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Research Paradigm

What is a Research Paradigm?


A research paradigm is an approach or a research model to conducting a research that has been verified by the research community for long and that has been in practice for hundreds of years. Most of the research paradigms emerge from one of the two of the approaches to research that are positivist approach and interpretivism approach. Every research uses one of the research paradigms to use as a guideline for developing research methodology and to take on the research venture in a manner that is most valid and appropriate. Though basically there are two paradigms but there are several other paradigms emerged from these two especially in the social science research.

Though basically there are two paradigms but there are several other paradigms emerged from these two especially in the social science research. One of the paradigms that emerged in the recent years is the mixed-method research. In pure sciences, quantitative research methodology is clearly the most favored approach to conducting the research. In social sciences, there has been debate for over half a decade about the best methodology to use and this resulted in the emergence of mixed-method paradigm or mixed-method methodology.

The word paradigm originated from the Greek word “paradeigma” which means pattern. This word was first used in the research by “Kuhn” in 1962 to describe a conceptual framework that is accepted by a community of researchers or scientists and that provides them with an in-depth guideline to conduct the research. Since that time a debate between scientists regarding the best paradigm to conduct the research has always been there. Until 1980s scientists believed that quantitative research paradigm is the only paradigm or research approach that should be used in both pure science and social science research.

Types of Research Paradigm

  1. Positivist Paradigm

    Most of the scientific or quantitative research use positivism as a conceptual framework for research. Quantitative research always follows positivist approach because positivists believe in the empirical hypothesis testing. In pure sciences, positivism is preferred because of its empirical nature to study facts. In quantitative research, the research follows a probabilistic model that is determined by previous research. Positivists believe that the findings of one study can be generalized to another study of a similar kind regardless of it is conducted in a different environment and situations. This is true of scientific variables like volume, speed, density, strength, and weight. For example, if a scientific study proves the hypothesis that if a certain finish is applied to a fine cotton tulle fabric it will lose some of its natural strength, these results can be generalized to another similar fabric that gets the same after-finish.

    When talking about social and behavioral sciences quantitative researchers believe that any human behavior can be studied and predicted quantitatively and they believe that behavior can be explained using a scientific approach to research. While using positivist paradigm in social sciences the researcher controls all the other factors that can ruin his/her research by having their impact. To achieve a controlled environment the researcher has to conduct the research in a laboratory setting like a scientific experiment, though the human behavior is difficult to study in a controlled environment, this makes it difficult for the social science researcher to use a positivist paradigm in the study of human behavior. For example, if a researcher hypothesizes that adolescents who drop out of high schools are also involved in criminal activities, he/she has to study those students who dropped out in a natural setting rather than in a lab. As human behavior cannot be studied in lab settings it’s difficult to generalize human behavior to a wide and varied group of people regardless of if they have several similarities.

  2. Interpretivist  Paradigm

    Most of the qualitative research in social sciences use interpretivism approach to research. Interpretivists believe that human behavior is multilayered and it cannot be determined by pre-defined probabilistic models. It depends on the situations and is determined by environmental factors other than the genes. A human behavior is quite unlike a scientific variable which is easy to control. Human behaviors are affected by several factors and are mostly subjective in nature. Therefore interpretivistic believe in studying human behavior in the daily life rather than in the controlled environment.

Distinction between Positivism and Interpretivism

  • To summarize positivism and interpretivism we can say that positivism is governed by objectivity, measurability, predictability, probability, controllability and control laws that can predict human behavior. On the other hand, anti-positivism or interpretivism is governed by subjectivity and studying human behavior in a real-life setting.
  • Though, both of these paradigms are opposite of each other they represent the reality in two different manners, both of them have their own value and significance in the growth and development of knowledge.


  1. Cohen, Louis, et al. Research Methods in Education, 5th Edition. London, 2000
  2. Dr. Nirod K. Dash, Module: Selection of the Research Paradigm and Methodology, Manchester metropolitan University, June 2005
  3. Stephen K. Antwi, Kasim H. Qualitative and Quantitative Research Paradigms in Business Research: A Philosophical Reflection, European Journal of Business and Management, ISSN 2222-1905 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2839 (Online) Vol.7, No.3, 2015 http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=B761A90E8654CE2703475B3E74FCAEEF?doi=



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