Research Design

How can validity and reliability be improved?

How can validity be improved?

The validity of the research findings are influenced by a range of different factors including choice of sample, researcher bias and design of the research tools. The table below compares the factors influencing validity within qualitative and quantitative research contexts (Cohen, et al., 2011 and Winter, 2000):

Qualitative research

Quantitative research

What are validity and reliability?

One of the main functions of the research design is to ensure the highest possible quality of the data and this involves considering validity and reliability. The design of the research tools impacts significantly on the extent to which the data is valid and reliable. There has been extensive debate over the extent to which the terms validity and reliability can be applied within a qualitative context. Consequently alternative terms have been suggested by some qualitative researchers:

  • credibility in place of validity



The concept of variables is well-established in quantitative research. Conversely in qualitative research there is often little explicit mention of the factors which are potentially influencing the research focus within the context being studied.

Question for discussion: Should more emphasis be placed on the concept of factors in qualitative research?

Understanding factors and variables

This section aims to help you think about the factors that are interacting within the area you want to research. Within quantitative research these factors are called variables, which are categorised depending on the way they function in the context being studied. Exploring ways in which different types of variable are categorised in quantitative research provides insight also into the factors that need to be considered when planning a qualitative research design.

Some variables considered in quantitative research

An introduction to terminology used in qualitative and quantitative research

The two basic research approaches exist in social science research, termed qualitative and quantitative approaches and these differ in the way in which the research is carried out:

Starting on the research journey: Ways of thinking about research

In order to help you to consider key ideas that will enable you to make informed decisions about your research design, here are some questions to think about as you start your own research journey:

Key concepts for Research Design

In order to be able to develop the design of your research project in an informed way it is necessary to engage with some basic theoretical constructs underpinning the social science research. This section will therefore briefly introduce ideas relating to:

Partners: An invitation to contribute

We would value your views on how useful you have found this MESHGuide in supporting you in developing your own research. Some possible questions you might want to consider when framing your response are listed below, however comments in any form are welcome. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated and would be used to inform future developments.

1. How useful do you think the guide will be in helping you with your own research?

2. Which parts have you found particularly useful and why?

3. What do you think needs to be developed further?

Useful resources

Key texts

Denscombe, M. (2014) The Good Research Guide For Small-Scale Social Research Projects, 5th edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Newby, P. (2014) Research Methods for Education, 2nd edn. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

To find resources related to different methodological approaches and methods click on the relevant sections in the MESHGuide


Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods, 3rd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2011) Research Methods in Education, 6th edn. London: Routledge.

Cresswell, J.W. (2011) Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Qualitative Research, 4th edn. London: Pearson.

Denscombe, M. (2014) (5th Ed) The Good Research Guide, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Kumar, R. (2011) Research Methodology: A step-by-step guide for beginners, 3rd edn, London: Sage.


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