As a student, triangulation in research is a method that holistically increases the validity and credibility of your study. This article discusses what triangulation is, its purpose, its four main types used in research, the frequently asked questions (FAQs) you should know, and the pros and cons of the method.
Definition: Triangulation in research
Triangulation in research is an experimental method that uses multiple sources to address one research question. These sources include data sets, processes, and researchers or investigators. In most cases, triangulation is used for qualitative research1, while sometimes it’s applied in quantitative analysis. You can also apply methodological triangulation in mixed methods research.
Triangulation in research has different meanings depending on the type of analysis, as follows:
- Qualitative research: Conducting thorough interviews with stakeholders like parents, teachers, and students.
- Quantitative research: Running eye-tracking experiments involving multiple researchers to analyze the data.
- Mixed methods research: Conducting a quantitative survey and following it with several qualitative structured interviews.
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4 types of triangulation in research
The four primary methods of triangulation in research are data, methodological, theoretical, and investigator. Let’s explain these four methods using the example below:
- Cooperation research: You’re researching what makes people act selfish instead of cooperative ways. You want to know the motivation behind these people working with others in a team setting.
This combines different research methods to tackle the same research question.2 Most researchers often mix quantitative and qualitative research methods in a single study. This type of triangulation in research is primarily used when trying to avoid biases and flaws associated with using a single research method.
You use different data sources to tackle your research topic in data triangulation in research. You’re free to collect data across different spaces, times, and people. This way, you can generalize your findings to other situations.
The investigator triangulation in research method uses multiple researchers or observers who process, collect, or analyze data separately. This method eliminates the risks of experimental biases3, such as observer bias.
This method involves using more than one theoretical approach in answering research questions. Theory triangulation in research ensures that you understand a research topic from different perspectives or reconcile differences in your data. One way to conduct a theory in the research method is by testing competing hypotheses.
The purpose of triangulation in research
Triangulation in research gives a more holistic approach to answering research problems and providing credible, valid, and reliable findings. This method is beneficial for your study in the following ways:
Triangulation in research increases the validity of your study by combining multiple methods. Validity means that the methods used are sufficient to make measurements as intended. Since every research method has a disadvantage, incorporating techniques that account for each other’s limitations would be helpful.
Gives a complete picture
When you use multiple sources, data sets, researchers, and methods, ensure that you get a more vivid picture or understanding of your research problem fully. Multiple sources help you avoid the risks of biases or the disadvantages of using one method to conduct a study.
Credibility is the aspect that your data reflect reality; the more your data agree, the more credible your results will become. Knowing if your data is trustworthy when you collect it from only one source is challenging. However, when data gathered from multiple sources point toward a particular direction, you’re sure that your findings are credible.
Pros and cons of triangulation in research
Although triangulation in research is widely used and accepted for its resourcefulness, it still has some disadvantages you should be aware of. Here are the main pros and cons:
Multiple data, methods, researchers, and theories remove the bias associated with using a single perspective in your study.
Working with different data sources, observers, and methods is time-consuming. It's also costly and involves working with an interdisciplinary team.
Establishes validity and credibility of your research:
Different methods, observers, and data enhance your research's validity and credibility.
Data from different sources and observers may contradict one another and not line up to give precise results.
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Yes, some researchers may overestimate the values of triangulation when conducting studies.
Credibility is the confidence that your study’s results reflect reality and may be used to solve real-world issues. Triangulation in research is a method that allows you to understand your research topic completely.
Methodical triangulation in research is also called mixed methods research.
1 Del, Siegle. “Qualitative Research.” Uconn. June 18, 2019. https://researchbasics.education.uconn.edu/qualitative_research/.
2 Monash University. “Developing research questions.” Accessed October 27, 2022. https://www.monash.edu/library/help/assignments-research/developing-research-questions.
3 Holman, Luke. L.Head, Megan. Lanfear, Robert and Michael D. Jennions. “Evidence of Experimental Bias in the Life Science: Why We Need Blind Data Recording.” July 8, 2015. https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002190.