Types of Research Paradigms and Interpretivism

Updated April 17, 2017

A paradigm is a set of beliefs and assumptions about how something works. In research, there are several different paradigms that people ascribe to when trying to understand how things work in their field. These paradigms guide how people ask questions and what they consider to be the truth. Paradigms can also be seen as a framework for how we interpret things we observe or learn. There are several different ways of describing and categorising paradigms depending on the field of research, including interpretivism.


This research paradigm uses simple observational skills to understand things. For example, to decide whether or not it is sunny outside, you look out the window. If you see sun, then it is sunny. An assumption in this paradigm is that everyone experiences and observes the world in the same way; if your neighbour looks outside, they will also observe that it is sunny. These truths about the world are consistent even when we are not observing them.


This concept is similar to that of cause and effect. It states that every action has a reaction, and that things do not occur without first having a cause. It does not mean that things do not happen randomly, but that the way to understanding thing is to discover their cause


Viewed through the post-positivist paradigm, reality is constructed by the individuals who observe and participate in it. Different people will observe things differently and come to different conclusions. For example, you may look outside and see that it is sunny because you are in a good mood and ignoring the few clouds, but your neighbour may look outside in a bad mood, see the few stray clouds, and decide that it is cloudy outside. There is not one truth to be learnt, but several.


This paradigm, related to post-positivism, is often utilised in qualitative research and stresses the importance of understanding each individual's perception of reality. Research must include how individuals experience the world, and each of these experiences are considered valid truths. Critical humanism is a subtype of this paradigm that involves including the persons studied in the research process.

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About the Author

Alexandra Schmidt has been writing professionally since 2006, contributing to several online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and is pursuing her doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of Missouri.