the other hand the rest of the volume wouldn’t necessitate additional resources to be fully appreciated.

Graphs and tables accompany each chapter with the purpose of visualising and clarifying what is presented in the written text. Highlight boxes containing bullet points summarizing the previously presented information are present throughout the book, though not always consistently. For example, when presenting the four different underlying worldviews for mixing methods in Chapter 2, highlight boxed are provided for only the first two.

As the books proceeds, other kinds of summarising boxes are used to zoom in on sets of criteria, or challenges. Boxes containing learning tasks are frequent when dealing with analysing data and making inferences in Chapter 5, and appear again in the four chapters containing the systematic analysis and review of sample MMR studies.

The framework presented in Chapter 8 to analyse and review MMR studies is effective in providing the necessary tools to understand the different components making up a study, which especially graduate students would find useful. In the author’s framework, in order to identify these components, we need to identify the target population, the kind of strands involved in the study, the kind of data sources and data analysis used, and the kind of inferences made on the basis of the analysis. It remains unclear why the author wouldn’t include research questions as one of the components of a study. It seems that identifying the specific research questions characterising a study would be useful in terms of seeing how a specific research questions connects with data sources, data analysis and inferences, exactly as is shown in the excellent tables on p. 168 and p. 140.

Overall, the book is an excellent contribution to the field of second language learning and teaching research methodology, which can be appreciated by both graduate students and more experienced researchers alike.


Gass, S. M., & Mackey, A. (2007). Data Elicitation for Second and Foreign Language Research. Routledge.

Larsen-Freeman, D., & Long, M. H. (1991). An introduction to second language acquisition research. New York - London: Longman.

Mackey, A., & Gass, S. (Eds.). (2012). Research methods in second language acquisition: a practical guide. Oxford: Blackwell.

Riazi, A. M. (2016a). Innovative mixed-methods research (IMMR): Moving beyond design technicalities to epistemological and methodological realisation. Applied Linguistics, 37(1), 33–49.

Riazi, A. M. (2016b). The Routledge Encyclopedia of Research Methods in Applied Linguistics: Quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods research. London: Routledge.

Riazi, A. M., & Candlin, C. N. (2014). Mixed-methods research in language teaching and learning: Opportunities, issues and challenges. Language Teaching, 47, 135–173.
Luciana Forti is a PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics at the University for Foreigners of Perugia, Italy. She holds a BA and MA in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics respectively, both earned at Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. Her doctoral project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of using corpora in an Italian as a second language learning context, with a focus on verb+noun collocations. She is also a CELTA qualified EFL teacher.

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