Examination of Rival Explanations


Engaging in a systematic search for alternative themes, divergent patterns, and rival explanations (Patton, 2001, p. 553). 

This can be accomplished by looking for other ways to organize data and thinking about other possible ways of seeing the data. 

The aim is to look for data that support other explanations or ways of seeing and understanding a setting.

Why examine rival explanations?

Reporting that one sought out, considered and did not find evidence to support a number of plausible rival explanations during the analysis process enhances the credibility of the research findings.

Sometimes, readers will question research findings by suggesting that the findings may be shaped by researchers' predispositions or biases.

  To counter such a critique before it is made, researchers can:

  • make predispositions explicit in a research report (for more on bias see reflexivity)
  • report that the research team engaged in a systematic search for alternative ways of seeing and understanding the setting of study and the data collected


Patton, MQ. (2001). Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods (2nd Edition). Thousand oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Particularly page 553.