An Interview With John Creswell

Michael Holsworth, Kyoto Sangyo University

Michael Holsworth: Thank you very much for joining the interview today. Would you mind sharing a little bit of your background and how you got into SLA (Second Language Acquisition)?

John Creswell: Right, well I started out in the field of education with my PhD, where I actually specialized in leadership studies, but while I was doing my doctoral work and leadership at the University of Iowa, I became very interested in research methodology within education, but especially within educational psychology, there’s a very strong research methodology orientation. There were many outstanding faculty in that area, and I started talking to them, hanging around them, and taking courses from them, so early on I had that interest. When I came to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, which was in 1978, I was asked to teach a research methods course which was helping doctoral students develop dissertation proposals. That was something that I thoroughly enjoyed.

At that time, and for the next decade, students were coming into the class and wanted to do quantitative projects, but some wanted to do qualitative projects, and I was literally going back and forth between the two. By 1985, I was teaching a qualitative research methods course. Qualitative research was around at that time and being discussed quite extensively as a new methodology, so I was kind of a second-generation research methodologist in qualitative research. Students in my class were going back and forth between quantitative and qualitative, and I would say, “OK, tonight we’re going to talk about doing a research question. First, here’s how we would design it quantitatively and then here’s how we would design it qualitatively.” It was around that time some students said, “You know, you should take your lecture notes and turn them into chapters.” So, I started writing my book called Research Design: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (Creswell, 1994), and by the late 1980s, I had my book pretty much worked up for publication. I had one chapter in there called Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Research, and at that time, I felt we could go back and forth between quantitative and qualitative, but maybe there’s some advantage of bringing the two together.

That book came out in 1994, and it became the best-selling book in all the Sage Research Methods series. I think they sold 4,000 books in that year, which shocked me, and shocked Sage as well. But, really what it did was it launched my research methodology career full steam. At that time, with that type of response, other publishers were coming to me to write on research methods. Sage publication started mapping out new books for me to write. For example, in 1997, I wrote my first qualitative research book. You can see the progression here starting from education and leadership, which are very quantitative, moving to more qualitative by around 1985 when I was teaching the course, and by the early 90s moving into more mixed methods. Over the years, what’s happened is that I’ve stayed primarily with qualitative and mixed methods research. I continued to help people with quantitative projects, but I think my specialty has been qualitative and mixed methods. I’ve kind of renewed myself time and time again.

Another career renewal for me was after working in education and writing that research design book that was for the social sciences. By around 1998, I was being encouraged to work with the Health Science researchers, and so I linked them with the University of Michigan and became a consultant who worked with them extensively on Health Science projects. My trajectory has been across different disciplines, and I continue to work with Health Science. I’m actually in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan right now. After mixed methods took off in the social sciences, it started taking off in the Health Sciences and there has been a trajectory across different discipline fields as well as methodology fields.

Thank you. I think people reading this know where you are coming from now. You have quite an extensive list of publications. I would like to know if there is one that really stands out in your mind and why?

Well, I would say there are two. If you count all my new editions as a separate book, I think I’m up to my 34th book now, so I’m continually working on new revisions. My colleague Mike Fetters of Michigan says, “You kick out books the way people kick out journal articles.” I think two books really come to mind. One is that book called the 30 Essential Skills of the Qualitative Researcher (Creswell & Creswell Báez, 2020). Unquestionably, that’s the most applied book I’ve ever written. I felt there was a need for a good introductory qualitative book, so I brought my research assistant into my class, and he took notes on every question a student asked about the content of our class session. I designed that book so that there are 30 chapters, and a person could cover two chapters in every class for a typical 15-week semester class. I brought in a lot of my own research examples from my articles and my experiences working on projects, so I’m proud of the applied nature of that book.

The second one would be the concise introduction book (Creswell, 2021). That book really came out of my work at Harvard when I was a visiting professor in public health in the School of Medicine. During my time there, they asked me to teach a mixed methods course, and so I started designing a course that would be for health science researchers. They didn’t have a lot of time to spend with a big 400-page book like my other book. I started writing out my notes and coming up with this concise introduction book. That book should be read in two to three hours by an English-speaking person. I really wanted to focus on the key concepts and mixed methods research—you know, to get rid of a lot of the detail, and just pulling in what a person really needs to do mixed methods research. I was very interested in having a short book that could be translated into other languages, and it has been translated into many languages now. I’m proud that I came up with a very short book that is very inexpensive. I told my publisher the cost needs to be very low. I’m proud that it is a good overview for the beginning and international researcher because so much of my work, especially in the last 10 to 20 years, has been reaching out to different audiences in different countries around the world.

