• Users Online: 113
  • Print this page
  • Email this page


 
 
Table of Contents
RESEARCH SERIES
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 21  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 76-80

Quality in qualitative research: An overview


Professor, Sacred Heart Nursing College, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission27-May-2020
Date of Decision07-Jun-2020
Date of Acceptance08-Jun-2020
Date of Web Publication14-Sep-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Devakirubai Earnest
Professor, Sacred Heart Nursing College, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
India
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/IJCN.IJCN_48_20

Rights and Permissions
  Abstract 

The issues surrounding the quality of qualitative research are many, and there are different perspectives to the same. This has led to the proliferation of terminologies, criteria and frameworks to judge the quality, which causes confusion for novice qualitative researchers. This article highlights the following: (1) three issues in the quality of qualitative research (rigour and validity versus trustworthiness, generic standards versus tradition specific standards, and the process evaluation versus post hoc evaluation); (2) Lincoln and Guba's qualitative framework and (3) quality enhancement strategies.

Keywords: Qualitative research, quality, rigor


How to cite this article:
Earnest D. Quality in qualitative research: An overview. Indian J Cont Nsg Edn 2020;21:76-80

How to cite this URL:
Earnest D. Quality in qualitative research: An overview. Indian J Cont Nsg Edn [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 31];21:76-80. Available from: https://www.ijcne.org/text.asp?2020/21/1/76/295045


  Introduction Top


The concern for quality always takes centre stage throughout the steps of any research. Increasing demand for qualitative research in recent years has increased the demand for demonstration of quality in qualitative research.[1] What constitutes quality in qualitative research has been the topic of debate for two to three decades and this has led to the proliferation of numerous terminologies, criteria, and frameworks.[2] Quality in qualitative research has always been a perplexing issue for novice qualitative researchers since there are innumerable articles on the same with different perspectives.[3] The purpose of this article is to present the issues surrounding the quality of qualitative research, an overview of different criteria and frameworks, and strategies to ensure rigor or trustworthiness in qualitative research.


  Quality in Qualitative Research Top


Despite numerous criteria and frameworks available to assess the quality of qualitative research, there is little consensus among researchers about what constitutes quality. For a long time, scholars across practice and social disciplines desired to define and categorise a qualitative study as good, valid, and/or trustworthy by describing the codifying techniques used for ensuring and recognising good studies. Despite all the efforts, they felt that no consensus could be achieved on quality criteria, and there was also a question of its need.[3] There are several distinct perspectives on the quality of qualitative research, according to Dingwall et al.,[4] and the three issues from this classic article will be addressed.

  • Arguments about rigor and validity versus trustworthiness
  • Qualitative criteria: Generic versus tradition specific standards
  • During the process versus post hoc evaluation.



  Arguments About Rigor and Validity Versus Trustworthiness Top


Rigor has its origin in quantitative research. 'Without rigor, research is worthless, becomes fiction and loses its utility'.[5] A major dispute has involved whether 'rigour' and 'validity' are appropriate to use in qualitative research. Some reject these concepts and terms totally, some think they are appropriate, and some look for parallel terms. Examples of terms that came up to replace validity and rigor are goodness, truth value, trustworthiness and integrity.

There are two classic articles on rigour in qualitative research.[6] In 1993 article, Sandelowski and Barroso [7] acknowledged that the term rigor could mean inflexibility and rigidity and that researchers should not be too preoccupied with it; she added that the choice was ours: whether to make rigor a rigor mortis or not. Indeed, excessive rigor may hinder creativity and artistry.[8] The use of the term validity in qualitative research was defended by others like Whitmore and Mandle [9] and Morse et al.[5] However, Sparks (2001) described four issues related to the use of validity in qualitative research. First, within a reflection perspective, validity is an appropriate term to use in qualitative and quantitative research; secondly, in a parallel perspective, validity assumes the development of separate criteria for qualitative enquiry. This resulted in the development of standards for 'trustworthiness' of qualitative research that parallels the term reliability and validity in quantitative research. Thirdly, diversification of meanings perspective, in which new forms of validity that do not have reference points in quantitative research are established; for example, 'catalytic validity' by Lather [10] in connection with critical and feminist research. Fourth, letting-go-of validity perspective, which involves a total abandonment of the concept of validity.

