What is Research Rigor? Lessons for a Transdiscipline

Grandon Gill, Tommy R Gill
Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline  •  Volume 23  •  2020  •  pp. 047-076
Aim/Purpose: Use of the term “rigor” is ubiquitous in the research community. But do we actually know what it means, and how it applies to transdisciplinary research?

Background: Too often, rigor is presumed to mean following an established research protocol scrupulously. Unfortunately, that frequently leads to research with little or no impact.

Methodology: We identify a sample of 62 articles with “rigor” in the title and analyze their content in order to capture the range of perspectives on rigor. We then analyze how these findings might apply to informing science.

Contribution: This paper offers an approach to defining rigor that is theory based and appropriate for transdisciplinary research.

Findings: Rigor definitions tend to fall into one of two categories: criteria-based and compliance-based. Which is appropriate depends on the research context. Even more variation was found with respect to relevance, which is often used as a catch-all for research characteristics that aren’t associated with rigor.

Recommendations for Practitioners: Recognize that when researchers are referring to rigor and relevance, they of-ten mean these to apply to other researchers rather than to practice. When funding research, it is important to understand who the rigor and relevance are directed towards.

Recommendations for Researchers: When using the term “rigor”, think carefully about which meaning is intended and be transparent about that meaning in your writing.

Impact on Society: A great deal of public money is invested in achieving research rigor. Society should be aware of what it is buying with that funding.

Future Research: Developing a better understanding of research fitness and the factors that contribute to it.
rigor, relevance, resonance, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, research
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