The term paradigm is used to describe a researcher’s ‘worldview’. This worldview is the perspective, or thinking, or school of thought, or set of shared beliefs, that informs the meaning or interpretation of research data. A paradigm comprises four elements, namely;

  • Ontology
  • Epistemology
  • Methodology  
  • Axiology


Ontology is concerned with the nature of reality or claims regarding knowledge. According to Snape and Spencer (2003), there are three distinct ontological positions;

  • Realism
  • Idealism and
  • Materialism

Kivunja & Kuyini (2017) argue that

Realism claims that there is an external reality independent of what people may think or understand it to be, whereas, idealism maintains that reality can only be understood via the human mind and socially constructed meanings. Similar to realism, materialism also claims that there is a real-world, but it is only the material or physical world that is considered to be real. Other phenomena, for instance, beliefs, values or experiences arise from the material world but do not shape it.


Crotty (2003, p. 3) states that epistemology is “a way of understanding and explaining how we know what we know.” Epistemology is used to describe how we come to know something; how we know the truth or reality.


Methodology refers to the research design, methods, approaches and procedures used in an investigation that is well planned to find out something.


Axiology refers to the role of values and ethics within the research process. This incorporates questions about how we, as researchers, deal with both our values and those of our research participants.