The 4 Types of Validity in Research | Definitions & Examples

Validity tells you how accurately a method measures something. If a method measures what it claims to measure, and the results closely correspond to real-world values, then it can be considered valid. There are four main types of validity:

  • Construct validity: Does the test measure the concept that it’s intended to measure?
  • Content validity: Is the test fully representative of what it aims to measure?
  • Face validity: Does the content of the test appear to be suitable to its aims?
  • Criterion validity: Do the results accurately measure the concrete outcome they are designed to measure?

In quantitative research, you have to consider the reliability and validity of your methods and measurements.

Note that this article deals with types of test validity, which determine the accuracy of the actual components of a measure. If you are doing experimental research, you also need to consider internal and external validity, which deal with the experimental design and the generalizability of results.

Construct validity

Construct validity evaluates whether a measurement tool really represents the thing we are interested in measuring. It’s central to establishing the overall validity of a method.

What is a construct?

A construct refers to a concept or characteristic that can’t be directly observed, but can be measured by observing other indicators that are associated with it.

Constructs can be characteristics of individuals, such as intelligence, obesity, job satisfaction, or depression; they can also be broader concepts applied to organizations or social groups, such as gender equality, corporate social responsibility, or freedom of speech.

Example

There is no objective, observable entity called “depression” that we can measure directly. But based on existing psychological research and theory, we can measure depression based on a collection of symptoms and indicators, such as low self-confidence and low energy levels.

What is construct validity?

Construct validity is about ensuring that the method of measurement matches the construct you want to measure. If you develop a questionnaire to diagnose depression, you need to know: does the questionnaire really measure the construct of depression? Or is it actually measuring the respondent’s mood, self-esteem, or some other construct?

To achieve construct validity, you have to ensure that your indicators and measurements are carefully developed based on relevant existing knowledge. The questionnaire must include only relevant questions that measure known indicators of depression.

The other types of validity described below can all be considered as forms of evidence for construct validity.

Content validity

Content validity assesses whether a test is representative of all aspects of the construct.

To produce valid results, the content of a test, survey or measurement method must cover all relevant parts of the subject it aims to measure. If some aspects are missing from the measurement (or if irrelevant aspects are included), the validity is threatened and the research is likely suffering from omitted variable bias.

Example

A mathematics teacher develops an end-of-semester algebra test for her class. The test should cover every form of algebra that was taught in the class. If some types of algebra are left out, then the results may not be an accurate indication of students’ understanding of the subject. Similarly, if she includes questions that are not related to algebra, the results are no longer a valid measure of algebra knowledge.

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Face validity

Face validity considers how suitable the content of a test seems to be on the surface. It’s similar to content validity, but face validity is a more informal and subjective assessment.

Example

You create a survey to measure the regularity of people’s dietary habits. You review the survey items, which ask questions about every meal of the day and snacks eaten in between for every day of the week. On its surface, the survey seems like a good representation of what you want to test, so you consider it to have high face validity.

As face validity is a subjective measure, it’s often considered the weakest form of validity. However, it can be useful in the initial stages of developing a method.

Criterion validity

Criterion validity evaluates how well a test can predict a concrete outcome, or how well the results of your test approximate the results of another test.

What is a criterion variable?

A criterion variable is an established and effective measurement that is widely considered valid, sometimes referred to as a “gold standard” measurement. Criterion variables can be very difficult to find.

What is criterion validity?

To evaluate criterion validity, you calculate the correlation between the results of your measurement and the results of the criterion measurement. If there is a high correlation, this gives a good indication that your test is measuring what it intends to measure.

Example

A university professor creates a new test to measure applicants’ English writing ability. To assess how well the test really does measure students’ writing ability, she finds an existing test that is considered a valid measurement of English writing ability, and compares the results when the same group of students take both tests. If the outcomes are very similar, the new test has high criterion validity.

Frequently asked questions about types of validity

In what ways are content and face validity similar?

Face validity and content validity are similar in that they both evaluate how suitable the content of a test is. The difference is that face validity is subjective, and assesses content at surface level.

When a test has strong face validity, anyone would agree that the test’s questions appear to measure what they are intended to measure.

For example, looking at a 4th grade math test consisting of problems in which students have to add and multiply, most people would agree that it has strong face validity (i.e., it looks like a math test).

On the other hand, content validity evaluates how well a test represents all the aspects of a topic. Assessing content validity is more systematic and relies on expert evaluation. of each question, analyzing whether each one covers the aspects that the test was designed to cover.

A 4th grade math test would have high content validity if it covered all the skills taught in that grade. Experts(in this case, math teachers), would have to evaluate the content validity by comparing the test to the learning objectives.

What are the two types of criterion validity?

Criterion validity evaluates how well a test measures the outcome it was designed to measure. An outcome can be, for example, the onset of a disease.

Criterion validity consists of two subtypes depending on the time at which the two measures (the criterion and your test) are obtained:

  • Concurrent validity is a validation strategy where the the scores of a test and the criterion are obtained at the same time.
Why are convergent and discriminant validity often evaluated together?

Convergent validity and discriminant validity are both subtypes of construct validity. Together, they help you evaluate whether a test measures the concept it was designed to measure.

  • Convergent validity indicates whether a test that is designed to measure a particular construct correlates with other tests that assess the same or similar construct.
  • Discriminant validity indicates whether two tests that should not be highly related to each other are indeed not related. This type of validity is also called divergent validity.

You need to assess both in order to demonstrate construct validity. Neither one alone is sufficient for establishing construct validity.

Why is ecological validity not prioritized in studies conducted in theory-testing mode?

The purpose of theory-testing mode is to find evidence in order to disprove, refine, or support a theory. As such, generalizability is not the aim of theory-testing mode.

Due to this, the priority of researchers in theory-testing mode is to eliminate alternative causes for relationships between variables. In other words, they prioritize internal validity over external validity, including ecological validity.

Who should assess face validity?

It’s often best to ask a variety of people to review your measurements. You can ask experts, such as other researchers, or laypeople, such as potential participants, to judge the face validity of tests.

While experts have a deep understanding of research methods, the people you’re studying can provide you with valuable insights you may have missed otherwise.

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Fiona Middleton

Fiona has been editing for Scribbr since August 2016. She has a bachelor's degree in geology and is currently working towards a master's degree in marine sciences. She loves working with students based around the world to refine their writing.