Validity, trustworthiness and rigour: reasserting realism in qualitative research


S. Porter


Title. Validity, trustworthiness and rigour: reasserting realism in qualitative research

Aim.  This paper challenges recent sceptical approaches to the possibility of validating qualitative research and underlines the benefits of adopting a realist approach to validity.

Background.  In recent discussion about the methodological bases for qualitative research it has been argued that, because different methodologies take different approaches to validity, attempts to develop a common set of validation criteria are futile. On the basis of this sceptical view, a number of strategies for judging qualitative research have been proposed. These include suggestions that: it should be judged according to aesthetic or rhetorical criteria, rather than epistemological validity; responsibility for appraisal should move from researchers to readers; each methodology should be assessed individually according to its own merits.

Discussion.  None of these suggestions provide a viable alternative to validity, defined as the extent to which research reflects accurately that to which it refers. Because the form of research does not determine its content, replacement of epistemology by aesthetics is unsustainable. Because research reports mediate between writer and reader, a one-sided approach to this relationship constitutes a false dichotomy. If we accept the criterion of practitioner confidence as a means of judging methodological approaches, this involves rejection of judgement according to a methodology’s own merits.

Conclusion.  If qualitative research is actually about something, and if it is required to provide beneficial information, then a realist approach to validity holds out greatest promise.