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A Guide To Qualitative Rigor In Research

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Advances in technology have made quantitative data more accessible than ever before; but in the human-centric discipline of nursing, qualitative research still brings vital learnings to the health care industry. It is sometimes difficult to derive viable insights from qualitative research; but in the article below, the authors identify three criteria for developing acceptable qualitative studies.

Qualitative rigor in research explained

Qualitative rigor. It’s one of those terms you either understand or you don’t. And it seems that many of us fall into the latter of those two categories. From novices to experienced qualitative researchers, qualitative rigor is a concept that can be challenging. However, it also happens to be one of the most critical aspects of qualitative research, so it’s important that we all start getting to grips with what it means.

Rigor, in qualitative terms, is a way to establish trust or confidence in the findings of a research study. It allows the researcher to establish consistency in the methods used over time. It also provides an accurate representation of the population studied. As a nurse, you want to build your practice on the best evidence you can and to do so you need to have confidence in those research findings.

This article will look in more detail at the unique components of qualitative research in relation to qualitative rigor. These are: truth-value (credibility); applicability (transferability); consistency (dependability); and neutrality (confirmability).


Credibility allows others to recognize the experiences contained within the study through the interpretation of participants’ experiences. In order to establish credibility, a researcher must review the individual transcripts, looking for similarities within and across all participants.

A study is considered credible when it presents an interpretation of an experience in such a way that people sharing that experience immediately recognize it. Examples of strategies used to establish credibility include:

  • Reflexivity
  • Member checking (aka informant feedback)
  • Peer examination
  • Peer debriefing
  • Prolonged time spent with participants
  • Using the participants’ words in the final report


The ability to transfer research findings or methods from one group to another is called transferability in qualitative language, equivalent to external validity. One way of establishing transferability is to provide a dense description of the population studied by describing the demographics and geographic boundaries of the study.

Ways in which transferability can be applied by researchers include:

  • Using the same data collection methods with different demographic groups or geographical locations
  • Giving a range of experiences on which the reader can build interventions and understanding to decide whether the research is applicable to practice


Related to reliability in quantitative terms, dependability occurs when another researcher can follow the decision trail used by the researcher. This trail is achieved by:

  • Describing the specific purpose of the study
  • Discussing how and why the participants were selected for the study
  • Describing how the data was collected and how long collection lasted
  • Explaining how the data was reduced or transformed for analysis
  • Discussing the interpretation and presentation of the findings
  • Explaining the techniques used to determine the credibility of the data

Strategies used to establish dependability include:

  • Having peers participate in the analysis process
  • Providing a detailed description of the research methods
  • Conducting a step-by-step repetition of the study to identify similarities in results or to enhance findings


Confirmability occurs once credibility, transferability and dependability have been established. Qualitative research must be reflective, maintaining a sense of awareness and openness to the study and results. The researcher needs a self-critical attitude, taking into account how his or her preconceptions affect the research.

Techniques researchers use to achieve confirmability include:

  • Taking notes regarding personal feelings, biases and insights immediately after an interview
  • Following, rather than leading, the direction of interviews by asking for clarifications when needed

Reflective research produces new insights, which lead the reader to trust the credibility of the findings and applicability of the study

Become a Champion of Qualitative Rigor

Clinical Nurse Leaders, or CNLs, work with interdisciplinary teams to improve care for populations of patients. CNLs can impact quality and safety by assessing risks and utilizing research findings to develop quality improvement strategies and evidence-based solutions.

As a student in Queens University of Charlotte’s online Master of Science in Nursing program, you will solidify your skills in research and analysis allowing you to make informed, strategic decisions to drive measurable results for your patients.

Request more information to learn more about how this degree can improve your nursing practice, or call 866-313-2356.


Adapted from: Thomas, E. and Magilvy, J. K. (2011), Qualitative Rigor or Research Validity in Qualitative Research. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, 16: 151–155. [WWW document]. URL [accessed 2 July 2014]

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