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StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.

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StatPearls [Internet].

Qualitative study.

Steven Tenny ; Janelle M. Brannan ; Grace D. Brannan .

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Last Update: September 18, 2022 .

  • Introduction

Qualitative research is a type of research that explores and provides deeper insights into real-world problems. [1] Instead of collecting numerical data points or intervene or introduce treatments just like in quantitative research, qualitative research helps generate hypotheses as well as further investigate and understand quantitative data. Qualitative research gathers participants' experiences, perceptions, and behavior. It answers the hows and whys instead of how many or how much. It could be structured as a stand-alone study, purely relying on qualitative data or it could be part of mixed-methods research that combines qualitative and quantitative data. This review introduces the readers to some basic concepts, definitions, terminology, and application of qualitative research.

Qualitative research at its core, ask open-ended questions whose answers are not easily put into numbers such as ‘how’ and ‘why’. [2] Due to the open-ended nature of the research questions at hand, qualitative research design is often not linear in the same way quantitative design is. [2] One of the strengths of qualitative research is its ability to explain processes and patterns of human behavior that can be difficult to quantify. [3] Phenomena such as experiences, attitudes, and behaviors can be difficult to accurately capture quantitatively, whereas a qualitative approach allows participants themselves to explain how, why, or what they were thinking, feeling, and experiencing at a certain time or during an event of interest. Quantifying qualitative data certainly is possible, but at its core, qualitative data is looking for themes and patterns that can be difficult to quantify and it is important to ensure that the context and narrative of qualitative work are not lost by trying to quantify something that is not meant to be quantified.

However, while qualitative research is sometimes placed in opposition to quantitative research, where they are necessarily opposites and therefore ‘compete’ against each other and the philosophical paradigms associated with each, qualitative and quantitative work are not necessarily opposites nor are they incompatible. [4] While qualitative and quantitative approaches are different, they are not necessarily opposites, and they are certainly not mutually exclusive. For instance, qualitative research can help expand and deepen understanding of data or results obtained from quantitative analysis. For example, say a quantitative analysis has determined that there is a correlation between length of stay and level of patient satisfaction, but why does this correlation exist? This dual-focus scenario shows one way in which qualitative and quantitative research could be integrated together.

Examples of Qualitative Research Approaches

Ethnography

Ethnography as a research design has its origins in social and cultural anthropology, and involves the researcher being directly immersed in the participant’s environment. [2] Through this immersion, the ethnographer can use a variety of data collection techniques with the aim of being able to produce a comprehensive account of the social phenomena that occurred during the research period. [2] That is to say, the researcher’s aim with ethnography is to immerse themselves into the research population and come out of it with accounts of actions, behaviors, events, etc. through the eyes of someone involved in the population. Direct involvement of the researcher with the target population is one benefit of ethnographic research because it can then be possible to find data that is otherwise very difficult to extract and record.

Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory is the “generation of a theoretical model through the experience of observing a study population and developing a comparative analysis of their speech and behavior.” [5] As opposed to quantitative research which is deductive and tests or verifies an existing theory, grounded theory research is inductive and therefore lends itself to research that is aiming to study social interactions or experiences. [3] [2] In essence, Grounded Theory’s goal is to explain for example how and why an event occurs or how and why people might behave a certain way. Through observing the population, a researcher using the Grounded Theory approach can then develop a theory to explain the phenomena of interest.

Phenomenology

Phenomenology is defined as the “study of the meaning of phenomena or the study of the particular”. [5] At first glance, it might seem that Grounded Theory and Phenomenology are quite similar, but upon careful examination, the differences can be seen. At its core, phenomenology looks to investigate experiences from the perspective of the individual. [2] Phenomenology is essentially looking into the ‘lived experiences’ of the participants and aims to examine how and why participants behaved a certain way, from their perspective . Herein lies one of the main differences between Grounded Theory and Phenomenology. Grounded Theory aims to develop a theory for social phenomena through an examination of various data sources whereas Phenomenology focuses on describing and explaining an event or phenomena from the perspective of those who have experienced it.

Narrative Research

One of qualitative research’s strengths lies in its ability to tell a story, often from the perspective of those directly involved in it. Reporting on qualitative research involves including details and descriptions of the setting involved and quotes from participants. This detail is called ‘thick’ or ‘rich’ description and is a strength of qualitative research. Narrative research is rife with the possibilities of ‘thick’ description as this approach weaves together a sequence of events, usually from just one or two individuals, in the hopes of creating a cohesive story, or narrative. [2] While it might seem like a waste of time to focus on such a specific, individual level, understanding one or two people’s narratives for an event or phenomenon can help to inform researchers about the influences that helped shape that narrative. The tension or conflict of differing narratives can be “opportunities for innovation”. [2]

Research Paradigm

Research paradigms are the assumptions, norms, and standards that underpin different approaches to research. Essentially, research paradigms are the ‘worldview’ that inform research. [4] It is valuable for researchers, both qualitative and quantitative, to understand what paradigm they are working within because understanding the theoretical basis of research paradigms allows researchers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the approach being used and adjust accordingly. Different paradigms have different ontology and epistemologies . Ontology is defined as the "assumptions about the nature of reality” whereas epistemology is defined as the “assumptions about the nature of knowledge” that inform the work researchers do. [2] It is important to understand the ontological and epistemological foundations of the research paradigm researchers are working within to allow for a full understanding of the approach being used and the assumptions that underpin the approach as a whole. Further, it is crucial that researchers understand their own ontological and epistemological assumptions about the world in general because their assumptions about the world will necessarily impact how they interact with research. A discussion of the research paradigm is not complete without describing positivist, postpositivist, and constructivist philosophies.

