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Understanding Reliability & Validity in Qualitative Research

by Patrice D. Robinson, Demand Media

    In the world of academic research, data is gathered using either quantitative or qualitative techniques. Quantitative methods include using test scores, number counts and other procedures that use hard numbers to make assessments. Qualitative research methods primarily include observations and interviews where the researcher charts behavior or makes field notes. Field notes are purely subjective because they are a researcher's opinion about someone or something, gathered while watching and listening. Accordingly, qualitative research has a more difficult task when trying to establish the reliability and validity of its data.

    Qualitative Research

    Step 1

    Determine whether you are going to use interviewing or observation as your data recording technique.

    Step 2

    Be consistent in how you handle your data. Reliability in research data refers to the degree to which an assessment consistently measures whatever it is measuring. The key word here is consistent. If doing an interview, have specific questions to be answered by the participants. If you are using field notes, be sure to make specific observations.

    Step 3

    Use your results to increase the validity of your data. Validity of data in research refers to whether or not a topic or ability is actually measured by the instrument used to assess it. In qualitative research, it is whether or not you get a true picture of the process or behavior being examined. Ask yourself, "Am I measuring what I think I am measuring?"

    Step 4

    Increase validity by notating and charting whether you are using an emic approach or an etic approach in your observations. Emic refers to looking at a behavior with the perspective from inside the system using local concepts. Etic refers to studying behavior using a perspective from outside the system using worldwide cultural concepts and not local beliefs.

    Step 5

    Learn to recognize the different types of validity. There is content validity, criterion validity and construct validity. An example of content validity could be measuring the knowledge gained by a student teacher after observing expert teachers and then teaching for a semester. Judging whether or not the student teacher learned certain skills would be up to the expertise of the administrators who judge him. Criterion validity describes the extent of a correlation between a measuring tool and another standard. For example, you can look at a student's achievement on the ACT or SAT and then the student's academic success in college. Is there a correlation? Construct validity is the most difficult type of validity to establish. It is the degree to which an assessment measures a non-observable trait such as intelligence. This type of validity involves deductive reasoning from observation. Dealing with different types of validity is what makes establishing validity in qualitative research very difficult.

    Step 6

    Recognize the importance of combining qualitative and quantitative research to get the best result. The best research projects actually use a combination of the two methods of data gathering. For example, when there is a cultural problem perceived within a standardized test, researchers interview representatives of the affected test group and then go over each question of the assessment with each participant asking why a certain answer was given. That technique has been used to change instructions and vocabulary on standardized exams and give a better understanding of a student's actual knowledge.

    Style Your World With Color

    Tip

    • To get the best understanding of the terms, look up past research projects.

    About the Author

    Patrice Robinson is a retired professional educator and administrator. She worked in the public schools for more than 30 years. She holds a bachelor's degree in the teaching of English, two master'sdegrees (one in English and one in education) and a doctorate degree in education.

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