Research Methodology

As you may have noticed during the course of your research one key component of a research paper is the abstract. Often the abstract is something that scholars put together before they start work on their research to help them focus their ideas. Then as the paper develops they come to refine the abstract to ensure that it reflects what was actually done within the paper. A good abstract sets the stage for the research topic, explains the method in use, notes the findings, and mentions important implications of the study. They are typically 150-200 words in length and allow researchers to quickly see what a paper is about prior to reading the work in its entirety. 
Please post an abstract that accurately reflects your study up to this point. If you need some examples of abstracts to help you get started take a look at some of the abstracts found within the peer-reviewed journals you referenced within your own proposal.
Questions to Answer
1. In thinking about your research, how are you planning to assess your data? 
2. How might you code your data? 
3. Finally, what additional insight did this week’s material help provide that we haven’t covered yet? 
Your posts this week should demonstrate critical reflection upon the assigned readings.
Instructions: Must be at least 300 words. 

Reading: Article

Reliability, Generalisation and Reflexivity: Identifying Validity and Trustworthiness
In: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Methodology
By: Kerry E. Howell
Pub. Date: 2015
Access Date: June 27, 2019
Publishing Company: SAGE Publications Ltd
City: London
Print ISBN: 9781446202999
Online ISBN: 9781473957633
Print pages: 182-192
© 2013 SAGE Publications Ltd All Rights Reserved.
This PDF has been generated from SAGE Research Methods. Please note that the pagination of the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book.
Reliability, Generalisation and Reflexivity: Identifying Validity and Trustworthiness
This chapter examines, reliability, generalisation and reflexivity as well as validity and trustworthiness. Chapter 12 also outlines a number of mechanisms relating to phenomenological or qualitative methodological approaches, which include worthiness, credibility, transferability and fairness. Reliability involves replication and asks how far another researcher could repeat the research undertaken at a given time. Replication is important for positivist and post-positivist approaches to research. A positivist and post-positivist study will usually use numerical data obtained through surveys from a particular sample population. Obviously, there are difficulties regarding replication but in such a study it is easier to repeat the experiment than it is to undertake observations on two or more occasions and come to the same understandings or interpretations reached during the previous studies. Indeed, reliability is a less important criterion for phenomenologists who follow criterion and procedures relating to trustworthiness and authenticity.
It is difficult to ensure high levels of both reliability and validity because if one is to accurately identify what is actually occurring in specific situations, it is necessary to go beyond the survey and involve oneself in the context of the research. Furthermore, it is more straightforward to generalise from a sample population to the population as a whole than it is to generalise from situation x to all situations. Consequently, it may be posited that generalisation is easier or more straightforward within a positivist or post-positivist research project. Within a positivist research project it is normally assumed that generalisation from sample to population should involve an intrinsic part of the research project. However, for a couple of reasons this does not always follow; on occasion one may be interested in specific cases alone because this has social significance in itself and/or it is important to understand that some research does not concentrate on generalisation but is more interested in theoretical inference. Reflexivity involves examining different conceptualisations of self when collecting and analysing data. This chapter assesses each of these areas in more detail then the next chapter relates these to methods of data collection in terms of surveys, interviews, focus groups and observations.
For positivism, reliability is concerned with the extent that an experiment can be repeated or how far a given measurement will provide the same results on different occasions. Experimentation should reflect stability and ensure that any investigation of an individual or group at a given point in time can be repeated in exactly the same manner at another point in time. However, this is difficult to ascertain because one is never certain whether intervening factors during the two periods of time have changed the phenomenon and affected reliability. Given this problem it is useful to employ ‘equivalence validity’ and compare situations on separate occasions so as to determine whether different measurements of the same phenomenon correlate with each other. Phenomenological positions regarding reliability are concerned with whether observations made in an earlier research project can be observed in different or later projects; that is, projects in the future. Reliability
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may be sought through categorisation and a synthesis of a positivistic and phenomenological position. Grounded theory attempts this through coding procedures, but this approach does have its shortfalls. For instance, even though an objectivist position is pursued through procedures and coding these can become extremely complex. Also the categories and procedures may alienate the reader from the research. Diagrams and conceptual maps can again complicate matters and obscure experience. Grounded theory may also make analysis opaque. Conversely, coding and categorising help to preserve images of experience as well as sharpen and direct questions.
Definition Box: Reliability

Stability: determines whether the measure is stable over time which provides confidence that the measure for a sample is consistent.

