Examining the Validity Structure of Qualitative Research
Johnson, R. Burke, Education
Discussions of the term "validity" have traditionally been attached to the quantitative research tradition. Not surprisingly, reactions by qualitative researchers have been mixed regarding whether or not this concept should be applied to qualitative research. At the extreme, some qualitative researchers have suggested that the traditional quantitative criteria of reliability and validity are not relevant to qualitative research (e.g., Smith, 1984). Smith contends that the basic epistemological and ontological assumptions of quantitative and qualitative research are incompatible, and, therefore, the concepts of reliability and validity should be abandoned. Most qualitative researchers, however, probably hold a more moderate viewpoint. Most qualitative researchers argue that some qualitative research studies are better than others, and they frequently use the term validity to refer to this difference. When qualitative researchers speak of research validity, they are usually referring to qualitative research that is plausible, credible, trustworthy, and, therefore, defensible. We believe it is important to think about the issue of validity in qualitative research and to examine some strategies that have been developed to maximize validity (Kirk & Miller, 1986; LeCompte & Preissle, 1993; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Maxwell, 1996). A list of these strategies is provided in Table 1.
Table 1 Strategies Used to Promote Qualitive Research Validity
Strategy Description Researcher as "Detective" A metaphor characterizing the qualitive researcher as he or she searches for evidence about causes and effects. The researcher develops an understanding of the data through careful consideration of potential causes and effects and by systematically eliminating "rival" explanations or hypotheses until the final "case" is made "beyond a reasonable doubt." The "detective" can utilize any of the strategies listed here. Extended fieldwork When possible, qualitive researchers should collect data in the field over an extended period of time. Low inference descriptors The use of description phrased very close to the participants' accounts and researchers' field notes. Verbatims (i.e., direct quotations) are a commonly used type of low inference descriptors. Triangulation "Cross-checking" information and conclusions through the use of multiple procedures of sources. When the different procedures or sources are in agreement you have "corroboration." Data triangulation The use of multiple data sources to help understand a phenomenon. Methods triangulation The use of multiple research methods to study a phenomenon. Investigator triangulation The use of multiple investigators (i.e., multiple researchers) in collecting and interpreting the data. Theory triangulation The use of multiple theories and perspectives to help interpret and explain the data. Participant feedback The feedback and discussion of the researcher's interpretations and conclusions with the actual participants and other members of the participant community for verification and insight. …