The ideas contained in this chapter draw heavily on a previously published examination of options for understanding and judging quality within the constraints of the qualitative traditions, and how we might distinguish mediocrity from excellence (Thorne, 1997)1. In that earlier writing, I tried to synthesize accepted approaches to qualitative credibility to show how various scholars had tried to translate the
imperative of the quantitative “holy trinity” of reliability, validity, and generalizability (Kvale, 1995) into a more compatible philosophical orientation. I used that synthesis as a basis from which to consider the difficulties associated with articulating a methodological “gold standard” within qualitative research in general, and tried to extract some guiding principles that could be developed into a mechanism for comprehensive critique of the quality of qualitative research products. It was my hope in that work, and remains my hope today, that we can find ways to articulate the intricate blend of artistry and the science that interpretive description represents, and thereby render that distinctive perspective increasingly meaningful within the evidentiary context of our practice disciplines. As Elliott and Williams have so eloquently expressed it, “The ultimate paradox is that qualitative inquiry is impossible-both conceptually and practically-yet it still goes on. It must do so if the professions . . . are to advance” (2001, p. 181).