Background. Action research has been promoted as a suitable methodology for nursing, but is located in a discourse that challenges its claims of validity. This discourse, influenced by positivism, is similar to that which qualitative researchers have faced.
Aim. This article contributes to theoretical discussion of the validity of action research.
Findings. Because of similarities, the emergent debates around the reconceptualization of validity in qualitative research are outlined, prior to a consideration of the relative arguments in relation to action research. Three avenues of thought are discerned: that no criteria are required; that parallels with other schools are appropriate; and that new concepts specific to one school of thought should be developed.
Conclusions. Because of its ethical and action-oriented principles, action research offers the potential to address validity issues that remain problematic to ‘pure’ qualitative researchers, and it can be claimed that its pragmatic approach is validity-enhancing. We argue for the rejection of naïve rule-based formulae and for recognition of the impact of contextual and pragmatic concerns, so that the potential for the added value of action research might be realized.