Separating "Fact" from Fiction: Strategies to Improve Rigour in Historical Research

Tanya Langtree, Melanie Birks, Narelle Biedermann


Since the 1980s, many fields of qualitative research have adopted LINCOLN and GUBA's (1985) four criteria for determining rigour (credibility, confirmability, dependability and transferability) to evaluate the quality of research outputs. Historical research is one field of qualitative inquiry where this is not the case. While most historical researchers recognise the need to be rigorous in their methods in order to improve the trustworthiness of their results, ambiguity exists about how rigour is demonstrated in historical research. As a result, strategies to establish rigour remain focused on piecemeal activities (e.g., source criticism) rather than adopting a whole-of-study approach. Using a piecemeal approach makes it difficult for others to understand the researcher's rationale for the methods used and decisions made during the research process. Fragmenting approaches to rigour may contribute to questioning of the legitimacy of historical methods. In this article, we provide a critique of the challenges to achieving rigour that currently exist in historical research. We then offer practical strategies that can be incorporated into historical methods to address these challenges with the aim of producing a more transparent historical narrative.


historical method; historical research; qualitative research; rigour; trustworthiness

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Copyright (c) 2019 Tanya Langtree, Melanie Birks, Narelle Biedermann

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