Internal reliability: consistency of indicators that involves the scale or index.

Inter-observer consistency: insurance that subjective judgements or the recordings and categorisations of data are consistent.
Reliability is extremely difficult for phenomenological studies as the ability to repeat research projects’ programmes is difficult to realise when individual situations in relation to multiple interpretation underpin the research process. Reliability is more easily realised when a structured, positivistic approach to the research programme is prioritised. In such a context, theory involves prediction so necessitates reliability through specified criteria and requires some form of hypothesis testing. Indeed, from a positivist perspective, validation requires a similar grounding to this as does the generalisation that follows in terms of laws that are immutable or remain until falsified. However, if we re-assess these positions from a phenomenological perspective different criteria emerge. For example:
credibility, validity and reliability in action research are measured by the willingness of local stakeholders to act on the results of the action research, thereby risking their welfare on the ‘validity’ of their ideas and the degree to which these outcomes meet their expectations. (Greenwood and Levin, 2000: 96)
The positivist position provides an image of a scientist in a lab with the work outlined in organised reports regarding concepts, evidence and procedures. Conversely, the phenomenological position identifies the image of the writer or storyteller balancing theoretical interpretation with aesthetics. With a phenomenological, critical theory or/and postmodern approach the reader is provided with an interpretation of the stories uncovered during the research.
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As noted above, it is more straightforward to generalise using a positivist approach than it is when undertaking a phenomenological-based research project. The main point of a positivist investigation involves identifying relationships between samples and the general population, this is not the case for phenomenological, constructivist or participatory studies.
A generalisation of qualitative … studies is often called into question or regarded as infeasible, something which has weaknesses compared to quantitative set-ups … Only a statistical study that can establish the probability of the findings have not emerged by chance is … justified to make generalisations. (Alvesson and Skoldberg, 1999: 21)
However, this means that we must accept that a study of ‘surface regularities’ will provide identical patterns time after time. If it is accepted that non-observable phenomenon impact on the forms patterns take, such a position becomes untenable. Fundamentally, for a positivist research project generalisation involves the probability that patterns observed in a sample population can be extrapolated to a wider population from which the sample population is taken. Whereas a phenomenological project will be more concerned with generalisation from one setting to another; the extent that theoretical frameworks developed in one setting can be applied to other situations.
Difficulties for the social sciences have involved criteria for natural sciences being imposed upon it; generalisation is one such criteria. Positivism and post-positivism are based on empiricism, which as discussed in Chapter 3, was perceived as the correct and only way of undertaking scientific studies; a position that not only distorted social science but painted a false picture of how the natural sciences themselves actually worked. Given the necessities determined by natural science and quantitative perspectives, generalisation of phenomenological studies is often thought unrealistic. If simplified surface regularities are the benchmark then it is probable that such can be generalised from sample population to total population. It is probable that the findings are reliable and do not come about by some fluke or chance. However, this assumption depends on one’s interpretation of theory in relation to epistemological and ontological positions as well as what is considered to incorporate generalisations. There is a debate regarding the level natural science preconditions should be imposed on the social sciences, especially when underpinned by different paradigms of inquiry in terms of critical theory, constructivism and participatory.
Strauss and Corbin (1998) argued that generalisation from sample to population encompassed only one type of generalisation and a study may generalise from situation to situation. However, how may one generalise from stories? An answer is mainly through empathy and understandings that provide the basis for an acknowledgement of socialisation and the fact that we are human beings investigating human beings. Generalisation may be achieved through assessing how individuals feel in different situations and how they may act in certain circumstances. Consequently, given the dislocated nature of reliability and validity (see below) within the phenomenological approach a number of interpretations and subsequent generalisations may be forwarded in relation to a specific study. There must be connections between the researcher and researched as well as the intended, and in some contexts, unintended audience.
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The core of reflection incorporates reflexivity and involves how we are constructed in a social construct while at the same time acting as constructing agents. Without a constructed constructing self within a construction all is meaningless; through interpretation meaning is constructed. Construction requires something to be constructed, the researcher as a constructing subject and an object or a community that constructs the researcher. Reflexivity involves acknowledging the constructive elements without giving precedence to any part of the process; construction requires a continuum of interaction, a form of symbolic interaction or Hegelian recognition. Consequently, the relationship between selves and others provides the foundations for social constructivism. However, a concentration on reflexivity can conjure criticisms regarding ‘narcissistic self-centredness’, ‘self-absorption’ and ‘self-reflective isolationism’. One way of dealing with these criticisms involves researchers recognising themselves as elements of the wider social and political context and that we ourselves are caught up with and intrinsically linked to these contexts; others consider that the link between context and self should be negated. ‘The very idea of reflexivity … is the … ability to break away from a frame of reference and to look at what it is not capable of saying’ (Alvesson and Skoldberg, 2009: 270).
