The Research Audit Trail: Methodological Guidance for Application in Practice


  • Marian Carcary



qualitative research, research audit trail, research audit trail methodology, research audit trail checklist, methodology guidelines, physical audit trail, intellectual audit trail, research confirmability, research trustworthiness


The merits of qualitative research remain an issue of ongoing debate and investigation. Qualitative researchers emphasise issues such as credibility, dependability, and transferability in demonstrating the trustworthiness of their research outcomes. This refers to the extent to which the research outcomes are conceptually sound and serves as the basis for enabling other researchers to assess their value. Carcary (2009) proposed trustworthiness in qualitative inquiry could be established through developing a physical and intellectual research audit trail – a strategy that involves maintaining an audit of all key stages and theoretical, methodological, and analytical decisions, as well as documenting how a researcher’s thinking evolves throughout a research project. Since 2009, this publication has been cited in greater than 600 studies. The current paper provides an analysis of the use and value of the research audit trail, based on the author’s application of this strategy across diverse research projects in the field of Information Systems management over a ten year time period. Based on a critical reflection on insights gained through these projects, this paper provides an in‑depth discussion of a series of guidelines for developing and applying the research audit trail in practice. These guidelines advance existing thinking and provide practical recommendations in relation to maintaining a research audit trail throughout a research project. Based on these guidelines and the core issues that should be covered at a physical and intellectual research audit trail level, a checklist that can be tailored to each project’s context is provided to support novice researchers and those who are new to the research audit trail strategy. As such, this paper demonstrates commitment to rigor in qualitative research. It provides a practical contribution in terms of advancing guidelines and providing a supporting checklist for ensuring the quality and transparency of theoretical, methodological, and analytical processes in qualitative inquiry. Embedding these guidelines throughout the research process will promote critical reflection among researchers across all stages of qualitative research and, in tracing through the researcher’s logic, will provide the basis for enabling other researchers to independently assess whether the research findings can serve as a platform for further investigation.



23 Feb 2021