Reliability and validity for your thesis

What should you pay attention to?

Your thesis shows that you have mastered the intricacies of conducting research. Of course, this means your thesis research has to be well put together. The reliability and validity of your research are essential to consider if you want to accomplish this. Both determine the quality of your research. These two measures are about whether you actually measured what you wanted to measure, and whether your research results are representative. We tell you what these two terms mean and what you can do to increase the reliability and validity of your research.

What are reliability and validity in research?

The reliability and validity of your research say something about how well (or not) your research is put together. Although they are closely related, they are fundamentally different things. For example, your research can be reliable but not valid, or vice versa.

Difference between reliability and validity

First of all: what is reliability? Reliability means that you would get the same results if you do the research again using the same method. Reliability above all requires that you apply your research method consistently. For example, in your experiment, were all elements in the setting controlled except for the variable you were investigating? Did you conduct the survey in the same way for all respondents? These things say something about the reliability of your research.

In addition, validity questions: did you measure what you intended to measure with your chosen research method? In other words: can you make conclusions about the real world based on your results? This mainly depends on the instruments used for your research, like your survey questions. Are those good tools for measuring what you wanted to measure?


How can you test the reliability and validity of your thesis?

You should have already thought about reliability and validity before conducting your research. In your research plan,you have probably already made clear what you have done to increase the validity and reliability of your research.

There are various ways to test your validity and reliability while conducting your research. Doing so means that you know for sure that you are on the right track.

You can test the reliability by comparing different versions of one measurement. For example, does researcher A get the same results for a specific sample as researcher B? In reliable research, this would be the case.

You can test validity in several ways, depending on the type of research you are doing. Often it comes down to comparing the results of your research with the results of previous scientific studies that measure the same concept. It also helps to substantiate (in your method chapter and sometimes also partly in your theoretical framework) why you have chosen this measurement of a variable.

How can you increase the reliability of your research?

Reliability is about the extent to which your research would yield the same results if you repeat the research. You can test this by performing a survey, for example, a few times.

Test reliability example

Imagine the following scenario: you assess the completed test answers of ten test subjects and leave the assessment of another forty test subjects to four other assessors. Everybody recieves the same instructions for the assessment. Check whether the instructions provide sufficient guidance for the assessment by looking at the work of the other assessors yourself. Do you all come to the same conclusions? If not, you may need to slightly adjust your evaluation criteria.

Test reliability second example

Are you conducting an experiment? Then, the conditions must always be the same. Generally, the clearer your instructions, the more reliable your results will be. It can help to do a pre-test in advance, where you ask the subjects or experimental researchers for feedback on your instructions or the conduct of the research. Then you can adjust things before you carry out the real research.

Description of reliability and validity in your thesis

In your method chapter, you describe what you have done to increase the validity and reliability. Sometimes you do this under a separate heading 'Reliability and validity' in your thesis. Ask your supervisor what is customary for this within your study programme.

In addition, in the discussion chapter, you critically examine the research you conducted. How reliable and valid do you estimate your results to be? In hindsight, what could you have done differently? You describe this as critical comments on your research. If necessary, you can make suggestions for further research based on these comments.

More handy thesis tips?

When writing your thesis, there is quite a lot to pay attention to. Reliability and validity, a good thesis structure, a clear common thread, a thorough description of your results, and so on. Where do you start? Here, at AthenaCheck. View our thesis tips or our tips to get off to a good start with your thesis, and take advantage of them. Good luck!