Friday, February 20, 2015

Trustworthiness or 'Validity' in Qualitative Research?

This post covers the concept of trustworthiness in qualitative research (known as validity in quantitative research). The post specifically discusses the building blocks of trustworthiness: Credibility, Transferability, Dependability, and Confirmability. The purpose of this post it to share with the readers the recent developments in the area of qualitative research.

By understanding these areas discussed in the post, it is expected of the reader to become conversant with the idea of trustworthiness and to apply this concept to their qualitative research projects such as a dissertation, term paper, presentation, and the like.

In the past, qualitative research was closely associated with the concepts, constructs, and worldviews of quantitative research. Hence, quite a few such concepts were borrowed for qualitative research and applied with similar semantic properties to qualitative research. Validity is one such concept.

However, growing knowledgebase in qualitative research has postulated that the two research paradigms (qualitative vs. quantitative) hold different worldviews and need to be applied differently to specific research areas. For a succinct discussion on the evolution of qualitative research, read this interesting post.

Unlike recent past, present-day qualitative research scholars and thinkers have come up with more a refined approach in explaining the grounds on which qualitative studies should be critiqued for their rigor, reliability, and validity.

Trustworthiness (if I can trust what the study/research has found and can learn from its findings) may be seen as a holistic concept that ensures that qualitative research is accountable to the critical scrutiny of scholars, thinkers, and equally importantly, policymakers so that it can facilitate decision making.

Credibility, Transferability, Dependability, and Confirmability can thus be said to be the pillars of a rigorous qualitative study. Understanding these concepts and attempting to attain these in a study is inevitable for anyone who wishes to produce authentic work in the area of qualitative research.

I explain these concepts precisely.

This concepts is essentially home to a qualitative study. Since qualitative research has words as the central communicative devise of its message, credibility implies that the research scholar takes as much care as possible to convey to the reader the original subject-matter reported by the research participants, context, and/or the social issue to the researcher.

Honestly, most of the time, it is NOT possible for a researcher to report a participant's account verbatim, due mainly to word limit constraints. Thus, scholars like Maxwell, Patton, Creswell (you might want to read my previous post that reviews their books on the latest developments in qualitative research), among others, have offered a set of useful strategies that can come to the researcher's rescue.

These strategies are thick description (detailing an account in as much depth as necessary to address your research aims and objectives), prolonged engagement with participants (to gain an in-depth understanding of their issues, and the social context they are in), coanalysis (to collaborate with participants/peers to create mutually-constructed meaning of a research context).

In his book, Creswell has enumerated that unlike quantitative research, qualitative studies do not conform well to the idea of replication simply because one social context is fairly different from another even within the same geographical area and/or country; hence the concept of transferability finds its way here. This concept implies that a qualitative researcher can first identify with a previously done study and can try to transfer its central premise to his/her own context.

The key is to discuss all the pertinent details about the social context being explored under these premises.

The concept of dependability implies the extent to which a reader can depend/trust the findings of a qualitative research. This is very critical for a powerful study because it is the words in which you convince the reader of the rigor your study has. To attain dependability, thus, the researcher has to ensure employing some widely established and accepted strategies.

Some of the useful strategies to create greater dependability in your research is to have consistent reporting from the start to the end of your research. This requires you to note and communicate all the ups and downs confronted during the study. This would not only bring more transparency to your research but would also put the reader in the shoes of the judge.

More often, students think that eliminating any loopholes from their research report would make it a perfect piece. However, this is a wrong assumption because qualitative research is a way of interacting with people in a meaningful way; and, such an interaction is never perfect. Thus, talking about the issues, obstacles, conflicts, biases, etc. in a research would bring more dependability in it.

This concept in qualitative research is a holistic organization or coherence of the entire research study. Generally, a study offers an overall rationale for the study, specific research aims and objectives, undertakes data collection and analysis, and concludes by sharing the findings and recommendations.

Confirmability holds that from the very beginning of the study, all its subsequent activities should be well justified against the overall purpose of the study and its goals. Thus, there must be a rationale behind every activity that you undertake. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

It is these four major conceptual directions that assist a researcher to ensure that their qualitative study is not only rigorous but is also trustworthy for the readership to learn from its findings to help move the world forward. There are other strategies that come under these umbrella concepts. Once you have a clear understanding of these four pillars that form the overall trustworthiness of a qualitative study, it is likely that you'd find it easier to incorporate other strategies in your overall research effort.

I hope you find my post informative. Do not forget to share your thoughts with me.

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