Positivist vs Postpositivist

To further understand qualitative research, we need to discuss positivist and postpositivist frameworks. Positivism is a philosophy that the scientific method can and should be applied to social as well as natural sciences. [4] Essentially, positivist thinking insists that the social sciences should use natural science methods in its research which stems from positivist ontology that there is an objective reality that exists that is fully independent of our perception of the world as individuals. Quantitative research is rooted in positivist philosophy, which can be seen in the value it places on concepts such as causality, generalizability, and replicability.

Conversely, postpositivists argue that social reality can never be one hundred percent explained but it could be approximated. [4] Indeed, qualitative researchers have been insisting that there are “fundamental limits to the extent to which the methods and procedures of the natural sciences could be applied to the social world” and therefore postpositivist philosophy is often associated with qualitative research. [4] An example of positivist versus postpositivist values in research might be that positivist philosophies value hypothesis-testing, whereas postpositivist philosophies value the ability to formulate a substantive theory.

Constructivist

Constructivism is a subcategory of postpositivism. Most researchers invested in postpositivist research are constructivist as well, meaning they think there is no objective external reality that exists but rather that reality is constructed. Constructivism is a theoretical lens that emphasizes the dynamic nature of our world. “Constructivism contends that individuals’ views are directly influenced by their experiences, and it is these individual experiences and views that shape their perspective of reality”. [6] Essentially, Constructivist thought focuses on how ‘reality’ is not a fixed certainty and experiences, interactions, and backgrounds give people a unique view of the world. Constructivism contends, unlike in positivist views, that there is not necessarily an ‘objective’ reality we all experience. This is the ‘relativist’ ontological view that reality and the world we live in are dynamic and socially constructed. Therefore, qualitative scientific knowledge can be inductive as well as deductive.” [4]

So why is it important to understand the differences in assumptions that different philosophies and approaches to research have? Fundamentally, the assumptions underpinning the research tools a researcher selects provide an overall base for the assumptions the rest of the research will have and can even change the role of the researcher themselves. [2] For example, is the researcher an ‘objective’ observer such as in positivist quantitative work? Or is the researcher an active participant in the research itself, as in postpositivist qualitative work? Understanding the philosophical base of the research undertaken allows researchers to fully understand the implications of their work and their role within the research, as well as reflect on their own positionality and bias as it pertains to the research they are conducting.

Data Sampling 

The better the sample represents the intended study population, the more likely the researcher is to encompass the varying factors at play. The following are examples of participant sampling and selection: [7]

  • Purposive sampling- selection based on the researcher’s rationale in terms of being the most informative.
  • Criterion sampling-selection based on pre-identified factors.
  • Convenience sampling- selection based on availability.
  • Snowball sampling- the selection is by referral from other participants or people who know potential participants.
  • Extreme case sampling- targeted selection of rare cases.
  • Typical case sampling-selection based on regular or average participants. 

Data Collection and Analysis

Qualitative research uses several techniques including interviews, focus groups, and observation. [1] [2] [3] Interviews may be unstructured, with open-ended questions on a topic and the interviewer adapts to the responses. Structured interviews have a predetermined number of questions that every participant is asked. It is usually one on one and is appropriate for sensitive topics or topics needing an in-depth exploration. Focus groups are often held with 8-12 target participants and are used when group dynamics and collective views on a topic are desired. Researchers can be a participant-observer to share the experiences of the subject or a non-participant or detached observer.

While quantitative research design prescribes a controlled environment for data collection, qualitative data collection may be in a central location or in the environment of the participants, depending on the study goals and design. Qualitative research could amount to a large amount of data. Data is transcribed which may then be coded manually or with the use of Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software or CAQDAS such as ATLAS.ti or NVivo. [8] [9] [10]

After the coding process, qualitative research results could be in various formats. It could be a synthesis and interpretation presented with excerpts from the data. [11] Results also could be in the form of themes and theory or model development.

Dissemination

To standardize and facilitate the dissemination of qualitative research outcomes, the healthcare team can use two reporting standards. The Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research or COREQ is a 32-item checklist for interviews and focus groups. [12] The Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR) is a checklist covering a wider range of qualitative research. [13]

Examples of Application

Many times a research question will start with qualitative research. The qualitative research will help generate the research hypothesis which can be tested with quantitative methods. After the data is collected and analyzed with quantitative methods, a set of qualitative methods can be used to dive deeper into the data for a better understanding of what the numbers truly mean and their implications. The qualitative methods can then help clarify the quantitative data and also help refine the hypothesis for future research. Furthermore, with qualitative research researchers can explore subjects that are poorly studied with quantitative methods. These include opinions, individual's actions, and social science research.

A good qualitative study design starts with a goal or objective. This should be clearly defined or stated. The target population needs to be specified. A method for obtaining information from the study population must be carefully detailed to ensure there are no omissions of part of the target population. A proper collection method should be selected which will help obtain the desired information without overly limiting the collected data because many times, the information sought is not well compartmentalized or obtained. Finally, the design should ensure adequate methods for analyzing the data. An example may help better clarify some of the various aspects of qualitative research.