Reflexivity involves thinking critically about different conceptualisations of self; in a research project, self as researcher and respondent and wider self as learner, manager, parent, sibling and so on. Reflexivity involves a critical subjectivity in terms of coming to know self through the research process. For example, a doctorate is not simply about the completed thesis, it is also about the changes involved in students as they become active researchers; this is achieved through reflexivity undertaken during studies and the thinking required for the research process and successful completion of the thesis. In other words, the research project is as much about changes to the individual as the impact the research may have on the wider environment. ‘Self’ is brought to the research situation while at the same time self is developed through the research process. Indeed, types of self can be broken down into three categories: selves based around the role of researcher; selves formed through socio-historic existence; and selves determined by the situation or research environment (Reinharz, 1997). Each self requires interrogation regarding relationships with and formation of the research process. ‘We must question our selves … regarding how … binaries and paradoxes shape not only … identities called forth in the field … but also our interactions with respondents, in who we become to them in the process of becoming to ourselves’ (Guba and Lincoln, 2000: 183–4). Furthermore, through reflexivity researchers are able to locate themselves in the research; that is identify their socio-historical location and become aware that they carry a historical perspective of the situation or problem under analysis. Findings are co-created with researcher and researched involved in a saturation of the study with these juxtapositions of selves, situation and subject used to enhance understanding and enrich data interpretation. As well as observing participants the researcher is observing different selves and building interpretations of selves and these selves’ interpretations of data into the final outcome of the research. How the researcher fits and is involved with the research is not simply recognised but becomes an element of the research; personal investment in the research becomes part of the analysis. However, reflexivity has limited validity as it asks the reader to take interpretations at face value as an authentic attempt to explore selves
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and be truthful and conscientious about the narrative accounts provided.
A reflexive attitude involves intensive scrutiny regarding how something is known and/or understood. Reflexivity incorporates an iterative and interactive dialogue about past experience in relation to present perspectives and future possibilities. A reflexive position is not simply reporting facts or truths but providing interpretations of data and issues raised in the field. ‘The outcome of reflexive social science is reflexive knowledge: statements that provide insight on the workings of the social world and insight on how that knowledge came into existence’ (Hertz, 1997: viii). Object and subject are brought back into the same space. Reflexivity may be perceived as the route to ‘radical consciousness of self in facing the political dimensions of fieldwork and constructing knowledge … Reflexivity becomes a continuing mode of self-analysis and political awareness’ (Hertz, 1997: viii). Reflexivity permeates the whole research process through continually challenging the researcher to be aware of ideology, culture and politics of the situation and self. Researchers should be aware of their own self, interests and social standing as these will direct and influence the research process. The impact of the researcher on the situation and individual being investigated needs to become part of the analysis. Previous experience should be assessed in relation to the research process. Reflexivity requires awareness of self that can only be partial, however it is important that this be made clear in the research text. The influence of previous work on individual perspectives should be openly acknowledged (Charmaz, 2000). Such awareness may be realised through memo-writing as this provides a discourse or conversation between the researcher and the data.
Reflexivity involves the double hermeneutical idea concerning the interpretation of the interpreting subject; this can be intensified through employing further levels of interpretation but the core of reflexivity incorporates reflection of interpretation and the self analysis of the person undertaking interpretation. Reflexivity provides ways of seeing or different lenses that act introspectively on data interpretations. Theory and abstraction are part of reflexivity and interaction between theoretical analysis and practical situations a necessary element of the process. Reflexivity is a two-way process of reflection or a primary concept reflecting on other secondary levels; fundamentally levels of interpretation are reflected in each other. Levels include involvement with data in terms of observations, focus groups and interviews, interpretation of materials through producing meanings, critique of interpretation through theoretical perspectives such as power, politics and ideological positions, reflection regarding the production of texts regarding selection of voices, claims of authority and self within the levels of interpretation. There is an incremental shift through levels of interpretation:

