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Journal Article

The Research Audit Trial — Enhancing Trustworthiness in Qualitative Inquiry  pp11-24

Marian Carcary

© Dec 2009 Volume 7 Issue 1, ECRM 2009, Editor: Ann Brown, Joseph Azzopardi, Frank Bezzina, pp1 - 116

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Positivist and interpretivist researchers have different views on how their research outcomes may be evaluated. The issues of validity, reliability and generalisability, used in evaluating positivist studies, are regarded of relatively little significance by many qualitative researchers for judging the merits of their interpretive investigations. In confirming the research, those three canons need at least to be re‑conceptualised in order to reflect the keys issues of concern for interpretivists. Some interpretivists address alternative issues such as credibility, dependability and transferability when determining the trustworthiness of their qualitative investigations. A strategy proposed by several authors for establishing the trustworthiness of the qualitative inquiry is the development of a research audit trail. The audit trail enables readers to trace through a researcher's logic and determine whether the study's findings may be relied upon as a platform for further enquiry. While recommended in theory, this strategy is rarely implemented in practice. This paper examines the role of the research audit trail in improving the trustworthiness of qualitative research. Further, it documents the development of an audit trail for an empirical qualitative research study that centred on an interpretive evaluation of a new Information and Communication Technology (ICT) student administrative system in the tertiary education sector in the Republic of Ireland. This research study examined the impact of system introduction across five Institutes of Technology (IoTs) through case study research that incorporated multiple evidence sources. The evidence collected was analysed using a grounded theory method, which was supported by qualitative data analysis software. The key concepts and categories that emerged from this process were synthesized into a cross case primary narrative; through reflection the primary narrative was reduced to a higher order narrative that presented the principle findings or key research themes. From this higher order narrative a theoretical conjecture was distilled. Both a physical and intellectual audit trail for this study are presented in this paper. The physical audit trail documents all keys stages of a research study and reflects the key research methodology decisions. The intellectual audit trail, on the other hand, outlines how a researcher's thinking evolved throughout all phases of the study. Hence, these audit trails make transparent the key decisions taken throughout the research process. The paper concludes by discussing the value of this audit trail process in confirming a qualitative study's findings.


Keywords: interpretivist paradigm, qualitative research, research audit trail, research confirmability, trustworthiness, transferability, information technology, higher education


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Journal Issue

Volume 7 Issue 1, ECRM 2009 / Dec 2009  pp1‑116

Editor: Ann Brown, Joseph Azzopardi, Frank Bezzina

View Contents Download PDF (free)


The 8th European Conference on Research Methods in Business and Management attracted a wide range of papers. The conference fell naturally into four main themes: introducing relatively new techniques, in depth description of application of accepted research methods, overview of the whole research process and attempts to deal with intractable problems. The final selection of papers was agreed both the editor of the Journal and the editors of the conference proceedings, Joseph Azzopardi and Frank Bezzina. The comments of session chairs were taken into account in making the final selection of papers for this issue of the EJBRM.

The quality of the papers was particularly high and the selection of those papers for the Journal presented a difficult choice. The papers selected were chosen for their quality of writing, their relevance to the Journal’s objective of publishing papers that offer new insights or practical help in the application of research methods in business research and to represent the four major themes of the conference.

The papers dealt with the problems facing management researchers in a variety of ways. The papers proposed a number on new and unusual methods, including Psychogeography ( Knowles) and webometrics (Romero‑Frias). Both of these papers focused on explaining the technique and its appropriateness to business research. Techniques dealt with in previous issues were also well represented including mixed methods (Ryan); Grounded Theory (Noel & Kamyangale); REP Grid (Klaus). Several papers offered some valuable insights into key steps of the research process including audit trail (Carcary) and data collection problems and interpretation ( Iacono, Brown and Holtham; Rasmussen, and Heiko; Heiro and Reetta). The paper by Brooke and Parker introduced a new dimension (spirituality) to the philosophy of business research. One paper offered an intriguing review of leadership research (Mortimer).


Keywords: brand identity, brand personality, business intelligence, business management, business survey, critical management, essential self, fact-based, feminist research methods, focus groups, Foucault, grounded theory, health care professionals, higher education, information systems, information technology, internet studies, interpretivist paradigm, interview, leadership theory, London, longitudinal case work, luxury brand, meaning and work, methodology, multicultural data collection, nonresponse, organisations, organisations audit trail, organizational culture, participant observation, philosophy, Protestant Ethic, psychogeography, qualitative data, qualitative online research, qualitative research, qualitative research methods, regional development, religion, Repertory Grid Method, research confirmability, trustworthiness, research design, research methods , research strategies, safety in the field, self-selection, SMEs, spirituality, steel trading case, transferability, Web 2.0, Web minin


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