How to Achieve Trustworthiness in Qualitative Research

How to Achieve Trustworthiness in Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is, by nature, more directional than quantitative research. There is a misguided assumption that qualitative data is somehow inferior, or at least more questionable, than quantitative data derived from market research. It all comes down to rigor in qualitative research, and whether your study meets certain criteria for credibility, dependability, transferability and confirmability.

Qualitative research is, by nature, more directional than quantitative research. Rather than producing facts and figures—like the hard lines of a drawing—it gives color to your customers’ experiences and provides context by exploring the how and why behind concepts or theories in question.

As a result, there is a misguided assumption that qualitative data is somehow inferior, or at least more questionable, than quantitative data derived from market research.

However, that’s not the case. Qualitative research plays an important role in understanding consumer attitudes and behaviors, measuring brand perceptions, finessing product development efforts, and achieving other goals as you strive to keep up with shifting demands from customers, new competitors and new technologies.

It all comes down to rigor in qualitative research, and whether your study meets certain criteria for credibility, dependability, transferability and confirmability.

How is Qualitative Research Trustworthiness Measured?

Led by Qualitative Research Director, Dawn McElfresh, The Farnsworth Group has been utilizing qualitative research for over 30 years to help clients make more informed strategic decisions.

When it comes to quantitative research, trustworthiness is measured in terms of validity and reliability. You can achieve trustworthiness in qualitative market research by demonstrating that your findings are dependable, credible, confirmable and transferable. Here are how those four concepts are to be understood:

1. Dependability in Qualitative Research

Dependability is used to measure or demonstrate the consistency and reliability of your study’s results. This starts by tracking the precise methods you use for data collection, analysis and interpretation and providing adequate contextual information about each piece, so that the study could theoretically be replicated by other researchers and generate consistent results. An inquiry audit—performed by an outside person—is one tool used to examine the dependability of a qualitative study. Alternatively, screening parameters can be used to solidify research dependability.

The Farnsworth Group demonstrates the dependability of research we conduct by using specific recruitment screener parameters that allow representation from a broad range of demographics, trade criteria, experience, geographic location and so on—so the insights represent the landscape desired by our clients plus aren't representing a slanted viewpoint from one concentrated demographic.

2. Credibility in Qualitative Research

Credibility is a measure of the truth value of qualitative research, or whether the study’s findings are correct and accurate. To some degree, it relies on the credibility of the researchers themselves, as well as their research methods. Triangulation, prolonged engagement with data, persistent observation, negative case analysis, member checks, and referential adequacy are all procedures that can be used to increase the credibility of qualitative studies. 

The Farnsworth Group demonstrates the measure of truth in research we conduct by conducting senior management analysis on the data collected during the in-depth interviews or focus groups. This involves summarizing each detail and finding the overlapping themes that are consistent—which drive the key insights found in the study.  

Our team’s unique combination of decades of industry experience within manufacturing and product development allow us to formulate strategic recommendations; these insights cannot be replicated by other research firms for this reason.

3. Confirmability in Qualitative Research

In terms of confirmability, you want to prove that your qualitative research is neutral and not influenced by the assumptions or biases of the researchers. Rather, trustworthy research should produce findings that objectively reflect information collected from participants. In other words, your data should speak for itself. Confirmability is often demonstrated by providing an audit trail that details each step of data analysis and shows that your findings aren’t colored by conscious or unconscious bias but accurately portray the participants’ responses. 

Confirmability of research conducted by The Farnsworth Group is achieved by our approach of summarizing the content of each question we ask during the in-depth interview or focus group.  This showcases the overlapping themes, without bias, plus all comments heard since they all can provide value to our clients. Qualitative reporting is about the details, and we provide all the color from the interview or focus group, so that the client can view everything without researcher bias.

4. Transferability in Qualitative Research

As the name implies, transferability measures whether, or to what extent, the study’s results are applicable within other contexts, circumstances and settings. It also can be thought of in terms of generalizability. In order to demonstrate transferability in qualitative research, you can utilize thick description, which involves providing adequate details on the site, participants and methods or procedures used to collect data during your study. 

This helps other researchers evaluate whether the results are applicable for other situations. While transferability cannot be proved with 100 percent certainty, you can demonstrate that it is highly likely in order to back up the trustworthiness of your qualitative market research.

What is Thematic Analysis in Qualitative Research?

Not only must the standard trustworthiness of the data collection be high, but the standard of trustworthiness of the interpretation of results must also remain high. Thematic analysis is a foundational and widely used qualitative research method.

Thematic analysis is a flexible and accessible approach to evaluating qualitative data—such as interview transcripts, field notes or other texts—that emphasizes identifying, analyzing and interpreting patterns, meanings and themes. The challenge is that there can be different ways to interpret data, and the researcher is often relied upon to make judgements and take action when it comes to theming, coding and contextualizing the data.

Here is a brief overview of how you can establish trustworthiness within each phase of the thematic analysis process:

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Data

The first step is to establish prolonged engagement with the data and triangulate different data collection modes. Document both reflective thoughts and thoughts about potential themes in the data. Keep records of all raw data and store it in organized archives.

2. Generate Initial Codes or Tally’s

Through peer debriefing, reflexive journaling and researcher triangulation, you have the option to generate initial codes using a reliable coding framework. Alternatively, you can use response tally’s to refer to when conducting qualitative theme analysis.

In any case, be diligent to leave behind an audit trail of this work, which means having documentation of all debriefings and meetings used in the generation process. 

3. Search for Themes and Patterns

During this phase, you will once again utilize triangulation to establish trustworthiness. You can also employ diagramming to track patterns and themes in the data. Maintain detailed notes about the development of certain concepts and themes.

4. Review Your Themes

Team members can help vet themes and subthemes during this phase. You also can return to the raw data to test for referential adequacy.

5. Define and Name Themes

At this point of the process, peer debriefing and researcher triangulation are tools used to establish trustworthiness in qualitative research. Maintaining rigorous documentation is also a key component.

6. Produce the Report

For this phase, you’ll want to provide thick descriptions of the context of your study and details on the process of coding and analyzing the data. This should include justifications for all analytical and methodological choices made throughout the entire study. Here is where you’ll also conduct member checks.

Establishing Trustworthiness in Qualitative Market Research

Qualitative studies are important within the realm of market research. However, in order for the results to be useful and meaningful, you have to take a rigorous and methodical approach to the collection of qualitative data and interpretation of its themes. This is crucial to ensuring that your findings are trustworthy and reliable. 

The Farnsworth Group has the right experience and tools to help you conduct qualitative market research for the building and construction, home improvement, or lawn and ranch industries. You end up with data-driven insights supported by industry expertise that provide you with actionable recommendations.

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