A researcher wants to decrease the number of teenagers who smoke in their community. The researcher could begin by asking current teen smokers why they started smoking through structured or unstructured interviews (qualitative research). The researcher can also get together a group of current teenage smokers and conduct a focus group to help brainstorm factors that may have prevented them from starting to smoke (qualitative research).

In this example, the researcher has used qualitative research methods (interviews and focus groups) to generate a list of ideas of both why teens start to smoke as well as factors that may have prevented them from starting to smoke. Next, the researcher compiles this data. The research found that, hypothetically, peer pressure, health issues, cost, being considered “cool,” and rebellious behavior all might increase or decrease the likelihood of teens starting to smoke.

The researcher creates a survey asking teen participants to rank how important each of the above factors is in either starting smoking (for current smokers) or not smoking (for current non-smokers). This survey provides specific numbers (ranked importance of each factor) and is thus a quantitative research tool.

The researcher can use the results of the survey to focus efforts on the one or two highest-ranked factors. Let us say the researcher found that health was the major factor that keeps teens from starting to smoke, and peer pressure was the major factor that contributed to teens to start smoking. The researcher can go back to qualitative research methods to dive deeper into each of these for more information. The researcher wants to focus on how to keep teens from starting to smoke, so they focus on the peer pressure aspect.

The researcher can conduct interviews and/or focus groups (qualitative research) about what types and forms of peer pressure are commonly encountered, where the peer pressure comes from, and where smoking first starts. The researcher hypothetically finds that peer pressure often occurs after school at the local teen hangouts, mostly the local park. The researcher also hypothetically finds that peer pressure comes from older, current smokers who provide the cigarettes.

The researcher could further explore this observation made at the local teen hangouts (qualitative research) and take notes regarding who is smoking, who is not, and what observable factors are at play for peer pressure of smoking. The researcher finds a local park where many local teenagers hang out and see that a shady, overgrown area of the park is where the smokers tend to hang out. The researcher notes the smoking teenagers buy their cigarettes from a local convenience store adjacent to the park where the clerk does not check identification before selling cigarettes. These observations fall under qualitative research.

If the researcher returns to the park and counts how many individuals smoke in each region of the park, this numerical data would be quantitative research. Based on the researcher's efforts thus far, they conclude that local teen smoking and teenagers who start to smoke may decrease if there are fewer overgrown areas of the park and the local convenience store does not sell cigarettes to underage individuals.

The researcher could try to have the parks department reassess the shady areas to make them less conducive to the smokers or identify how to limit the sales of cigarettes to underage individuals by the convenience store. The researcher would then cycle back to qualitative methods of asking at-risk population their perceptions of the changes, what factors are still at play, as well as quantitative research that includes teen smoking rates in the community, the incidence of new teen smokers, among others. [14] [15]

Qualitative research functions as a standalone research design or in combination with quantitative research to enhance our understanding of the world. Qualitative research uses techniques including structured and unstructured interviews, focus groups, and participant observation to not only help generate hypotheses which can be more rigorously tested with quantitative research but also to help researchers delve deeper into the quantitative research numbers, understand what they mean, and understand what the implications are.  Qualitative research provides researchers with a way to understand what is going on, especially when things are not easily categorized. [16]

  • Issues of Concern

As discussed in the sections above, quantitative and qualitative work differ in many different ways, including the criteria for evaluating them. There are four well-established criteria for evaluating quantitative data: internal validity, external validity, reliability, and objectivity. The correlating concepts in qualitative research are credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. [4] [11] The corresponding quantitative and qualitative concepts can be seen below, with the quantitative concept is on the left, and the qualitative concept is on the right:

  • Internal validity--- Credibility
  • External validity---Transferability
  • Reliability---Dependability
  • Objectivity---Confirmability

In conducting qualitative research, ensuring these concepts are satisfied and well thought out can mitigate potential issues from arising. For example, just as a researcher will ensure that their quantitative study is internally valid so should qualitative researchers ensure that their work has credibility.  

Indicators such as triangulation and peer examination can help evaluate the credibility of qualitative work.

  • Triangulation: Triangulation involves using multiple methods of data collection to increase the likelihood of getting a reliable and accurate result. In our above magic example, the result would be more reliable by also interviewing the magician, back-stage hand, and the person who "vanished." In qualitative research, triangulation can include using telephone surveys, in-person surveys, focus groups, and interviews as well as surveying an adequate cross-section of the target demographic.
  • Peer examination: Results can be reviewed by a peer to ensure the data is consistent with the findings.

‘Thick’ or ‘rich’ description can be used to evaluate the transferability of qualitative research whereas using an indicator such as an audit trail might help with evaluating the dependability and confirmability.

  • Thick or rich description is a detailed and thorough description of details, the setting, and quotes from participants in the research. [5] Thick descriptions will include a detailed explanation of how the study was carried out. Thick descriptions are detailed enough to allow readers to draw conclusions and interpret the data themselves, which can help with transferability and replicability.
  • Audit trail: An audit trail provides a documented set of steps of how the participants were selected and the data was collected. The original records of information should also be kept (e.g., surveys, notes, recordings).

