In this paper we describe the lessons learned when untrustworthy participants were included in a qualitative interview study. In online research, participants can more easily misrepresent their identity and volunteer for studies even if they do not meet inclusion criteria. The term “imposter participant” refers to dishonest participants who completely fake their identities or simply exaggerate their experiences in order to participate in qualitative studies. Untrustworthy participants are a threat to data quality, yet little has been published on how qualitative researchers should prevent and handle this unique methodological challenge. In this paper, we provide a detailed account of how specific issues with the research design create methodological challenges related to participant honesty when participants self-identify as meeting study inclusion criteria and participate in a virtual interview. Through our experiences as a doctoral student and dissertation supervisor, we offer lessons learned relating to recruiting online participants, collecting virtual interview data, and analyzing data for a qualitative study. Our experiences and reflections might help other qualitative researchers, including doctoral candidates and their supervising committees, work with internal review boards to prevent imposter participants and thereby contribute to the trustworthiness of their research.


online recruitment, virtual interviews, qualitative methods, participant honesty, trustworthiness

Author Bio(s)

Jacqueline M. Roehl (ORCID ID: 0000-0003-2565-6666) taught high school English for 21 years and was named the 2012 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Jacqueline Roehl earned a PhD in Education with a specialization in learning, instruction, and innovation from Walden University in 2021. In her dissertation research she explored how secondary educators use social media to influence students’ empowerment skills. Please direct correspondence to jacroehl@comcast.net.

Darci J. Harland (ORCID ID: 0000-0001-9300-434X) is the Academic Program Coordinator for the doctoral specializations of educational technology and design and learning, instruction, and innovation in the College of Education at Walden University. She teaches and is a subject matter expert for doctoral courses in her programs. She oversees curriculum development, assigns course instructors, pairs students with their doctoral committees, and supervises both PhD and EdD doctoral students.

Publication Date


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.







To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.