Currently, qualitative researchers prefer the term trustworthiness instead of rigor and validity. Trustworthiness in qualitative research means methodological soundness and adequacy.[11] Trustworthiness is defined as the degree of confidence that the researcher has that their qualitative data and findings are credible, transferable and dependable.[12] Barusch et al.[13] suggest that this term gives the qualitative researchers at least an opportunity to explain to others the credibility of their research.


  Qualitative Criteria: Generic Versus Tradition Specific Criteria Top


The literature review on the quality of qualitative research presents many perspectives in relation to criteria. The perspectives described by Rolfe [14] and others capture the essence of the ongoing debate on qualitative criteria and the main perspectives are:

  • Qualitative research can be judged by the same criteria used for quantitative research
  • Qualitative research should be judged using specific criteria designed for qualitative research
  • No predetermined criteria should be used to judge the quality of qualitative research
  • There should be tradition specific criteria to judge qualitative research, for example, Watson and Girard [15] proposed that quality standards must be 'congruent with the philosophical underpinnings supporting the research tradition endorsed' (p. 875) [Table 1].
Table 1: Examples of quality criteria used in assessing quantitative and qualitative research

Click here to view



  During the Process Versus Post Hocevaluation Top


The third issue is whether the quality of qualitative research has to be evaluated during the inquiry process or at the end of the research. Detailed discussion on this issue is beyond the scope of this article.

Given the lack of consensus, and the heated debate supporting and contesting various frameworks, it is difficult to get definitive guidance. Hence, the following sections will present information about Lincoln and Guba's [16] classic framework and describe various strategies to enhance quality in qualitative research.


  Lincoln and Guba's Framework Top


Lincoln and Guba [16] suggested four criteria to ensure trustworthiness in qualitative research: credibility, dependability, confirmability, and transferability; these four criteria parallels the positivists' criteria of internal validity, reliability, objectivity, and external validity respectively. In 1994, Lincoln and Guba [16] added a fifth criterion called 'authenticity' that is unique to the constructivist paradigm. The meaning of each of the criteria is portrayed in [Table 2].
Table 2: Description of Lincoln and Guba's Quality Criteria

Click here to view



  Quality Enhancement Strategies in Qualitative Inquiry Top


Regardless of the numerous criteria and confusion that exist in assessing the quality of qualitative research,various strategies have been proposed to enhance the quality of qualitative inquiry. They are: prolonged engagement, persistent observation, reflexivity strategies, member checking, triangulation, peer debriefing, audit or decision trail, inquiry audit, searching for confirming evidence, searching for disconfirming evidence and alternative explanations, thick description and researcher credibility.


  Prolonged Engagement Top


Investing sufficient time in collecting/generating qualitative data are called prolonged engagement, and this helps in ensuring in-depth understanding of the phenomenon, testing for misinformation and distortion, ensuring saturation of data thus avoiding premature closure, gaining entry in to the unknown, and in gaining trust and rapport. The authority and skill of the researcher is essential in eliciting the 'right kind' of data and prolonged engagement provides scope to the phenomenon being studied.[25]


  Persistent Observation Top


Persistent observation refers to the researcher's focus on the characteristics or aspects of a situation or a conversation that are relevant to the phenomenon being studied. Persistent observation is to identify those characteristics and elements in the situation that are most relevant to the problem or issue being pursued and focusing on them in detail. Persistent observation provides a depth of understanding of the 'salient factors'.[16]