One issue of concern that qualitative researchers should take into consideration is observation bias. Here are a few examples:

  • Hawthorne effect: The Hawthorne effect is the change in participant behavior when they know they are being observed. If a researcher was wanting to identify factors that contribute to employee theft and tells the employees they are going to watch them to see what factors affect employee theft, one would suspect employee behavior would change when they know they are being watched.
  • Observer-expectancy effect: Some participants change their behavior or responses to satisfy the researcher's desired effect. This happens in an unconscious manner for the participant so it is important to eliminate or limit transmitting the researcher's views.
  • Artificial scenario effect: Some qualitative research occurs in artificial scenarios and/or with preset goals. In such situations, the information may not be accurate because of the artificial nature of the scenario. The preset goals may limit the qualitative information obtained.
  • Clinical Significance

Qualitative research by itself or combined with quantitative research helps healthcare providers understand patients and the impact and challenges of the care they deliver. Qualitative research provides an opportunity to generate and refine hypotheses and delve deeper into the data generated by quantitative research. Qualitative research does not exist as an island apart from quantitative research, but as an integral part of research methods to be used for the understanding of the world around us. [17]

  • Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Qualitative research is important for all members of the health care team as all are affected by qualitative research. Qualitative research may help develop a theory or a model for health research that can be further explored by quantitative research.  Much of the qualitative research data acquisition is completed by numerous team members including social works, scientists, nurses, etc.  Within each area of the medical field, there is copious ongoing qualitative research including physician-patient interactions, nursing-patient interactions, patient-environment interactions, health care team function, patient information delivery, etc. 

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Disclosure: Steven Tenny declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Janelle Brannan declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Grace Brannan declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

This book is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ ), which permits others to distribute the work, provided that the article is not altered or used commercially. You are not required to obtain permission to distribute this article, provided that you credit the author and journal.

  • Cite this Page Tenny S, Brannan JM, Brannan GD. Qualitative Study. [Updated 2022 Sep 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.

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  • What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

Published on June 19, 2020 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.

Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research , which involves collecting and analyzing numerical data for statistical analysis.

Qualitative research is commonly used in the humanities and social sciences, in subjects such as anthropology, sociology, education, health sciences, history, etc.

  • How does social media shape body image in teenagers?
  • How do children and adults interpret healthy eating in the UK?
  • What factors influence employee retention in a large organization?
  • How is anxiety experienced around the world?
  • How can teachers integrate social issues into science curriculums?

Table of contents

Approaches to qualitative research, qualitative research methods, qualitative data analysis, advantages of qualitative research, disadvantages of qualitative research, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about qualitative research.

Qualitative research is used to understand how people experience the world. While there are many approaches to qualitative research, they tend to be flexible and focus on retaining rich meaning when interpreting data.

Common approaches include grounded theory, ethnography , action research , phenomenological research, and narrative research. They share some similarities, but emphasize different aims and perspectives.

Note that qualitative research is at risk for certain research biases including the Hawthorne effect , observer bias , recall bias , and social desirability bias . While not always totally avoidable, awareness of potential biases as you collect and analyze your data can prevent them from impacting your work too much.

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Each of the research approaches involve using one or more data collection methods . These are some of the most common qualitative methods:

  • Observations: recording what you have seen, heard, or encountered in detailed field notes.
  • Interviews:  personally asking people questions in one-on-one conversations.
  • Focus groups: asking questions and generating discussion among a group of people.
  • Surveys : distributing questionnaires with open-ended questions.
  • Secondary research: collecting existing data in the form of texts, images, audio or video recordings, etc.
  • You take field notes with observations and reflect on your own experiences of the company culture.
  • You distribute open-ended surveys to employees across all the company’s offices by email to find out if the culture varies across locations.
  • You conduct in-depth interviews with employees in your office to learn about their experiences and perspectives in greater detail.

Qualitative researchers often consider themselves “instruments” in research because all observations, interpretations and analyses are filtered through their own personal lens.

For this reason, when writing up your methodology for qualitative research, it’s important to reflect on your approach and to thoroughly explain the choices you made in collecting and analyzing the data.

Qualitative data can take the form of texts, photos, videos and audio. For example, you might be working with interview transcripts, survey responses, fieldnotes, or recordings from natural settings.

Most types of qualitative data analysis share the same five steps:

  • Prepare and organize your data. This may mean transcribing interviews or typing up fieldnotes.
  • Review and explore your data. Examine the data for patterns or repeated ideas that emerge.
  • Develop a data coding system. Based on your initial ideas, establish a set of codes that you can apply to categorize your data.
  • Assign codes to the data. For example, in qualitative survey analysis, this may mean going through each participant’s responses and tagging them with codes in a spreadsheet. As you go through your data, you can create new codes to add to your system if necessary.
  • Identify recurring themes. Link codes together into cohesive, overarching themes.

There are several specific approaches to analyzing qualitative data. Although these methods share similar processes, they emphasize different concepts.

Qualitative research often tries to preserve the voice and perspective of participants and can be adjusted as new research questions arise. Qualitative research is good for:

  • Flexibility

The data collection and analysis process can be adapted as new ideas or patterns emerge. They are not rigidly decided beforehand.

  • Natural settings

Data collection occurs in real-world contexts or in naturalistic ways.

