Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

In its broadest sense, triangulation refers to a combination of ways of exploring a research question, using multiple researchers, methods, data sources or methodologies.

explanatory context


analytical review

Colorado State University (1993–2013) defines:

Triangulation: The use of a combination of research methods in a study. An example of triangulation would be a study that incorporated surveys, interviews, and observations.

Mann and Richards (undated) write:

Broadly speaking, this refers to approaching the data from different perspectives in order to get a ‘fix’ on it. Usually, this involves using different data collection methods (e.g. observation and interviews)...


Tiainen and Koivunen (2006, pp. 5–6):

The word triangulation has different meanings in different disciplinary and professional contexts. It is a well known technique among surveyors, used for measuring distances and angles over rough terrains and/or long distances. The notion is used somewhat metaphorically in the context of social research, to signify the use of two or more methods to check if they yield the same result.
In ethnographic research in particular, the purpose of triangulation would be to use two or more comparable processes within research to enhance the comprehensiveness of data, to contextualise the interpretations, and to explore a variety of similar and dissimilar viewpoints. This means that researchers observe as many parts of the social setting, and as many persons and roles, as possible...

Bryman (undated) wrote:

Triangulation. Triangulation refers to the use of more than one approach to the investigation of a research question in order to enhance confidence in the ensuing findings....An early reference to triangulation was in relation to the idea of unobtrusive method proposed by Webb et al. (1966, p. 3), who suggested, “Once a proposition has been confirmed by two or more independent measurement processes, the uncertainty of its interpretation is greatly reduced.'...Of course, the prospect is raised that the two sets of findings may be inconsistent, but as Webb et al. observed, such an occurrence underlines the problem of relying on just one measure or method. Equally, the failure for two sets of results to converge may prompt new lines of inquiry relating to either the methods concerned or the substantive area involved. A related point is that even though a triangulation exercise may yield convergent findings, we should be wary of concluding that this means that the findings are unquestionable. It may be that both sets of data are flawed.....

The idea of triangulation has been criticized on several grounds. First, it is sometimes accused of subscribing to a naive realism that implies that there can be a single definitive account of the social world. Such realist positions have come under attack from writers aligned with constructionism and who argue that research findings should be seen as just one among many possible renditions of social life. On the other hand, writers working within a constructionist framework do not deny the potential of triangulation; instead, they depict its utility in terms of adding a sense of richness and complexity to an inquiry. As such, triangulation becomes a device for enhancing the credibility and persuasiveness of a research account. A second criticism is that triangulation assumes that sets of data deriving from different research methods can be unambiguously compared and regarded as equivalent in terms of their capacity to address a research question. Such a view fails to take account of the different social circumstances associated with the administration of different research methods, especially those associated with a between-methods approach (following Denzin’s [1970] distinction). For example, the apparent failure of findings deriving from the administration of a structured interview to converge with focus groupdata may have more to do with the possibility that the former taps private views as opposed to the more general ones that might be voiced in the more public arena of the focus group.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 1.15 for a detailed analysis of triangulation that goes beyond the limited classification offered by Denzin (1970)


Bryman, A., undated, 'Triangulation' available at, accessed 9 May 2013, page not available 29 December 2016.

Denzin, N., 1970, The Research Act in Sociology, Chicago: Aldine.

Colorado State University, 1993–2013, Glossary of Key Terms available at, accessed 3 February 2013, still available 1 June 2019.

Mann, S. and Richards, K, undated, Research Methods: Introduction to Qualitative Research , available at, accessed 24 June 2013, page not available 29 December 2016.

Tiainen, T. and Koivunen, E-R, 2006, 'Exploring forms of triangulation to facilitate collaborative research practice: reflections from a multidisciplinary research group', Journal of Research Practice, 2(2), Article M2.

Webb, E.J., D.T. Campbell, R.D. Schwartz and L. Sechrest (1966) Unobtrusive Measures: Nonreactive Research in the Social Sciences. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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