  Reflexivity Top


The process of critical self-reflection or self-critical stance about oneself as researcher (own biases, preferences, preconceptions), and how the research relationship is established and maintained (relationship to the participant and how the relationship affects participants' answers to questions) is called reflexivity.[11] Reflexivity is ongoing through data collection, analysis, interpretation and write up. The methods by which reflexivity can be maintained is to maintain reflexive journal (recorded from the outset of the study and in an ongoing fashion) of the thoughts about the impact of previous life experiences and previous readings about the phenomenon under inquiry,[26] researchers being interviewed themselves,[27] and conduction of 'bracketing interview'-where the researcher enters the interview relationship with an open mind.[28]


  Member Checking Top


Member checking, also known as participant or respondent validation is a process in which the data or results are returned to participants to check for accuracy and meaning of their accounts and resonance of evolving concepts with their experience.[29] The specific purposes of this procedure are to find out whether the reality of the participants is presented, to provide opportunities for them to correct mistakes, to assess the researcher's understanding and interpretation of the data and to give the participants' the opportunity to challenge the ideas of the researcher. Member checking may also provide an opportunity for participants to have a reflection of experiences.[30]


  Audit Trail or Decision Trail Top


Lincoln and Guba developed the concept of an audit trail. An audit trail is the systematic and detailed record of the decisions made before and during the research and description of the research process; that is transparently describing the decisions taken from the start of a research project to the development and reporting of the findings.[11] An audit trail helps an inquiry auditor to come to conclusions about the data. Rodgers and Cowles [31] suggest four types of documentation in relation to an audit trail. Although published decades ago, the types are still referred to widely. They are: Contextual documents-contain excerpts from field notes of observation and interviewing, description of the setting, people and location; methodological documents – includes methodological decision-making and the rationale for these decisions; analytic documents – consist of reflections on the analysis of data and the theoretical insights gained; personal response documents – describe the thought process and demonstrate the self-awareness of the researcher.


  Enquiry Audit Top


An enquiry audit involves a scrutiny of the data and relevant supporting documents by an external reviewer; that is, having a researcher not involved in the research process examines both the process and product of the research study. The purpose is to evaluate the accuracy and evaluate whether or not the findings, interpretations and conclusions are supported by the data. After the audit trail materials are gathered, the inquiry auditor proceeds to audit, in a manner similar to financial audit, and this serves as a tool for persuading others that the qualitative findings are trustworthy.[25]


  Peer Review or Debriefing Top


Peer debriefing involves sessions with peers who are competent in qualitative research procedures to review, analyse and explore various aspects of the inquiry.[32] The following may be done in a peer debriefing session: Present written or oral summaries of the data, emergent categories or themes, interpretations of the data; taped interviews might be played; or transcripts given to read. Peer review helps in the detection of bias, inappropriate subjectivity, competing explanations, and appropriateness and completeness of theme detection and conceptualisation.[33]


  Thick Description Top


The thick description refers to a rich, thorough description of the research setting, and the transactions and processes observed during the inquiry. Thick description necessitates prolonged engagement and persistent observation. It involves the art of writing and rewriting.[11] Thorne and Darbyshire [34] cautioned against 'lachrymal validity' (reports that makes the readers shed tears) and reports that are 'bloodless' (reports that are superficially descriptive without application of inductive analysis). If there is to be transferability, sufficient information about context and data that explains the phenomenon should be provided by the researcher.[25]


  Searching for Disconfirming Evidence and Alternative Explanations Top


This is a powerful verification procedure and occurs at the intersection of data collection and data analysis. This involves a systematic search and critical analysis of data that will challenge the emerging categorisation or explanation. It means thinking about other possibilities. Data that confirm as well as those that challenge and disconfirm have to be examined. This happens through purposeful or theoretical sampling methods.[25] Lincoln and Guba [16] called it negative case analysis and the goal of this is to continuously refine the emerging categorization, thus the hypothesis and theory, until it fits all cases; Patton [35] also encourages a systematic exploration for rival themes and explanations.