direct involvement with the data and low level interpretation of this data;

identification of relationships between theory and practice (praxis) or theoretical interpretation;

relationships between self data and theory or reflective interpretation.
The ideal situation incorporates theory being re-moulded by the data; norms, accepted values and personal perspectives should be challenged and reconstructed. Obviously, the extent of the interpretations will be curtailed by access to theory, consequently some comprehension of theoretical frameworks is required. A reciprocal relationship is needed between theoretical frameworks, the individual researcher and the data. The theories and individual researchers order the data and deal with anomalies and uncertainties in the early
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stages of the study.
Important aspects of interpretation include:


depth of theoretical knowledge;

breadth of theoretical knowledge;

variety of theoretical knowledge.
If the researcher has dedicated their career to a particular area or the student concentrated on a specific theory, then the research will be restricted to this area and reflexivity reduced. One may become emotionally attached to a theory and attempt to prove or confirm this. Consequently, knowledge of at least two theories will assist multiple interpretations and reflexivity. Controlled theories enable possible interpretations, the juxtaposition and synthesis of theories in relation to data delivers and enhances creativity. Fundamentally, wide reading is required as the sound theoretical knowledge engenders diverse interpretation and reflective capability.
Validity and Trustworthiness
For positivism, validity involves the extent to which measurement is accurate and what is supposed to be measured is actually being measured; how far can we be sure that a test measures the phenomenon we expect it too. Whereas, for phenomenological approaches the main emphasis regarding validity relates to whether access to knowledge and meaning has been realised. Questions relating to validity that require attention when evaluating the findings of research include:

Are the findings authentic?

Can the research be trusted?

Can the research be acted upon?
Definition Box: Validity

Face validity: the measure should reflect the concept in question and be plausible.

Concurrent validity: the recognition that criteria on which cases are based are different and require comparison with other measurement procedures.

Predictive validity: the use of future measurement criteria with predictive capability.

Construct validity: the deduction of hypotheses from a relevant theory.

