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

Validity, in social research, assesses the extent to which a research study addresses the issue that the research was intended to explore.

explanatory context

Validity is about whether the concepts used in the research represent the theoretical notions the research is grappling with.


For example, if someone is researching the extent of alienation among workers, is it adequate to construe alienation as dislike of management?


See Researching the Real World Section 1.8 for a detailed account of the different approaches to validity. Below are outline accounts of the main types of validity with links for more detail.


There are a group of approaches to validity that are essentially positivist and there are alternative phenoemnological approaches.


Positivist concerns about validity

Criterion validity

Criterion validity asks if the measure is consistent with what is already known? It is a measure of validity that is established by use of a criterion measure. The criterion used to assess validity is already known (or assumed) to be valid. See Researching the Social World Section

Construct validity

Construct validity is about the ability of the constructed concept (test, operationalisation) to represent the theoretical concept. See Researching the Social World Section

Content validity or face validity

Content validity is a demonstration that the research is covering the full scope of the conceptual or practical area being explored. See Researching the Social World Section

Internal validity

Internal validity is concerned with the extent to which what is interpreted as the cause(s) of any phenomenon actually produced the affects in the given piece of research. In other words, it is about the extent to which any given research design is a good test of the hypothesis under consideration. Researching the Social World Section

External validity

The extent to which results may be generalized to other groups of people and other conditions. External validity has been divided into two types: population validity, which has to do with generalizations to population of people and ecological validity which has to do with generalizations to other conditions. Researching the Social World Section

Ecological validity

This is one type of external validity and is to do with generalizability to other conditions (i.e. settings, researchers, different forms of treatment, different measures of the dependent variable). A research finding would have little ecological validity if it held true only in an artificial laboratory or interview setting. It would have high ecological validity if it were true under many different natural conditions. See Researching the Social World Section

Phenomenological concerns about validity


One approach to validity in phenomenological research is plausibility. Potential audiences have to be convinced that the interpretations of the data are compelling and convincing and relate to the concepts under study. See Researching the Social World Section


Credibility focuses on making clear links between data and analysis so that the reader can recreate the line of reasoning. It is another way of projecting validity and is similar to plausibility. See Researching the Social World Section


Similar to plausibility and credibility is the notion of trustworthiness. This requires the researcher to demonstrate that their research can be trusted. See Researching the Social World Section

analytical review

Colorado State University (1993–2013) defines the following:

Validity: The degree to which a study accurately reflects or assesses the specific concept that the researcher is attempting to measure. A method can be reliable, consistently measuring the same thing, but not valid.

Construct Validity: Seeks an agreement between a theoretical concept and a specific measuring device, such as observation.
Content Validity: The extent to which a measurement reflects the specific intended domain of content (Carmines & Zeller, 1991, p. 20).

Convergent Validity: The general agreement among ratings, gathered independently of one another, where measures should be theoretically related.

Criterion Related Validity: Used to demonstrate the accuracy of a measuring procedure by comparing it with another procedure which has been demonstrated to be valid; also referred to as instrumental validity.

External Validity: The extent to which the results of a study aregeneralizable or transferable.

Face Validity How a measure or procedure appears.

Internal Validity: (1) The rigor with which the study was conducted (e.g., the study's design, the care taken to conduct measurements, and decisions concerning what was and wasn't measured) and (2) the extent to which the designers of a study have taken into account alternative explanations for any causal relationships they explore (Huitt, 1998). In studies that do not explore causal relationships, only the first of these definitions should be considered when assessing internal validity.


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Validity: The degree to which a scale or measure truly reflects the phenomenon under study.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 1.8


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

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, 'not found' 1 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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