research design

Shared Constructs in Research Design: Part 3 — Validity

validity in research designNot unlike Part 1 (concerning sampling) and Part 2 (concerning bias) of the discussion that began earlier, the shared construct of validity in research design has also been an area of focus in several articles posted in Research Design Review. Most notable is “Quality Frameworks in Qualitative Research” posted in February 2021 in which validity is discussed within the context of the parameters or strategies various researchers use to define and think about the dimensions of rigor in qualitative research design. This article uses the Total Quality Framework (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015) and criteria of Lincoln and Guba (1985) to underscore the idea that quality approaches to design cuts across paradigm orientation, leading to robust and valid interpretations of the data.

Many other qualitative researchers, across disciplines, believe in the critical role that the shared construct of validity plays in research design. Joseph Maxwell, for example, discusses validity in association with his realism approach to casual explanation in qualitative research (Maxwell, 2004) and discusses in detail five unique dimensions of validity, including descriptive, interpretative, and theoretical validity (Maxwell, 1992). And of course, Miles & Huberman were promoting greater rigor by way of validity more than three decades ago (Miles & Huberman, 1984).

More recently, Koro-Ljungberg (2010) takes an in-depth look at validity in qualitative research and, with extensive literature as the backdrop, makes the case that “validity is in doing, as well as its (un)making, and it exhibits itself in the present paradox of knowing and unknowing, indecision, and border crossing” (p. 609). Matteson & Lincoln (2008) remind educational researchers that validity does not solely concern the analysis phase of research design but “the data collection method must also address validity” (p. 672). Creswell & Miller (2000) discuss different approaches to determine validity across three paradigm orientations — postpositivist, constructivist, and critical — and “lens” of the researcher, participants, and researchers external to the study.

Among qualitative health researchers, Morse (2020) emphasizes the potential weakness in validity when confusing the analysis of interpretative inquiry with that associated with “hard, descriptive data” (p. 4), and Morse et al. (2002) present five verification strategies and argue that validity (as well as reliability) is an “overarching” construct that “can be appropriately used in all scientific paradigms” (p. 19).

These researchers, and those discussed in Part 1 – Sampling and Part 2 – Bias, are admittedly a small share of those who have devoted a great deal of thought and writing concerning these shared constructs. The reader is encouraged to utilize these references to build on their understanding of these constructs in qualitative research and to grow their own library of knowledge.


Creswell, J. W., & Miller, D. L. (2000). Determining validity in qualitative inquiry. Theory into Practice, 39(3), 124–130.

Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2010). Validity, responsibility, and aporia. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(8), 603–610.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Matteson, S. M., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2008). Using multiple interviewers in qualitative research studies: The influence of ethic of care behaviors in research interview settings. Qualitative Inquiry, 15(4), 659–674. Retrieved from

Maxwell, J. A. (1992). Understanding and validity in qualitative research. Harvard Educational Review, 62(3), 279–300.

Maxwell, J. A. (2004). Casual explanation, qualitative research, and scientific inquiry in education. Educational Researcher, 33(2), 3–11.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Drawing valid meaning from qualitative data: Toward a shared craft. Educational Researcher, 13(5), 20–30.

Morse, J. (2020). The changing face of qualitative inquiry. International Journal for Qualitative Methods, 19, 1–7.

Morse, J. M., Barrett, M., Mayan, M., Olson, K., & Spiers, J. (2002). Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(2), 13–22.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

Quality Frameworks in Qualitative Research

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 20-21)

Many researchers have advanced strategies, criteria, or frameworks for thinking about and promoting the importance of “the quality” of qualitative research at some stage in the research design. There are those who focus on quality as it relates to specific aspects—such as various validation and verification strategies or “checklists” (Barbour, 2001; Creswell, 2013; Brinkmann & Kvale, 2015; Maxwell, 2013; Morse et al., 2002), validity related to researcher decision making (Koro-Ljungberg, 2010) and subjectivity (Bradbury-Jones, 2007), or the specific role of transparency in assessing the quality of outcomes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). There are others who prescribe particular approaches in the research process—such as consensual qualitative research (Hill et al., 2005), the use of triangulation (Tobin & Begley, 2004), or an audit procedure (Akkerman, Admiraal, Brekelmans, & Oost, 2006). And there are still others who take a broader, more general view that emphasizes the importance of “paying attention to the qualitative rigor and model of trustworthiness from the moment of conceptualization of the research” (Thomas & Magilvy, 2011, p. 154; see also, Bergman & Coxon, 2005; Whittemore et al., 2001).

The strategies or ways of thinking about quality in qualitative research that are most relevant to the Total Quality Framework (TQF) are those that are (a) paradigm neutral, (b) flexible (i.e., do not adhere to a defined method), and (c) applicable to all phases of the research process. Among these, the work of Lincoln and Guba (e.g., 1981, 1985, 1986, and 1995) is the most noteworthy. Although they profess a paradigm orientation “of the constructionist camp, loosely defined” (Lincoln et al., 2011, p. 116), the quality criteria Lincoln and Guba set forth more than 35 years ago is Read Full Text

Limitations of the Focus Group Method: An Overview

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 112-113).


The interactive, dynamic nature of group discussions (see “Strengths of the Focus Group Method: An Overview”) may also present a potential limitation to the method. The exchange of information and ideas may have the focus group limitationspositive effect of eliciting new insights, but it may also have the damaging effect of unwittingly influencing responses from participants who are reluctant to voice dissenting opinions and just want to go along with the prevailing mood. Although a professional moderator can often identify the more introverted or shy participants in a group and use rapport-building techniques to encourage their candidness, these attempts are not always successful and the research outcomes may reflect more agreement on an issue than is actually warranted. Whether the nonexistence of differing attitudes among group participants is due to the reluctance of people to speak their minds or an honest reflection of personal points of view, some researchers can easily fall into the trap of believing that this lack of opposing attitudes is the same as a group consensus. As stated by Sim (1998, p. 348), “the absence of diversity in the data does not reliably indicate an underlying consensus” but is rather a possible product of the group environment, which may mask individual opinions.

Alongside the potential downside of group dynamics is the critical role of the moderator. Professional moderators trained in the complexities of group interviewing are essential to the success Read Full Text