Grouping validity: comparison with different groupings that differ from the phenomenon in question.
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Validity involves different understandings and interpretations of individual positions and it is important to identify whether the research acknowledges the interpretation of the researched in relation to the researcher while undertaking data collection and analysis. For phenomenology, multiple voices are included in the research process and the individual voice of the positivist position is challenged. This involves reflexivity and reflection regarding ultimate and ongoing interpretation. Validity involves the extent to which research undertaken has integrity and includes measurement, internal, external and experiential validity.
Measurement validity is closely related to reliability (measurements must be reliable) and mainly involves statistics or quantitative research; it is mainly concerned with the extent that a mode of measurement regarding a given entity does actually reflect the that which it purports to be measuring. If not, then the research results are questionable, for example, if an entity or idea fluctuates and this is not taken into consideration then the measurement could be said to be unreliable. Internal validity is concerned with the causal relationship between separate variables. If we consider that lack of education rather than the media causes deviancy and criminality, then evidence to support this relationship is required. Questions relating to levels of certainty between and independent variable (the cause or affect) and dependent variable (the outcome or effect) become apparent. Can we definitely say that a lack of education (independent variable) produces criminality (dependent variable)? External validity concentrates on the extent the outcomes of the research can be generalised; that is the extent that the specific findings can provide a more general explanation and/or understanding and involves close attention to sampling (how organisations or individuals are chosen to participate in the research). Experiential validity incorporates the level to which the research environment reflects real life experience. How far do research outcomes identify the real life situation and experiences of those being researched? This questions the level that the research captures or reflects people’s everyday lives. This validity is expressed when the research is undertaken in the field or natural settings rather than those setup by the researcher. Furthermore, participation is not recommended and non-participatory observation and a positivistic stance (distinction between subject and object) deemed more appropriate.
These forms of validity testing, with the exception of a weaker approach to experiential validity (one where participatory observation is recognised), primarily adhere to positivist and post-positivist notions of research. Consequently, Guba and Lincoln (1985) proposed alternative terms for non-positivist approaches that directly related with the validity and reliability objectives of quantitative research projects. Indeed, in many instances the holy trinity of validity, reliability and generalisation failed to deal with the vagaries of qualitative research. ‘Many qualitative researchers have struggled to identify more appropriately how we do what we do. So, rather than take terms from the quantitative paradigm, qualitative researchers have … offered alternative ways to think about descriptive validity and … case study work’ (Janesick, 2000: 393). Rather than validity, phenomenological and more qualitative analysis should pursue trustworthiness. ‘Terms such as credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability replace the usual positivist criteria of internal and external validity, reliability and objectivity’ (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000: 21).
Credibility is similar to internal validity because it wishes to determine the extent that findings can be believed.
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Credibility stresses triangulation (or multiple perspectives and accounts of the situation under analysis). As noted in Chapter 6, for action research, credibility may be determined by the ‘willingness of local stakeholders to act on the results of the action research’ (Greenwood and Levin, 2000: 96). Credibility recognises the ‘standards and proof that are favoured by clients and stakeholders’ (Chambers, 2000: 863). Credibility can be assessed through the presentation of evidence regarding the phenomena under investigation.
Transferability mirrors external validity and the extent to which findings can be generalised to other settings and/or situations. Phenomenological research entails in-depth study of groups and pursues depth of understanding regarding unique situations. ‘Thick descriptions’ (Geertz, 1973: 6) are pursued through a selection of interpretive methods that will in turn become ‘thick interpretations’ (Vidich and Lyman, 2000). Such thick interpretations will provide a database that will allow judgements about transferability of findings to other situations. Again triangulation may be sought but in this case the triangulation of methods, such as interviews, focus groups and observations. As with reliability, dependability pursues replication, all parts of the research should be audited because through this audit, trust in the research process will emerge. It involves keeping records relating to development of the research question and problems in terms of data collection procedures, analysis and transcripts. These would then be assessed or reviewed by colleagues regarding correct procedures for theory development. This of course creates problems in terms of the amount of data a qualitative study appropriates and the time this would take to assess. A good example of dependability may be found in grounded theory coding procedures and memo writing. Finally, confirmability investigates the axiological perspectives and subjective biases the researcher brings to the research project and the relationship between the researcher, research setting and individuals within the research process.
