What is credibility in qualitative research and how do we establish it?

Posted February 21, 2017

Since we consistently get questions about issues of trustworthiness in qualitative research, we decided to do a four-part series that really goes in-depth about each aspect of trustworthiness and how it can be established. There are four aspects of trustworthiness that qualitative researchers must establish: credibility, dependability, transferability, and confirmability. We begin the series here with a discussion of credibility.

Credibility is the first aspect, or criterion, that must be established. It is seen as the most important aspect or criterion in establishing trustworthiness. This is because credibility essentially asks the researcher to clearly link the research study’s findings with reality in order to demonstrate the truth of the research study’s findings. Credibility also has the most techniques available to establish it, compared to the other three aspects of trustworthiness. Here we focus on the two most important techniques (triangulation and member checking), since these will be the ones you find most often in qualitative research.

Free Qualitative Help Session: Chapters 3 and 4

During these sessions, students can get answers to questions about the research design and rationale, the role of the researcher, the selection of participants, instrumentation, procedure, data analysis plan, issues of trustworthiness, data analysis and results.

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Triangulation: This is something that every qualitative researcher should be familiar with. Triangulation involves using multiple methods, data sources, observers, or theories in order to gain a more complete understanding of the phenomenon being studied. It is used to make sure that the research findings are robust, rich, comprehensive, and well-developed. There are four types of triangulation that researchers can employ.

  1. Methods triangulation: This involves utilizing different data collection methods in order to check the consistency of the findings.
  2. Triangulation of sources: This involves utilizing different data sources within the same method. This could be if you are using two different populations, interviewing people at different points in time, in private vs. public settings, or comparing people with different perspectives.
  3. Analyst triangulation: This involves utilizing another analyst to review the findings or using multiple observers and analysts. This is helpful to illuminate blind spots in the analysis process.
  4. Theoretical triangulation: This involves using multiple theoretical perspectives to analyze the data.

Member-checking: This is the second important technique that qualitative researchers use to establish credibility. This is a technique in which the data, interpretations, and conclusions are shared with the participants. It allows participants to clarify what their intentions were, correct errors, and provide additional information if necessary.

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