It is crucial that any research inquiry be guided by a paradigm. However, many early career researchers do not mention the research paradigm guiding their inquiry. Furthermore, qualitative and quantitative methods are sometimes erroneously referred to as research paradigms or research designs. Experienced researchers often use the terms research paradigm, research methods and research design in a loose and confusing manner. Although it is reasonable to assume that experienced researchers do understand the distinction and relationship between the three concepts, the loose use of the concepts leads to confusion among early career researchers, especially Master’s and PhD students. By using a literature review, this paper provides an expose of the relationship between these three concepts and highlights the sources of confusion from the literature. A qualitative approach, using a sample of 11 students from different South African universities, is used to provide an understanding of these concepts by early career researchers. The findings show that there is confusion in the understanding of these concepts. The study raises questions about what could be the possible sources of the confusion, besides the literature, and how the confusion could be addressed.


Research Paradigm, Early Career Researchers, Research Methods, Research Design, Qualitative, Quantitative, Confusion, Interconnectedness

Author Bio(s)

Godswill Makombe was an associate professor in the Master of Development Department, Turfloop Graduate School of Leadership, University of Limpopo, Limpopo, South Africa. He taught Research Methods, Regional and Local Economic Development and Agriculture and Rural Development. He has more than 20 years of research on development issues in Africa, mainly from the Sub-Saharan African countries. He has worked with academics, international and national institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. He has field experience in design, implementation and analysis of large data sets. He has strong quantitative analysis skills and has both the training and experience of working in multidisciplinary teams. Over time he has developed an appreciation of the strength of the complementarity between quantitative and qualitative research. Currently he is an independent researcher, a research associate at Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, and a Research Associate at Stellenbosch University, Sustainable Agriculture Programme.

Publication Date


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.





To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.