Triangulation is a research method used in quantitative research that uses more than one research methodology to ascertain the result of the study. The method combines both qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection. The researchers evaluate the end result of the study using various perspectives. The investigators choose this method to confirm their findings or to be assured about the completeness of the findings.
As defined by Denzin (1978, 291) triangulation is “the combination of methodologies in the study of the same phenomenon”. The method has three different levels to it, first is the quantitative level where the data are collected by observation and interviewing. The second level is the qualitative level where the outcome of the data is analyzed through a survey and statistical analysis. Once these two levels are completed, the third level is the quantitative analysis that includes the results of the previous two levels.
The use of triangulation goes back to Campbell and Fiskel, they were the first ones to apply this methodology in research. They were the ones who developed the idea of multiple opetationism. They said that more than one method needs to be used in the process of validation. Use of more than one method ensures that the variance reflected is that of the trait and not that of the method used. Hence this “enhances our belief that the results are valid and not a methodological artifact" (Bouchard 1976, 268).
The term triangulation has been derived from surveying, where a sequence of triangles is used to map out a particular area. Triangulation can be linked to the measurement practices of social and behavioral science. According to Webb et al. (1966, 3) “Once a proposition has been confirmed by two or more independent measurement processes, the uncertainty of its interpretation is greatly reduced. The most persuasive evidence comes through a triangulation of measurement processes”. So if we have a concept to be measured for instance emotional labor and we measure it with survey based method, our confidence in it will be much higher if we reconfirm the findings with another method, this method could be structured observation.
Triangulation can be classified into six categories as mentioned below:
- Data Triangulation: The data here are gathered through various sampling methods. This is perhaps the most widely used methods as this is the easiest form of triangulation that can be implemented.
- Investigator triangulation: This method involves more than one researcher in the field to collect and infer the data. This means that there will be a team of people on the field. Each researcher will evaluate the finding using the same qualitative research method.
- Theoretical Triangulation: This method calls for the use of more than one perspective to evaluate a single set of data.
- Methodological Triangulation: In this method the researches have to use more than one method to collect the data.
- Multiple Triangulation: This method involves a combination of two or more than two triangulation techniques mentioned above. A combination of triangulation techniques is used in one study.
- Environmental Triangulation: Different locations and settings related to the environment are used in this method. It could be the time of the day or a particular day or maybe a particular season. The aim here is to find out which environmental factor (if applicable) is affecting the result of the study. In case the results do not change with the changing environmental conditions, then the findings can be confirmed.
According to Fielding and Fielding (1986, 31), "the important feature of triangulation is not the simple combination of different kinds of data, but the attempt to relate them so as to counteract the threats to validity identified in each"
The method allows the researcher to be more confident about their findings, as they use multiple research methods so the data derived is more reliable and assured. When different research methods result the same finding the researcher is more assured about the end result. It can also provide new methods to approach a problem and also maintain a balance between the conventional methods of collecting data. Also, when two or more researchers are involved (as in the case of Investigator triangulation) the chances of being biased are reduced and it is assured that one researcher would not have influenced the data.
When using triangulation as the research methodology, data inconsistencies can be recognized with much ease. Also, additional sources used for data collection give a wider approach to a topic and the data that you get is more inclusive.
Triangulation can also help to unearth some undiscovered methods and theories, which in turn will give us new theories. When differing viewpoints and methods are used they are likely to produce results that do not have an explanation or do not fit in the given theory. So, this leads to the discovery of new theories and methods, explaining the unexplained.
Bouchard, Thomas J., Jr. 1976. "Unobtrusive measures: An inventory of uses." Sociological Methods and Research, 4: 267-300.
Denzin, Norman K. 1978. The Research Act, 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Fielding, N. G., and Fielding, J. L. 1986. Linking data. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Webb, E. J., Campbell, D. T., Schwartz, R. D., and Sechrest, L. 1966. Unobtrusive Measures: Nonreactive Measures in the Social Sciences. Chicago: Rand McNally.