  • Meaningful insights

Detailed descriptions of people’s experiences, feelings and perceptions can be used in designing, testing or improving systems or products.

  • Generation of new ideas

Open-ended responses mean that researchers can uncover novel problems or opportunities that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

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Researchers must consider practical and theoretical limitations in analyzing and interpreting their data. Qualitative research suffers from:

  • Unreliability

The real-world setting often makes qualitative research unreliable because of uncontrolled factors that affect the data.

  • Subjectivity

Due to the researcher’s primary role in analyzing and interpreting data, qualitative research cannot be replicated . The researcher decides what is important and what is irrelevant in data analysis, so interpretations of the same data can vary greatly.

  • Limited generalizability

Small samples are often used to gather detailed data about specific contexts. Despite rigorous analysis procedures, it is difficult to draw generalizable conclusions because the data may be biased and unrepresentative of the wider population .

  • Labor-intensive

Although software can be used to manage and record large amounts of text, data analysis often has to be checked or performed manually.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Chi square goodness of fit test
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

There are five common approaches to qualitative research :

  • Grounded theory involves collecting data in order to develop new theories.
  • Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a group or organization to understand its culture.
  • Narrative research involves interpreting stories to understand how people make sense of their experiences and perceptions.
  • Phenomenological research involves investigating phenomena through people’s lived experiences.
  • Action research links theory and practice in several cycles to drive innovative changes.

Data collection is the systematic process by which observations or measurements are gathered in research. It is used in many different contexts by academics, governments, businesses, and other organizations.

There are various approaches to qualitative data analysis , but they all share five steps in common:

  • Prepare and organize your data.
  • Review and explore your data.
  • Develop a data coding system.
  • Assign codes to the data.
  • Identify recurring themes.

The specifics of each step depend on the focus of the analysis. Some common approaches include textual analysis , thematic analysis , and discourse analysis .

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The word qualitative implies an emphasis on the qualities of entities and on processes and meanings that are not experimentally examined or measured [if measured at all] in terms of quantity, amount, intensity, or frequency. Qualitative researchers stress the socially constructed nature of reality, the intimate relationship between the researcher and what is studied, and the situational constraints that shape inquiry. Such researchers emphasize the value-laden nature of inquiry. They seek answers to questions that stress how social experience is created and given meaning. In contrast, quantitative studies emphasize the measurement and analysis of causal relationships between variables, not processes. Qualitative forms of inquiry are considered by many social and behavioral scientists to be as much a perspective on how to approach investigating a research problem as it is a method.

Denzin, Norman. K. and Yvonna S. Lincoln. “Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research.” In The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman. K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. 3 rd edition. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005), p. 10.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

Below are the three key elements that define a qualitative research study and the applied forms each take in the investigation of a research problem.

  • Naturalistic -- refers to studying real-world situations as they unfold naturally; non-manipulative and non-controlling; the researcher is open to whatever emerges [i.e., there is a lack of predetermined constraints on findings].
  • Emergent -- acceptance of adapting inquiry as understanding deepens and/or situations change; the researcher avoids rigid designs that eliminate responding to opportunities to pursue new paths of discovery as they emerge.
  • Purposeful -- cases for study [e.g., people, organizations, communities, cultures, events, critical incidences] are selected because they are “information rich” and illuminative. That is, they offer useful manifestations of the phenomenon of interest; sampling is aimed at insight about the phenomenon, not empirical generalization derived from a sample and applied to a population.

The Collection of Data

  • Data -- observations yield a detailed, "thick description" [in-depth understanding]; interviews capture direct quotations about people’s personal perspectives and lived experiences; often derived from carefully conducted case studies and review of material culture.
  • Personal experience and engagement -- researcher has direct contact with and gets close to the people, situation, and phenomenon under investigation; the researcher’s personal experiences and insights are an important part of the inquiry and critical to understanding the phenomenon.
  • Empathic neutrality -- an empathic stance in working with study respondents seeks vicarious understanding without judgment [neutrality] by showing openness, sensitivity, respect, awareness, and responsiveness; in observation, it means being fully present [mindfulness].
  • Dynamic systems -- there is attention to process; assumes change is ongoing, whether the focus is on an individual, an organization, a community, or an entire culture, therefore, the researcher is mindful of and attentive to system and situational dynamics.

The Analysis

  • Unique case orientation -- assumes that each case is special and unique; the first level of analysis is being true to, respecting, and capturing the details of the individual cases being studied; cross-case analysis follows from and depends upon the quality of individual case studies.
  • Inductive analysis -- immersion in the details and specifics of the data to discover important patterns, themes, and inter-relationships; begins by exploring, then confirming findings, guided by analytical principles rather than rules.
  • Holistic perspective -- the whole phenomenon under study is understood as a complex system that is more than the sum of its parts; the focus is on complex interdependencies and system dynamics that cannot be reduced in any meaningful way to linear, cause and effect relationships and/or a few discrete variables.
  • Context sensitive -- places findings in a social, historical, and temporal context; researcher is careful about [even dubious of] the possibility or meaningfulness of generalizations across time and space; emphasizes careful comparative case study analysis and extrapolating patterns for possible transferability and adaptation in new settings.
  • Voice, perspective, and reflexivity -- the qualitative methodologist owns and is reflective about her or his own voice and perspective; a credible voice conveys authenticity and trustworthiness; complete objectivity being impossible and pure subjectivity undermining credibility, the researcher's focus reflects a balance between understanding and depicting the world authentically in all its complexity and of being self-analytical, politically aware, and reflexive in consciousness.

