- Involves the use of three or more sources of data or research methods in a single study.
- A researcher might use more than one primary source and also use secondary data.
- Studies combine generally combine both quantitative sources (positivists prefer) and qualitative sources (interpretivists prefer).
- Triangulation is becoming increasingly common in sociology as it becomes more and more accepted that neither quantitative nor qualatative data can provide a full picture.
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Types of Triangulation
Hammersley(1996) found three ways of combining methods;
- Triangulation - findings are cross checked using a variety of methods. For example interviews are used to check responses made in questionnaires.
- Facilitation - one method is used to assist or develop the use of another method. For example when in depth interviews are used to devise questionnaire questions.
- Complemantarity (complementary) - different methods are combined to examine different aspects of the study. For example questionnaires are used to discover overall statistical patterns and participant observation is used to reveal the reasons for those patterns.
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The purposes of triangulation
Bryman 2001 identifies 10 uses of triangulation.
- To check the reliability of data produced using different methods
- Qualitative research facilitating quantitative research, for example by designing questionnaire questions.
- Quantitative research facilitating qualitative research, for example by helping to identify people for a sample
- Filling in the gaps where the main research method cannot produce all the necessary data.
- Using some methods to study static features of social life and others to study changes
- Using different methods to obtain different perspectives from research subjects.
- Using different methods to help to generalise
- Using qualitative research to understand the relationship between variables revealed in the quantitative research.
- Studying different aspects of a phenomenon
- Solving an unexplained result by using a different method to that initially used.
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An example of triangulation
Cecile Wright 1992 used the following four combination of methods to investigate racism in primary schools;
- Classroom observation to see how teachers actually behaved
- Examination of documents about test results to examine the effects of racism
- Interviews with headteachers to investigate school policies
- Informal interviews with teachers to uncover unobservable attitudes.
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