This leads into my next question based on your book the 30 Essential Skills for Qualitative Researcher. Is there a specific skill that you think ranks at the top?

I’m especially proud of a couple chapters. One of them is, “How do qualitative researchers think about their problem they’re studying?” I talk about typical ways that qualitative researchers think that’s quite different than quantitative researchers. Another chapter has an interview guide, a sample interview guide, and I came up with that after looking at hundreds of them over the years and really trying to put into that one guide my ideal format that a person could use. Additionally, there’s a coding chapter where I take the reader through the steps I use when I code the data after I gather the information.

My next question is if you were to explain mixed methods research to someone very unfamiliar with the concept, like a junior researcher or a master’s student, how would you explain it?

That’s a great question, and I have given a lot of thought to that, and you know, the way I would explain it has certainly changed, developed, maybe improved over the years. I would explain it this way: If you’re studying a research problem, you can study that problem quantitatively, where you send out a questionnaire and get scores on the questionnaire, and there are some advantages to that approach. You can generalize to a large sample; you can see how a lot of people respond to that survey. On the other hand, you may decide to do a qualitative project where you are going to interview some people and really get their detailed perspectives. That’s an advantage too, to hear people really talk about a problem, so if you have a chance to gather both forms of data, you will realize that both have strengths and will give you important information. Now, you can get more information if you start putting the two databases together in what we call integration, where you can find new insights. A simple example would be a survey, and you get some results that you expected but some are unexpected, unusual responses. You could follow up qualitatively and talk to some of those participants to help understand what they meant by those unusual responses. This is mixed methods research: you’re gathering quantitative data, you’re gathering qualitative data, you’re coming up with results with both. When you put the two together—having the qualitative explain the survey—you’re going to come up with more information, and that’s really the value. If you have a chance to collect both forms of data and can realize the strengths of each form of data, you can go one step further and do mixed methods research where you’re bringing the two databases together. That’s my simple definition, and I think that’s the value that mixed methods brings—that ability to go beyond what you learn quantitatively and qualitatively, to gain additional insight by bringing the two databases together. I hope that an undergraduate or student would then say, “Oh, I can see what you mean.”

Let me mention one more thing. In my presentation, I talked about mixed methods being very intuitive. Let’s say, for example, you are standing on a street corner and watch an accident. Then the police come and start taking the measurements of the cars. They come up with the quantitative data, but by talking to people standing in the crowd, each person is sharing their story of what happened. The stories are important, and the police measurements are important, but when you put the two together you have mixed methods research. In everyday life, we see so many examples of mixed methods research being enacted.

What common mistake or mistakes do you see being made by new researchers to mixed methods research?

Well, new researchers need to take the time and learn this methodology. They need to read some books like introductory books on mixed methods, they need to look at mixed methods journal articles, and they could refer to my six major steps in doing a mixed methods project. Another thing is gathering quantitative and qualitative data and then bringing the two together. It’s not rocket science, and beginning researchers make it all too complicated. You know, when I ask them to draw a diagram of their mixed methods design or procedure, they come up with an elaborate design where there’s quantitative and qualitative data flowing in all different types of places. Really, mixed methods, at its core, is a very simple concept. It’s gathering quantitative and qualitative data, bringing the two together, and then coming up with some insights beyond what one would learn with just quantitative or qualitative. I see over and over these complicated designs, and this is when I take the researcher back to which one of these three core designs really is fundamental to what you’re trying to accomplish in your project. I think keeping it simple and straightforward is my best advice. If you really think about it when you read a good journal article and it reads so quickly, we know the writers have streamlined. They’ve simplified the process of thinking to make it easy to read, and it’s not overly complicated.

How would you defend mixed methods research to someone that was criticizing it for not being robust or purely qualitative or quantitative?

I think I would defend it by highlighting some of the new procedural developments that have occurred that make it very robust and sophisticated—for example, the various integration strategies that we talked about: the ways to integrate data; the complex mixed methods design, which even five years ago we weren’t talking about much, and the use of joint displays, where you can display both databases together in one table to make meta-inferences. I think people might criticize it because they don’t understand some of these foundational ideas. I would have to say, we’ve gotten a little bit better. I feel I’ve gotten better about explaining and simplifying mixed methods so it can be easily grasped by someone, and a critic might be able to see the value of it. There are people that are trained in quantitative research, and they stay as quantitative researchers their entire career. The same is true for qualitative researchers; there are some qualitative researchers that would never venture into quantitative research. Mixed methods people by and large are very creative people that want to keep the door open to many possibilities. I would encourage the critic to open up to the possibility of a new methodology coming along, try to attend a workshop or conference presentation on mixed methods, where they can learn a little bit about some of the fundamentals of it.

