I am frequently asked about triangulation in qualitative research, as many schools and chairs require triangulation of research findings as part of a qualitative dissertation. What is triangulation in qualitative research? I often see triangulation conflated with trustworthiness or validity, which is one way of viewing triangulation. A study’s findings are not made more or less trustworthy, valid, or credible because of the presence or absence of triangulation. In the right qualitative design, like a case study, data triangulation might make sense. But this does not mean that if you fail to triangulate your findings, your study is wrong.
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The alternative view is that triangulation reveals different dimensions of a research phenomenon. Imagine witnessing a bank robbery, and the police ask you to describe the incident. Are they going to speak with you, and only you, to understand what happened? Of course not. They will need to corroborate your story with any other evidence they can, like from other witnesses and CC video footage. This is the idea behind triangulation – that multiple sources of data, for example, corroborate and shed new light on your research findings.
Do not let the tri mislead you here – triangulation does not mean three! Triangulation in this context simply means more than one. Triangulation of data is what I most commonly see required of my clients. You might, for example, use interviews and a focus group as different data sources to triangulate your findings. There are other ways to triangulate findings, though. You could use theoretical triangulation, which means exploring and analyzing your data through different theoretical frameworks. Or, you could collect data from the same participants but at different times, though this approach might be less appealing if you are under a time crunch. If you have access to another researcher, seeking their independent analysis of your data is another method of triangulation that you could use. Finally, collecting data from multiple participants is a form of triangulation. Each participant brings their own experiences and worldview to your study, providing new dimensions and the possibility of commonalities of experience.
If you are required to use triangulation in your dissertation study, you are not alone. While triangulation does not make sense for all qualitative designs, which may be the case for your own dissertation, try to view it as something that will enhance your understanding of your research, and be creative in how you choose to accomplish this.