  Researcher Credibility Top


In qualitative inquiry, data are mediated through the researchers who are not only the data collecting instruments but also the creators of the analytic process.[11] Therefore, it becomes essential to report researcher qualification, experience, and reflexivity in establishing confidence in the findings.[25],[35]


  Triangulation Top


Triangulation is a process by which the phenomenon or topic under study is examined from different perspectives or it is an approach to research that uses a combination of more than one research strategy in a single investigation.[11] Triangulation ensures completeness and consistency of data collected and confirms the findings of the research. The different types of triangulation, as discussed by Carter et al.[36] are summarised in [Table 3].
Table 3: Types of triangulation

Click here to view


In addition to the above criteria, conducting high-quality research is not only about what researchers do to ensure rigor (e.g., methods and strategies) but includes who the researchers are. As Morse et al.[5] indicate, 'Research is only as good as the investigator' (p. 10). Researcher attributes that are important to conducting quality qualitative inquiry are commitment to transparency, commitment to thoroughness and diligence, commitment to verification, commitment to reflexivity, commitment to participant-driven enquiry and commitment to insightful interpretations.[25]


  Conclusion Top


Quality in qualitative research continues to evolve as the controversies continue. Whatever terms health researchers apply to establish the quality of their qualitative research, qualitative researchers have to demonstrate that their research has a truth value, and they should be consistent in the language, concepts and methods to achieve, demonstrate, and articulate the quality of their research. Quality is a responsibility.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Cypress BS. Rigor or reliability and validity in qualitative research: Perspectives, strategies, reconceptualization, and recommendations. Dimens Crit Care Nurs 2017;36:253-63.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Reynolds J, Kizito J, Ezumah N, Mangesho P, Allen E, Chandler C. Quality assurance of qualitative research: A review of the discourse. Health Res Policy Syst 2011;9:43.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Sandelowski M, Barroso J. Reading qualitative studies. Int J Qual Methods. 2002;1:74-108.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Dingwall R, Murphy E, Watson P, Greatbatch D, Parker S. Catching goldfish: Quality in qualitative research. J Health Serv Res Policy 1998;3:167-72.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Morse JM, Barrett M, Mayan M, Olson K, Spiers J. Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research. Int J Qual Methods 2002;1:13-22.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Sandelowski M. The problem of rigor in qualitative research. ANS Adv Nurs Sci 1986;8:27-37.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Sandelowski M. Rigor or rigor mortis: The problem of rigor in qualitative research revisited. ANS Adv Nurs Sci 1993;16:1-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Bradbury-Jones C. Enhancing rigour in qualitative health research: Exploring subjectivity through Peshkin's I's. J Adv Nurs 2007;59:290.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Whitmore RC, Mandle CL. Validity in qualitative research. Qual Health Res 2004;11:522-37.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Lather P. Issues of validity in openly ideological research: Between a rock and a soft place. Interchange 1986;17:63-84.  Back to cited text no. 10
    
11.
Holloway I, Galvin K. Qualitative Research in Nursing and Healthcare. Iowa: John Wiley & Sons; 2016.  Back to cited text no. 11
    
12.
Andrew S, Halcomb EJCreswell JW, Fetters MD, Plano VL Clark, et al. Mixed methods intervention trials. In: Andrew S, Halcomb EJ, eds. Mixed methods research for nursing and the health sciences. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009:161-80.  Back to cited text no. 12
    
13.
Barusch A, Gringeri C, George M. Rigor in qualitative social work research: A review of strategies used in published articles. Social Work Res 2011;35:11-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
    
14.
Rolfe G. Validity, trustworthiness and rigour: Quality and the idea of qualitative research. J Adv Nurs 2006;53:304-10.  Back to cited text no. 14
    
15.
Watson LA, Girard FM. Establishing integrity and avoiding methodological misunderstanding. Qual Health Res 2004;14:875-81.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
16.
Lincoln YS, Guba EG. Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications; 1985.  Back to cited text no. 16
    
17.
Finlay L, Rigour, ethical integrity'or 'artistry'? Reflexively reviewing criteria for evaluating qualitative research. Br J Occup Ther 2006;69:319-26.  Back to cited text no. 17
    
