Journal Qualitative Research: Perspectives, Strategies, Reconceptualization, and Recommendations

Qualitative Research

Issues are still raised even now in the 21st century by the persistent concern with achieving rigor in qualitative research. There is also a continuing debate about the analogous terms reliability and validity in naturalistic inquiries as opposed to quantitative investigations. This article presents the concept of rigor in qualitative research using a phenomenological study as an exemplar to further illustrate the process. 

Elaborating on epistemological and theoretical conceptualizations by Lincoln and Guba, strategies congruent with qualitative perspective for ensuring validity to establish the credibility of the study are described. A synthesis of the historical development of validity criteria evident in the literature during the years is explored. 

Recommendations are made for use of the term rigor instead of trustworthiness and the reconceptualization and renewed use of the concept of reliability and validity in qualitative research, that strategies for ensuring rigor must be built into the qualitative research process rather than evaluated only after the inquiry, and that qualitative researchers and students alike must be proactive and take responsibility in ensuring the rigor of a research study. The insights garnered here will move novice researchers and doctoral students to a better conceptual grasp of the complexity of reliability and validity and its ramifications for qualitative inquiry.

Conducting a naturalistic inquiry in general is not an easy task. Qualitative studies are more complex in many ways than traditional investigations. Quantitative research follows a structured, rigid, preset design with the methods all prescribed. In naturalistic inquiries, planning and implementation are simultaneous, and the research design can change or is emergent. 

Preliminary steps must be accomplished before the design is fully implemented from making initial contact and gaining entry to the site, negotiating consent, building and maintaining trust, and identifying participants. The steps of a qualitative inquiry are also repeated multiple times during the process. As the design unfolds, the elements of this design are put into place, and the inquirer has minimal control and should be flexible. There is continuous reassessment and reiteration. 

Data collection is carried out using multiple techniques, and whatever the source may be, it is the researcher who is the sole instrument of the study and the primary mode of collecting the information. All the while during these processes, the qualitative inquirer must be concerned with rigor.

Rigor Versus Trustworthiness 

The rigor of qualitative research continues to be challenged even now in the centuryVfrom the very idea that qualitative research alone is open to questions, so with the terms rigor and trustworthiness. It is critical to understand rigor in research. 

Rigor is simply defined as the quality or state of being very exact, careful, or with strict precision or the quality of being thorough and accurate. The term qualitative rigor itself is an oxymoron, considering that qualitative research is a journey of explanation and discovery that does not lend to stiff boundaries.

The Rigor Debates: Trustworthiness Or Reliability And Validity? 

A research endeavor, whether quantitative or qualitative, is always evaluated for its worth and merits by peers, experts, reviewers, and readers. Does this mean that a study is differentiated between ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’? What determines a ‘‘good’’ from a ‘‘bad’’ inquiry? For a quantitative study, this would mean determining reliability and validity, and for qualitative inquiries, this would mean determining rigor and trustworthiness. According to Golafshani (2003), if the issues of reliability, validity, trustworthiness, and rigor are meant to differentiate ‘‘good’’ from ‘‘bad’’ research, then testing and increasing the reliability, validity, trustworthiness, and rigor will be important to the research in any paradigm.

Reliability And Validity In Qualitative Research 

Reliability and validity should be taken into consideration by qualitative inquirers while designing a study, analyzing results, and judging the quality of the study,30 but for too long, the criteria used for evaluating rigor are applied after research is completed a considerably wrong tactic. Morse and colleagues4 (2002) argued that, for reliability and validity to be actively attained, strategies for ensuring rigor must be built into the qualitative research process per se not to be proclaimed only at the end of the inquiry.


In the social sciences, the whole notion of reliability in and of itself is problematic.31 The scientific aspect of reliability assumes that repeated measures of a phenomenon (with the same results) using objective methods establish the truth of the findings.


Validity is broadly defined as the state of being well-grounded or justifiable, relevant, meaningful, logical, confirming accepted principles, or the quality of being sound, just, and well-founded. The issues surrounding the use and nature of the term validity in qualitative research are controversial and many.

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