Berg, Bruce Lawrence. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences . 8th edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2012; Denzin, Norman. K. and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Handbook of Qualitative Research . 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000; Marshall, Catherine and Gretchen B. Rossman. Designing Qualitative Research . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Basic Research Design for Qualitative Studies

Unlike positivist or experimental research that utilizes a linear and one-directional sequence of design steps, there is considerable variation in how a qualitative research study is organized. In general, qualitative researchers attempt to describe and interpret human behavior based primarily on the words of selected individuals [a.k.a., “informants” or “respondents”] and/or through the interpretation of their material culture or occupied space. There is a reflexive process underpinning every stage of a qualitative study to ensure that researcher biases, presuppositions, and interpretations are clearly evident, thus ensuring that the reader is better able to interpret the overall validity of the research. According to Maxwell (2009), there are five, not necessarily ordered or sequential, components in qualitative research designs. How they are presented depends upon the research philosophy and theoretical framework of the study, the methods chosen, and the general assumptions underpinning the study. Goals Describe the central research problem being addressed but avoid describing any anticipated outcomes. Questions to ask yourself are: Why is your study worth doing? What issues do you want to clarify, and what practices and policies do you want it to influence? Why do you want to conduct this study, and why should the reader care about the results? Conceptual Framework Questions to ask yourself are: What do you think is going on with the issues, settings, or people you plan to study? What theories, beliefs, and prior research findings will guide or inform your research, and what literature, preliminary studies, and personal experiences will you draw upon for understanding the people or issues you are studying? Note to not only report the results of other studies in your review of the literature, but note the methods used as well. If appropriate, describe why earlier studies using quantitative methods were inadequate in addressing the research problem. Research Questions Usually there is a research problem that frames your qualitative study and that influences your decision about what methods to use, but qualitative designs generally lack an accompanying hypothesis or set of assumptions because the findings are emergent and unpredictable. In this context, more specific research questions are generally the result of an interactive design process rather than the starting point for that process. Questions to ask yourself are: What do you specifically want to learn or understand by conducting this study? What do you not know about the things you are studying that you want to learn? What questions will your research attempt to answer, and how are these questions related to one another? Methods Structured approaches to applying a method or methods to your study help to ensure that there is comparability of data across sources and researchers and, thus, they can be useful in answering questions that deal with differences between phenomena and the explanation for these differences [variance questions]. An unstructured approach allows the researcher to focus on the particular phenomena studied. This facilitates an understanding of the processes that led to specific outcomes, trading generalizability and comparability for internal validity and contextual and evaluative understanding. Questions to ask yourself are: What will you actually do in conducting this study? What approaches and techniques will you use to collect and analyze your data, and how do these constitute an integrated strategy? Validity In contrast to quantitative studies where the goal is to design, in advance, “controls” such as formal comparisons, sampling strategies, or statistical manipulations to address anticipated and unanticipated threats to validity, qualitative researchers must attempt to rule out most threats to validity after the research has begun by relying on evidence collected during the research process itself in order to effectively argue that any alternative explanations for a phenomenon are implausible. Questions to ask yourself are: How might your results and conclusions be wrong? What are the plausible alternative interpretations and validity threats to these, and how will you deal with these? How can the data that you have, or that you could potentially collect, support or challenge your ideas about what’s going on? Why should we believe your results? Conclusion Although Maxwell does not mention a conclusion as one of the components of a qualitative research design, you should formally conclude your study. Briefly reiterate the goals of your study and the ways in which your research addressed them. Discuss the benefits of your study and how stakeholders can use your results. Also, note the limitations of your study and, if appropriate, place them in the context of areas in need of further research.

Chenail, Ronald J. Introduction to Qualitative Research Design. Nova Southeastern University; Heath, A. W. The Proposal in Qualitative Research. The Qualitative Report 3 (March 1997); Marshall, Catherine and Gretchen B. Rossman. Designing Qualitative Research . 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1999; Maxwell, Joseph A. "Designing a Qualitative Study." In The SAGE Handbook of Applied Social Research Methods . Leonard Bickman and Debra J. Rog, eds. 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009), p. 214-253; Qualitative Research Methods. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Yin, Robert K. Qualitative Research from Start to Finish . 2nd edition. New York: Guilford, 2015.

Strengths of Using Qualitative Methods

The advantage of using qualitative methods is that they generate rich, detailed data that leave the participants' perspectives intact and provide multiple contexts for understanding the phenomenon under study. In this way, qualitative research can be used to vividly demonstrate phenomena or to conduct cross-case comparisons and analysis of individuals or groups.

