Trustworthiness in Qualitative Research

Posted July 24, 2020

The most common questions I receive have to do with trustworthiness in qualitative research, which refers to the accuracy of a research study, data, and findings. Most universities require a section on trustworthiness in qualitative research in your dissertation, either in Chapter 3, in Chapter 4, or in both. While there are different ways to present how you will establish trustworthiness in your study, perhaps the easiest is to use the four tenets of trustworthiness that Lincoln and Guba established in 1982. In 1982, Lincoln and Guba proposed that credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability replace their quantitative counterparts in qualitative research. Since then, scholars have elaborated ways of establishing these four tenets of trustworthiness.

You might think of credibility in qualitative research as similar to internal validity in quantitative research. What this means is that your data are representative of your participants and their experiences. Member checking is a popular technique to establish credibility, whereby participants provide feedback on the data analysis and interpretations to verify accuracy. Participants may also verify their transcripts for accuracy prior to data analysis.

Transferability means that the methods and findings can be applied to other studies in other contexts. To do this, you will want to explicitly detail your sample, your participants, your methods, and the setting of your research in your methods chapter. You want a future researcher to be able to replicate your study using the exact participant demographics that you did, for example, or using an entirely different research site.

Writing your methods chapter in explicit detail also establishes the dependability of the chapter. This means that a future researcher can follow along with all of the decisions you made related to your research study, and also understand why you made those decisions. Think of writing this as a recipe for someone else to follow. A recipe has two parts: the ingredients and the instructions. You want to include both in your methods chapter. Another approach to establishing dependability would be bringing another researcher into the process of data analysis.

When credibility, transferability, and dependability are established, confirmability is also established. There are, however, other ways to also enhance confirmability of a study. One way that can be helpful is to maintain a reflexive journal or research log. In it, you can record and reflect on your thoughts about the research, ideas you have, preconceptions, biases, or anything else that might impact the objectivity of your research. This is a critical component of bracketing or epoche too, if your study is phenomenological.

As you can see, there is a buffet of methods to choose from to establish trustworthiness in qualitative research. Several methods can establish more than one tenet of trustworthiness. Just as you clearly articulate your research design and methods, you want to do the same for trustworthiness. Starting with credibility (or whichever tenet you would like), provide a brief definition of that tenet and then explain how you will/did establish that in your study. Doing this will help your reviewers and readers recognize the accuracy of your research.

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