Aim: Internal coherence in research refers to the alignment between ontology (nature of reality), epistemology (nature of knowledge), axiology (values), methodology and methods and is an important but often overlooked element of research quality. We therefore aimed to illustrate the concept of internal coherence in nutrition and dietetics research, and its importance beyond individual elements of study quality.
Method: A targeted literature search in Nutrition and Dietetics was used to identify research illustrating one example of three main approaches to research (scientific, interpretive and critical inquiry) published between November 2017 and November 2020. Studies were included if they related to education research based on the expertise of the authors, and illustrated diverse points about internal coherence. The authors independently critiqued included studies for internal coherence and synthesised their findings.
Results: From 76 manuscripts, 14 were identified as describing education research. Of the three selected studies that were critiqued, all had elements of internal coherence, in particular alignment between epistemology and methodology. However, each had elements of misalignment too, specifically between epistemology, axiology and method. The results point to the profession's historical groundings privileging the scientific approach, showing how this can yield misalignments, particularly when describing the limitations of interpretive and critical inquiry approaches.
Conclusion: This review demonstrates the importance of internal coherence as a marker of quality, over and above existing quality assessment checklists for qualitative and quantitative methodologies. As such, it can help authors, reviewers and editors to improve the quality of nutrition and dietetics research and its reporting.