Among the specific strengths of using qualitative methods to study social science research problems is the ability to:

  • Obtain a more realistic view of the lived world that cannot be understood or experienced in numerical data and statistical analysis;
  • Provide the researcher with the perspective of the participants of the study through immersion in a culture or situation and as a result of direct interaction with them;
  • Allow the researcher to describe existing phenomena and current situations;
  • Develop flexible ways to perform data collection, subsequent analysis, and interpretation of collected information;
  • Yield results that can be helpful in pioneering new ways of understanding;
  • Respond to changes that occur while conducting the study ]e.g., extended fieldwork or observation] and offer the flexibility to shift the focus of the research as a result;
  • Provide a holistic view of the phenomena under investigation;
  • Respond to local situations, conditions, and needs of participants;
  • Interact with the research subjects in their own language and on their own terms; and,
  • Create a descriptive capability based on primary and unstructured data.

Anderson, Claire. “Presenting and Evaluating Qualitative Research.” American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 74 (2010): 1-7; Denzin, Norman. K. and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Handbook of Qualitative Research . 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Limitations of Using Qualitative Methods

It is very much true that most of the limitations you find in using qualitative research techniques also reflect their inherent strengths . For example, small sample sizes help you investigate research problems in a comprehensive and in-depth manner. However, small sample sizes undermine opportunities to draw useful generalizations from, or to make broad policy recommendations based upon, the findings. Additionally, as the primary instrument of investigation, qualitative researchers are often embedded in the cultures and experiences of others. However, cultural embeddedness increases the opportunity for bias generated from conscious or unconscious assumptions about the study setting to enter into how data is gathered, interpreted, and reported.

Some specific limitations associated with using qualitative methods to study research problems in the social sciences include the following:

  • Drifting away from the original objectives of the study in response to the changing nature of the context under which the research is conducted;
  • Arriving at different conclusions based on the same information depending on the personal characteristics of the researcher;
  • Replication of a study is very difficult;
  • Research using human subjects increases the chance of ethical dilemmas that undermine the overall validity of the study;
  • An inability to investigate causality between different research phenomena;
  • Difficulty in explaining differences in the quality and quantity of information obtained from different respondents and arriving at different, non-consistent conclusions;
  • Data gathering and analysis is often time consuming and/or expensive;
  • Requires a high level of experience from the researcher to obtain the targeted information from the respondent;
  • May lack consistency and reliability because the researcher can employ different probing techniques and the respondent can choose to tell some particular stories and ignore others; and,
  • Generation of a significant amount of data that cannot be randomized into manageable parts for analysis.

Research Tip

Human Subject Research and Institutional Review Board Approval

Almost every socio-behavioral study requires you to submit your proposed research plan to an Institutional Review Board. The role of the Board is to evaluate your research proposal and determine whether it will be conducted ethically and under the regulations, institutional polices, and Code of Ethics set forth by the university. The purpose of the review is to protect the rights and welfare of individuals participating in your study. The review is intended to ensure equitable selection of respondents, that you have met the requirements for obtaining informed consent , that there is clear assessment and minimization of risks to participants and to the university [read: no lawsuits!], and that privacy and confidentiality are maintained throughout the research process and beyond. Go to the USC IRB website for detailed information and templates of forms you need to submit before you can proceed. If you are  unsure whether your study is subject to IRB review, consult with your professor or academic advisor.

Chenail, Ronald J. Introduction to Qualitative Research Design. Nova Southeastern University; Labaree, Robert V. "Working Successfully with Your Institutional Review Board: Practical Advice for Academic Librarians." College and Research Libraries News 71 (April 2010): 190-193.

Another Research Tip

Finding Examples of How to Apply Different Types of Research Methods

SAGE publications is a major publisher of studies about how to design and conduct research in the social and behavioral sciences. Their SAGE Research Methods Online and Cases database includes contents from books, articles, encyclopedias, handbooks, and videos covering social science research design and methods including the complete Little Green Book Series of Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences and the Little Blue Book Series of Qualitative Research techniques. The database also includes case studies outlining the research methods used in real research projects. This is an excellent source for finding definitions of key terms and descriptions of research design and practice, techniques of data gathering, analysis, and reporting, and information about theories of research [e.g., grounded theory]. The database covers both qualitative and quantitative research methods as well as mixed methods approaches to conducting research.

SAGE Research Methods Online and Cases

NOTE :  For a list of online communities, research centers, indispensable learning resources, and personal websites of leading qualitative researchers, GO HERE .

For a list of scholarly journals devoted to the study and application of qualitative research methods, GO HERE .

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Navigating the qualitative manuscript writing process: some tips for authors and reviewers

  • Chris Roberts   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8613-682X 1 ,
  • Koshila Kumar   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8504-1052 2 &
  • Gabrielle Finn   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0419-694X 3  

BMC Medical Education volume  20 , Article number:  439 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Qualitative research explores the ‘black box’ of how phenomena are constituted. Such research can provide rich and diverse insights about social practices and individual experiences across the continuum of undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education, sectors and contexts. Qualitative research can yield unique data that can complement the numbers generated in quantitative research, [ 1 ] by answering “how” and “why” research questions. As you will notice in this paper, qualitative research is underpinned by specific philosophical assumptions, quality criteria and has a lexicon or a language specific to it.

