How to Establish Data Trustworthiness in Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is vital to having a fully rounded view of any market research challenge, which involves collecting all kinds of non-numerical data, which could be anything from audio to text and video. It can be used to gain insight into an issue or help generate new ideas for further research. A brand might use qualitative research to find out how consumers interact with their products, or to see what they think of your brand as a whole. To do that, it’s vital that the research is trustworthy.

Qualitative research often takes the form of focus groups and interviews among other methods. However, at the core it is about getting to the why in any challenge rather than the what which is more common in quantitative research. Paramount though is that in order to make the most out of your research, you want to ensure you can rely on its trustworthiness. In other words: that it delivers an accurate result and that it should be paid attention to. So how can you ensure this is the case?

It’s easier with quantitative data because researchers can apply statistical methods to establish the validity of the results. It’s not that clear cut with qualitative research. But with qualitative research you can have the issue of researcher bias: any sort of negative influence of the researcher’s knowledge or assumptions of the study. There’s also the possibility of respondent bias – where the participant will not provide honest responses or give the answer that they think the researcher wants to hear.

We work to ensure we stay very conscious of these biases within our qualitative-only work and we pair our researchers for analysis to deliver absolute quality. In addition, we can recommend the right method for the right challenge to improve quality.

We’re the experts in research methods, and work hard to provide airtight research for our clients which they can use to develop their businesses. Read on to find out more about overcoming unreliability in qualitative research, and what can be done to improve its trustworthiness.


What are qualitative methods?

Qualitative research methods allow researchers to obtain data through open-ended communication. There are a number of different methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. To make the most out of these methods, you also need to ensure its trustworthiness.

  • Interviews: One-on-one interviews are one of the most common qualitative methods. They can be performed face to face, on the phone or over the internet on apps such as Zoom. Many researchers prefer face to face as it allows for more opportunities to interpret body language.
  • Focus groups: A focus group will involve a number of participants together, typically between 6 to 10 who will be tasked with discussing answers to questions on a particular topic. They are useful for market research on new products and concepts.
  • Ethnography: The researcher immerses themselves into the subject matter as it happens and participates in a specific community or organisation to observe people’s behaviour and actions up close. This could be any type of group, from gangs to call centre employees or just supermarket shoppers and anything else in between!
  • Communities: We organise opportunities for participants to come together in a social setting to share ideas and answer questions. These are opportunities to see people in a more social setting where they can participate for a short or longer time. When they participate for a longer period, we are able to see their behaviour and attitudes change over time.



How do you define data trustworthiness?

Qualitative research can define things that numbers can’t – but it’s vital that the data is trustworthy before it is used for any decision making.



High quality qualitative research needs to be credible. This can be done through a variety of methods, often through something called member checking or back checking. This is where the respondent is given time during or after the process to review both the data collected, and the researcher’s interpretation of that data. In short, does it accurately reflect how the participant feels or thinks about that topic? Participants appreciate the opportunity to member check as it gives them a chance to verify statements made earlier and fill in any gaps they believe to be missing.



Transferability means the results of a study can be accurately applied to other situations and concepts. It cannot be outright proved that outcomes are transferable, but researchers can establish where or not it is likely.

A way in which to help this is through purposive sampling. Purposive sampling involves choosing participants because they exhibit certain characteristics or attributes, which are related to the research questions. This therefore increases the transferability of your data as the sources (AKA participants) are as close as possible a fit to the context of the research.



Dependability is vital to qualitative research trustworthiness, as it establishes whether the findings are both consistent and repeatable. One of the best ways to assess dependability is to have an outside researcher conduct something called an inquiry audit. Within this, the researcher assesses the process of data collection, analysis and the results of the study. This is done in order to confirm the accuracy of the findings.



This refers to the degree in which the findings of the research could be confirmed by other researchers. Ultimately, confirmability involves establishing that both the data and interpretations are a product of independent research methods and not affected by conscious or unconscious bias.



Interpreting Data Accurately and Effectively

This is how we put that definition into action when analysing our data effectively and accurately to create a trustworthy result. When it comes to market research, you want to be able to interpret your data as effectively as possible so that you can use those findings to grow your business, identify further opportunities and find out what areas may need improvement.


Allow Negativity

It can be very easy to dismiss negative comments or feedback as anomalies because you want to believe the best in your research. However, it’s important to remember that negative feedback is the best way to find out how to improve, as it identifies areas of weakness.


Conduct multiple research types

Conducting one type of research only allows you to see one facet of consumers’ needs. By conducting multiple types, you can get a more nuanced understanding of consumers, their habits, their opinion of your brand and so much more.


Repeat research

Market research is an ever-changing beast, because so are your customers. Repeating your research allows you to compare the data you collect over time. This helps you identify trends, earmark areas for improvement in addition to improving the accuracy of your findings.


We know conducting research can be a minefield, which is why it’s worth letting the experts handle it. At Spark, we have the experience and the knowhow to develop reliable, trustworthy research methods to collect the data you need to achieve your goals. If you’d like to know more about our work, get in touch.


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