Examining the Validity Structure of Qualitative Research

By Johnson, R. Burke | Education, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

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. … 

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