Defining Research Rigor

An introduction to the different paradigms for judging research rigor

For more best practices see our method overview

Paradigms for demonstrating rigor in research

Rigorous research can be evaluated against two different paradigms of validity. Each traditionally associated with either quantitative or qualitative research.
Quantitative research in the fields of natural science, engineering or medicine is typically associated with the rationalistic research paradigm. You will need to demonstrate that your research has internal validity and external validity as well as reliability and objectivity. The research goal within this paradigm is often hypothesis testing and generalization from a representative sample to a larger population
Qualitative research in the social sciences is more associated with the naturalistic research paradigm, which usually evaluates research rigor against the concept of trustworthiness which is based on the criteria of credibility, transferability, dependability, and transferability. The research goal in this paradigm is often exploratory theory building. The idea that the original scientific terms of evaluating research rigor are not well suited for social studies was put forth by Guba & Lincoln (1982)who also coined the term of trustworthiness for naturalistic inquiry. The definitions of the criteria of trustworthiness are widely used in qualitative research today. Read up on them on our dedicated article on trustworthiness.

Rationalistic paradigm of research rigor

The rationalistic research paradigm is most commonly used in the natural sciences and can be viewed as the traditional dimensions of valid research. The components are presented with a short description in the following list. Read the article on the validities here.

The naturalistic paradigm of research rigor

Guba, amongst others, has argued that the dimenesions for evaluating rigorous research should be different from the validities that were molded for research that was mostly quantitative. He therefore defined competing validity criteria under the umbrella of trustworthiness. The components of trustworthiness are:Qualitative research commonly has different generalization goals. While quantitative research usually asserts the rejection of a nullhypothesis with a given confidence interval and due to random sampling and an assumption of normal distribution, the results aim to be extrapolated to larger population (external validity). However in qualitative research this assumption is often not possible due to the exploratory nature of the research question and the typically much lower sample size. Hence, we often aim for theoretical genralizability which is a measure of how well the results may be transferable to different contexts and populations. The generalization is not of a statistical nature.

Comparison of paradigms for research rigor

The two paradigms are not exclusive to qualitative or quantitative research respectively, but they clearly are tailored towards these. There exist four basic dimensions of research rigor which relate to a term in each of the two paradigms. We outline this comparison according to Guba (1981)in the following table:
Aspect of Rigor
Truth Value
Naturalistic Pardigm
Rationalistic Pardigm
Internal Validity
Aspect of Rigor
Naturalistic Pardigm
Rationalistic Pardigm
External Validity
Aspect of Rigor
Naturalistic Pardigm
Rationalistic Pardigm
Aspect of Rigor
Naturalistic Pardigm
Rationalistic Pardigm

Conclusion on research rigor

You should make a conscious decision which of these models for validity and research rigor is more appropriate for your type of research. Not just for the evaluation but from the outset. This will guide you with the respective measures for quality control.There are many scientific sources making direct connections between each of the aspects in the paradigms and the best practices you can employ to strengthen them. You should follow these best practices and name them explicitly in your paper or thesis with an appropriate reference. We do our best to outline this information in our help pages. Just follow any of the links on this page or go to our method overview

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