This paper develops a framework for establishing rigour for a discourse analysis of professional transition in midwifery, theorised as a ‘female professional project’. Discourse analysis has gained recognition as a useful approach in nursing and midwifery research. It provides an alternative to those qualitative approaches that propose to reveal a ‘reality’ from the perspective of the individual experience, and that this lived experience can be directly represented in language. There are multiple discourse analytic approaches, and often researchers are not explicit about what type they are employing. Furthermore, to date there are few clear guidelines for what constitutes rigour in a discourse analytic study.
Rigour in qualitative research broadly falls into two categories: the replication perspective that argues for the maintenance of criteria of validity and reliability, usually with an underpinning assumption (often unquestioned) that a ‘truth’ can be revealed. The second is the parallel perspective that questions the ontological and epistemological assumptions of the replication perspective and argues for the development of criteria that reflect the assumed questionable nature of truth and reality. Transferring these criteria to a discourse analytic study revealed some problems. A common challenge identified in achieving rigour in discourse analysis is the maintenance of congruity between the epistemological and ontological basis of a piece of research and the actual analysis conducted or reported. A framework is proposed to address these incongruities and includes six elements. As nurses and midwives increasingly employ discourse analysis in their research, attempts to clarify how rigour will be determined are important if the outcomes of such research are to be seriously considered for their implications for theory, policy and practice.