Academic journal article Social Work Research

Objectifying Content Validity: Conducting a Content Validity Study in Social Work Research

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Objectifying Content Validity: Conducting a Content Validity Study in Social Work Research

Article excerpt

Social scientists frequently study complex constructs. Despite the plethora of measures for these constructs, researchers may need to create their own measure for a particular study. When a measure is created, psychometric testing is required, and the first step is to study the content validity of the measure. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how to conduct a content validity study, including how to elicit the most from a panel of experts by collecting specific data. Instructions on how to calculate a content validity index, factorial validity index, and an interrater reliability index and guide for interpreting these indices are included. Implications regarding the value of conducting a content validity study for practitioners and researchers are discussed.

Key words: constructs; content validity; measure; psychometric testing


Researchers in the social sciences study complex constructs for which valid and reliable measures are needed. The measures should be brief, clear, and easy to administer. Measures that are too long or difficult to read may result in a lowered response rate or inaccurate responses. In addition, the measure must be appropriate for use in the targeted population. For example, measures designed for use with heterogeneous populations may not be appropriate for a specific population with certain characteristics.

A plethora of measures exist with known psychometric properties, but researchers may need to develop a new measure for a particular construct because no measure exists that operationalizes the construct as the researcher conceptualized it. In these circumstances, a content validity study should be conducted.


Traditionally, three types of validity may be demonstrated: content, criterion, and construct validity.

Content Validity

Content validity refers to the extent to which the items on a measure assess the same content or how well the content material was sampled in the measure. Content validity can be characterized as face validity or logical validity. Face validity indicates that the measure appears to be valid, "on its face." Logical validity indicates a more rigorous process, such as using a panel of experts to evaluate the content validity of a measure.

Nunnally and Bernstein (1994) did not distinguish among different types of content validity; but presented alternative ways of assessing content validity. They suggested evaluating content validity by demonstrating internal consistency through correlating the scores from the measure with another measure of the same construct and by showing change in posttest scores over pretest scores.

Criterion Validity

Criterion validity is demonstrated by finding a statistically significant relationship between a measure and a criterion (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994). Criterion validity is considered the "gold standard," and usually a correlation is used to assess the statistical relationship. For example, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) has been found to predict graduate school success (as measured by the first-year grade-point average) for certain disciplines (Rubio, Rubin, & Brennan, 2003). Three types of criterion validity are postdictive, concurrent, and predictive. If the criterion has occurred, the validity is postdictive. The validity is concurrent if the criterion exists at the same time as the construct measured. The GRE example demonstrates predictive validity, because graduate school success (criterion) occurs after taking the GRE (measure). According to Nunnally and Bernstein, a correlation of .30 indicates adequate criterion validity.

Construct Validity

Anastasi and Urbina (1997) described construct validity as "the extent to which the test may be said to measure a theoretical construct or trait" (p. 126). Three kinds of construct validity are factorial, known groups; and convergent and discriminant (or divergent) validity. …

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