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Keywords:

  • communication;
  • King's conceptual system;
  • nurse–patient interaction;
  • patient participation;
  • research methods

Aim.  In this paper, we aim to explore the benefits of triangulation and to expose the positive contribution of using ‘triangulation for completeness’ within a study of a complex concept, namely patient participation during healthcare interaction.

Background.  Complex concepts, such as patient participation, are often the focus of nursing research. Triangulation has been proposed as a technique for studying complexity but, although debates about triangulation are becoming more prevalent in the literature, there is little deliberation about the process through which triangulation for completeness, with its claims of forming more comprehensive and rigorous descriptions of concepts through use of multiple data sources, yields it purported benefits.

Methods.  A seminar series, held between 2001 and 2003, brought together researchers actively involved in the study of patient participation in healthcare consultations. The group came from diverse methodological traditions and had undertaken research with a range of informants and a range of methods.

Discussion.  The various studies used triangulation at different levels: within studies, across studies and across disciplines. Our examples support theoretical arguments that triangulation for completeness can lead to a more holistic understanding of a concept and can improve scientific rigour. Furthermore, we suggest that triangulation can improve research skills for individuals. Our examples suggest that the process through which understanding is enhanced is discursive and centres on discussions of convergent and unique findings; rigour is improved is through challenging findings, being encouraged to explain aspects of your research that may be taken for granted and improving transparency; and individual researcher's skills and abilities are improved is through a process of discussion and reflexivity.

Conclusions.  Triangulation for completeness, on various levels, can improve the quality and utility of research about complex concepts through a range of discursive processes. Developing greater opportunity to collaborate at various levels of analysis could be an important development in nursing research.