Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to identify some of the dilemmas involved in the debate on the how, when and why of mixed methods research. Design/methodology/approach – The authors' starting point is formed by developments in the philosophy of science literature, and recent publications on mixed methods research outside of the management accounting domain. Findings – Contrary to recent claims made in the management accounting literature, the authors assert that uncovering points of disagreement between methods may be as far as researchers can go by combining them. Being reflexive can help to provide a deeper understanding of the research process and the researcher's role in this process. Research limitations/implications – The paper should extend the debate among management accounting researchers about mixed methods research. One of the lessons drawn is that researchers are actively immersed in the research process and cannot purge their own interests and views. Accepting this lesson casts doubt on what the act of research may imply and achieve. Practical implications – The paper shows that combinations of research methods should not be made based on a “whatever works” attitude, since this approach ultimately is still infused with ontological and epistemological considerations that researchers have, and should try to explicate. Originality/value – The value of this paper lies in the provision of philosophical underpinnings that have not been widely considered in the management accounting literature on mixed methods to date.