18.
Tracy SJ. Qualitative quality: Eight “Big-Tent” criteria for excellent qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry 2010;16:837-51.  Back to cited text no. 18
    
19.
Chiovitti RF, Piran N. Rigour and grounded theory research. J Adv Nurs 2003;44:427-35.  Back to cited text no. 19
    
20.
De Witt L, Ploeg J. Critical appraisal of rigour in interpretive phenomenological nursing research. J Adv Nurs 2006;55:215-29.  Back to cited text no. 20
    
21.
LeCompte MD, Goetz JP. Problems of reliability and validity in ethnographic research. Rev Educ Res 1982;52:31-60.  Back to cited text no. 21
    
22.
Richardson L. Evaluating ethnography. Qualitative Inquiry 2000;6:253-5.  Back to cited text no. 22
    
23.
Whitehead L. Enhancing the quality of hermeneutic research: Decision trail. J Adv Nurs 2004;45:512-8.  Back to cited text no. 23
    
24.
Milne J, Oberle K. Enhancing rigor in qualitative description. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs 2005;32:413-20.  Back to cited text no. 24
    
25.
Polit DF, Beck CT. Nursing Research. 10th ed. New Delhi, India: Wolter Kluwer; 2017  Back to cited text no. 25
    
26.
Jootun D, McGhee G, Marland GR. Reflexivity: Promoting rigour in qualitative research. Nurs Stand 2009;23:42.  Back to cited text no. 26
    
27.
Lear H, Eboh W, Diack L. A nurse researcher's guide to reflexive interviewing. Nurse Res 2018;25:35-42.  Back to cited text no. 27
    
28.
Rolls L, Relf M. Bracketing interviews: Addressing methodological challenges in qualitative interviewing in bereavement and palliative care. Mortality 2006;11:286-305.  Back to cited text no. 28
    
29.
Birt L, Scott S, Cavers D, Campbell C, Walter F. Member checking: A tool to enhance trustworthiness or merely a nod to validation? Qual Health Res 2016;26:1802-11.  Back to cited text no. 29
    
30.
Candela AG. Exploring the function of member checking. Qualitative Rep 2019;24:619-28.  Back to cited text no. 30
    
31.
Rodgers BL, Cowles KV. The qualitative research audit trail: A complex collection of documentation. Res Nurs Health 1993;16:219-26.  Back to cited text no. 31
    
32.
Anney VN. Ensuring the quality of the findings of qualitative research: Looking at trustworthiness criteria. J Emerg Trends Educ Res Policy Stud 2014;5:272-81.  Back to cited text no. 32
    
33.
Janesick VJ. Peer debriefing. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology; 2007.  Back to cited text no. 33
    
34.
Thorne S, Darbyshire P. Land mines in the field: A modest proposal for improving the craft of qualitative health research. Qualitative Health Res 2005;15:1105-13.  Back to cited text no. 34
    
35.
Patton MQ. Enhancing the quality and credibility of qualitative analysis. Health Serv Res 1999;34(5Pt 2):1189.  Back to cited text no. 35
    
36.
Carter N, Lukosius B, Dicenso, Neville B. The use of triangulation in qualitative research. Oncol Nurs Forum 2014;41:545-47.  Back to cited text no. 36
    



 
 
    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]



 

Top
 
  Search
 
    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Access Statistics
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

 
  In this article
Abstract
Introduction
Quality in Quali...
Arguments About ...
Qualitative Crit...
During the Proce...
Lincoln and Guba...
Quality Enhancem...
Prolonged Engagement
Persistent Obser...
Reflexivity
Member Checking
Audit Trail or D...
Enquiry Audit
Peer Review or D...
Thick Description
Searching for Di...
Researcher Credi...
Triangulation
Conclusion
References
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    Viewed97    
    Printed6    
    Emailed0    
    PDF Downloaded20    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal