Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Understanding Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Understanding Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research

Article excerpt

The use of reliability and validity are common in quantitative research and now it is reconsidered in the qualitative research paradigm. Since reliability and validity are rooted in positivist perspective then they should be redefined for their use in a naturalistic approach. Like reliability and validity as used in quantitative research are providing springboard to examine what these two terms mean in the qualitative research paradigm, triangulation as used in quantitative research to test the reliability and validity can also illuminate some ways to test or maximize the validity and reliability of a qualitative study. Therefore, reliability, validity and triangulation, if they are relevant research concepts, particularly from a qualitative point of view, have to be redefined in order to reflect the multiple ways of establishing truth. Key words: Reliability, Validity, Triangulation, Construct, Qualitative, and Quantitative


This article discusses the use of reliability and validity in the qualitative research paradigm. First, the meanings of quantitative and qualitative research are discussed. Secondly, reliability and validity as used in quantitative research are discussed as a way of providing a springboard to examining what these two terms mean and how they can be tested in the qualitative research paradigm. This paper concludes by drawing upon the use of triangulation in the two paradigms (quantitative and qualitative) to show how the changes have influenced our understanding of reliability, validity and triangulation in qualitative studies.

What is Quantitative Research?

Researchers who use logical positivism or quantitative research employ experimental methods and quantitative measures to test hypothetical generalizations (Hoepfl, 1997), and they also emphasize the measurement and analysis of causal relationships between variables (Denzin and Lincoln, 1998). To illustrate the meaning of quantitative research for its use of explaining social problems, Bogdan and Biklen (1998) note:

   Charts and graphs illustrate the results of the research, and
   commentators employ words such as 'variables', 'populations' and
   'result' as part of their daily vocabulary ... even if we do not
   always know just what all of the terms mean ... [but] we know that
   this is part of the process of doing research. Research, then as it
   comes to be known publicly, is a synonym for quantitative research.
   (p. 4)

Quantitative research allows the researcher to familiarize him/herself with the problem or concept to be studied, and perhaps generate hypotheses to be tested. In this paradigm: (1) the emphasis is on facts and causes of behaviour (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998), (2) the information is in the form of numbers that can be quantified and summarized, (3) the mathematical process is the norm for analysing the numeric data and (4) the final result is expressed in statistical terminologies (Charles, 1995).

Generally, quantitative research "...supported by the positivist or scientific paradigm, leads us to regard the world as made up of observable, measurable facts" (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992, p. 6) though their assumption that "social facts have an objective reality" and "variables can ... be identified and relationships measured" (p. 7) is problematic. The notion of 'measuring' means to understand, say, educational issues by performing an operation called 'measurement' on the physical world by the observer (Crocker & Algina, 1986). Stevens (1946) defines measurement as the assignment of numerals to objects or events according to rules. From these definitions, one may perceive measurement as necessarily objective, quantitative and statistically relevant. Simply put, measurement can be about numbers, objective hard data.

A quantitative researcher attempts to fragment and delimit phenomena into measurable or common categories that can be applied to all of the subjects or wider and similar situations (Winter, 2000). …

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