One more question about mixed methods in general. Where do you see mixed methods research going in the future, or where would you like it to be going in the future?

Actually, I’ve just co-authored a chapter on that topic. There’s a new handbook on mixed methods research design coming out from Sage Publication. It’s a huge book with maybe 40 chapters, authors writing from different international perspectives, and I had the privilege of writing the final chapter with a couple of authors looking at the future mixed methods research. So, I have given some thought to that, and I think that the use of computers and computer programs and mixed methods is really coming along and being advanced. There are software programs now that have pulled down mixed methods menus that you can use. You can create these joint displays of quantitative and qualitative data using computer features. The whole technology area is expanding.

Something that I said in my plenary that I really think is something that’s developing momentum, and that is that for many years mixed methods was a standalone methodology. Now, its’ procedures are being used in other approaches, frameworks, and processes like an evaluation study, a participatory action research study, a social network study, a geographical system study, a neuroscience study, or a cardiology study. It’s linking to these other fields, disciplines, and methodologies in very interesting ways. Of course, in my own work, I’m trying to promote an international understanding of mixed methods research, especially for people where English might be a second language. I am very curious, and I’m trying to follow up on this with some of my own my own research projects. I’m absolutely curious about how the Western style of mixed methods research, that really started in England and America, is being adapted in other countries. For example, here in Japan, qualitative research has been slow going. Japanese people are not willing to bare their soul to a stranger and speak openly, so qualitative has been slow [to catch on]. There’s an adaptation here of how we go about doing mixed methods research in Japan. That’s an area I really hope to get a large cross-cultural study going looking at the adaptation of mixed methods in different disciplines and cultures. That’s a fascinating area for me. After all, I’m participating in the Japanese culture, and then in the summer and during the spring, I’m in the Hawaiian culture. I bring my Midwestern culture into the mix, and it’s something that intrigues me quite a bit.

I’ve presented mixed methods research methodologies to new audiences in many countries: Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. You really start picking up how certain parts of the presentation need to be adjusted and made respectful of a given culture. I’m interested in how it’s being adapted, and I’ve organized a global conference on mixed methods research which was last August. I organized the panel where a Japanese scholar talked about the adaptation of mixed methods in Japan, a South American scholar talked about the application of it in South America, a Caribbean scholar talked about it there too. I’m continually trying to bring in these different voices into the mixed methods field to respect the cultural orientations of different cultures. Those are some of the future directions that are at the top of my list.

I’d like to ask a few questions about your plenary speech before we finish up. In the plenary you mentioned your simplified mixed methods research model with six steps. Among those steps, where do you find most researchers struggle?

Great question! I would say there are two parts, and both parts are relatively new discussions in the mixed methods field. The part on integration and what are the various integration strategies and how do these link to designs. Integration is now starting to appear in the mixed methods literature as a hot topic for discussion, especially in the last five years. A more recent one would be the meta inferences component where there’s been very little discussed. I personally feel that the insight that one gains from doing mixed methods research is what’s going to convince a new scholar, or an international scholar, to maybe try out this methodology if they can. They may come up with some conclusions, some interpretations and some insights, by taking their analysis of their data a little further. A book by my colleague at Michigan, Dr. Fetters, has a chapter on meta-inferences. This is a very new discussion for the mixed methods field.

Now to my final question. In the plenary, you mentioned the different types of design choices out there for mixed methods. You said one of them was explanatory sequential and that it was a good introduction to mixed methods research, a good design for introduction that might apply for SLA researchers here in Japan. Why do you feel that design is a good choice?

Well, I’ll go back to those two authors that I mentioned that have done some work in applied linguistics. They were making the point that the field has tended to be quantitative, so, a new researcher deciding on what design to use in mixed methods might be more comfortable starting a project with quantitative, which is an explanatory sequential design, and then follow up qualitatively. That’s one reason a lot of people that come over from the quantitative arena like this design. You’re starting with a survey instrument or measurement that exists first; it becomes the primary first focus on the project. Another reason why that’s valuable is it has two phases over time, so you’re not trying to collect all the data at once. I think that is especially attractive to graduate students that are working on a project over time, and they can’t gather everything at once such as in a convergent design. Those are two factors that are propelling the explanatory sequential design forward.

Excellent, thank you very much for your time and for sharing your valuable insights about mixed methods researcher with the readers.



Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research design: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Sage.

Creswell, J. W. (2021). A concise introduction to mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Sage.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell Báez, J. (2020). 30 essential skills for the qualitative researcher (2nd ed.). Sage.