Furthermore, as well as trustworthiness, Guba and Lincoln (2000) suggested that for phenomenological inquiry authenticity criteria should be developed. The criteria suggested included; fairness, ontological authenticity, educative authenticity, catalytic authenticity and tactical authenticity (Guba and Lincoln, 2000: 180). Fairness in a research project or programme should ensure that all voices have equal status, it should encourage inclusion and deter marginalisation. Fairness involves inclusion of all voices in an equal and equitable manner.
Ontological and educative authenticity provides empathy regarding the participants involved in the research process and those who interact with them in a personal, organisational or social context. This necessitates a sound knowledge of the situation and an empathetic stance regarding those under investigation; this means that the researcher is required to put themselves in the place of those being researched; being-in-the-world is clearly recognised. Catalytic and tactical authenticity builds on the previous requirements and incorporates an assessment of the extent to which the research has led to social action and/or empowerment in relation this. With regard to empowerment tactical authenticity may include, ‘the involvement of the researcher/evaluator in training participants in specific forms of social and political action if participants desire such training’ (Guba and Lincoln, 2000: 181).
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Even though one may argue that certain methodologies and methods may be more conducive for undertaking research on social phenomena and humanity, no specific approach provides a panacea in the pursuit of ultimate knowledge. Indeed, discourse relating to validity and reliability was initially developed for use in positivist and more quantitative research. That said, validity and reliability are useful mechanisms that should ideally be carried out at the pilot stage of the research project. Initial responses may then be measured against each other and correlations determined and reliable indications of accuracy assessed. Once it is accepted that the characteristics of meanings can transform we have no way of determining that what we find involves the truth or not; ‘there is no way of finding the true Cinderella … There is no dependable glass slipper we can use as a test, since the old slipper will no longer fit the new Cinderella’ (Hirsch, 1967: 46)
Alternatively, one may take a phenomenological stance which moves beyond the positivist concern with social experience from which generalisation may be drawn but rather concentrates on single experience or individual situation, moment of discovery and feeling and emotion. On occasion, in the phenomenological tradition there is a little reluctance to use notions such as validity, reliability and generalisation because they imply acceptance of positivist ontology. This of course undermines the pursuit of objectivity and re-defines validity in terms of subjectivity and interpretation. Whether or not validity exists, an individual piece of research relates to the extent that data has been rigorously collected triangulated and interpreted. Indeed, validity may be conceived of as absurd if no single, correct interpretation exists. However, if the research project is undertaken in such a way that it ensures faithful description of the ideas, interpretations and understandings of those researched, validity, reliability and generalisation can provide useful tools for rigorous analysis. Overall, sound methods based in paradigms of inquiry and methodology identify how an investigator can satisfy others to the extent that they trust that what has been seen has been accurately described and that the conclusions that have been drawn are valid. As noted when assessing both positivist and phenomenological approaches certain difficulties emerge. One major difficulty is that of identifying truth (or reality) and in this context one may question all methodological approaches and methods. However, notions regarding levels of reliability, validity and generalisation, as with trustworthiness, fairness and credibility provide a yardstick by which levels of rigour and measurement in research projects can be gauged and assessed. As human beings we may not be able to ascertain a perfect reality or a general theory that explains existence but this should not divert us from attempting to understand ourselves and the world in a reflective manner. Indeed, a fuller picture of the world and other human beings in relation to self may be better conceived if a range of measurements and approaches are used. That is, both positivist and phenomenological approaches and the techniques used in each have something to tell us about human endeavour and existence. It does not follow that a valid interpretation is correct, but it is more likely to be the case given existing evidence at our disposal. Acknowledging that for some studies mixed methodologies may be appropriate, in the following chapter I overview methods of data collection and describe how these may be used to develop greater validity, reliability and/or trustworthiness in the pursuit of different types of generalisation.

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