A simple search of BMC Medical Education suggests that there are over 800 papers that employ qualitative methods either on their own or as part of a mixed methods study to evaluate various phenomena. This represents a considerable investment in time and effort for both researchers and reviewers. This paper is aimed at maximising this investment by helping early career researchers (ECRs) and reviewers new to the qualitative research field become familiar with quality criteria in qualitative research and how these can be applied in the qualitative manuscript writing process. Fortunately, there are numerous guidelines for both authors and for reviewers of qualitative research, including practical “how to” checklists [ 2 , 3 ]. These checklists can be valuable tools to confirm the essential elements of a qualitative study for early career researchers (ECRs). Our advice in this article is not intended to replace such “how to” guidance. Rather, the suggestions we make are intended to help ECRs increase their likelihood of getting published and reviewers to make informed decisions about the quality of qualitative research being submitted for publication in BMC Medical Education. Our advice is themed around long-established criteria for the quality of qualitative research developed by Lincoln and Guba [ 4 ]. (see Table  1 ) Each quality criterion outlined in Table 1 is further expanded in Table  2 in the form of several practical steps pertinent to the process of writing up qualitative research.

As a general starting point, the early career writer is advised to consult previously published qualitative papers in the journal to identify the genre (style) and relative emphasis of different components of the research paper. Patton [ 5 ] advises researchers to “FOCUS! FOCUS! FOCUS!” in deciding which components to include in the paper, highlighting the need to exclude side topics that add little to the narrative and reduce the cognitive load for readers and reviewers alike. Authors are also advised to do significant re-writing, rephrasing, re-ordering of initial drafts, to remove faulty grammar, and addresses stylistic and structural problems [ 6 ]. They should be mindful of “the golden thread,” that is their central argument that holds together the literature review, the theoretical and conceptual framework, the research questions, methodology, the analysis and organisation of the data and the conclusions. Getting a draft reviewed by someone outside of the research/writing team is one practical strategy to ensure the manuscript is well presented and relates to the plausibility element.

The introduction of a qualitative paper can be seen as beginning a conversation. Lingard advises that in this conversation, authors need to persuade the reader and reviewer of the strength, originality and contributions of their work [ 7 ]. In constructing a persuasive rationale, ECRs need to clearly distinguish between the qualitative research phenomenon (i.e. the broad research issue or concept under investigation) and the research context (i.e. the local setting or situation) [ 5 ]. The introduction section needs to culminate in a qualitative research question/s. It is important that ECRs are aware that qualitative research questions need to be fine-tuned from their original state to reflect gaps in the literature review, the researcher/s’ philosophical stance, the theory used, or unexpected findings [ 8 ]. This links to the elements of plausibility and consistency outlined in Table 1 .

Also, in the introduction of a qualitative paper, ECRs need to explain the multiple “lenses” through which they have considered complex social phenomena; including the underpinning research paradigm and theory. A research paradigm reveals the researcher/s’ values and assumptions about research and relates to axiology (what do you value?), ontology (what is out there to know?) epistemology (what and how can you know it?), and methodology (how do you go about acquiring that knowledge?) [ 9 ] ECRs are advised to explicitly state their research paradigm and its underpinning assumptions. For example, Ommering et al., state “We established our research within an interpretivist paradigm, emphasizing the subjective nature in understanding human experiences and creation of reality.” [ 10 ] Theory refers to a set of concepts or a conceptual framework that helps the writer to move beyond description to ‘explaining, predicting, or prescribing responses, events, situations, conditions, or relationships.’ [ 11 ] Theory can provide comprehensive understandings at multiple levels, including: the macro or grand level of how societies work, the mid-range level of how organisations operate; and the micro level of how people interact [ 12 ]. Qualitative studies can involve theory application or theory development [ 5 ]. ECRs are advised to briefly summarise their theoretical lens and identify what it means to consider the research phenomenon, process, or concept being studied with that specific lens. For example, Kumar and Greenhill explain how the lens of workplace affordances enabled their paper to draw “attention to the contextual, personal and interactional factors that impact on how clinical educators integrate their educational knowledge and skills into the practice setting, and undertake their educational role.” [ 13 ] Ensuring that the elements of theory and research paradigm are explicit and aligned, enhances plausibility, consistency and transparency of qualitative research. The use of theory can also add to the currency of research by enabling a new lens to be cast on a research phenomenon, process, or concept and reveal something previously unknown or surprising.

Moving to the methods, methodology is a general approach to studying a research topic and establishes how one will go about studying any phenomenon. In contrast, methods are specific research techniques and in qualitative research, data collection methods might include observation or interviewing, or photo elicitation methods, while data analysis methods may include content analysis, narrative analysis, or discourse analysis to mention a few [ 8 ]. ECRs will need to ensure the philosophical assumptions, methodology and methods follow from the introduction of a manuscript and the research question/s, [ 3 ] and this enhances the consistency and transparency elements. Moreover, triangulation or the combining of multiple observers, theories, methods, and data sources, is vital to overcome the limitation of singular methods, lone analysts, and single-perspective theories or models [ 8 ]. ECRs should report on not only what was triangulated but also how it was performed, thereby enhancing the elements of plausibility and consistency. For example, Touchie et al., describe using three researchers, three different focus groups, and representation of three different participant cohorts to ensure triangulation [ 14 ]. When it comes to the analysis of qualitative data, ECRs may claim they have used a specific methodological approach (e.g. interpretative phenomenological approach or a grounded theory approach) whereas the analytical steps are more congruent with a more generalist approach, such as thematic analysis [ 15 ]. ECRs are advised that such methodological approaches are founded on a number of philosophical considerations which need to inform the framing and conduct of a study, not just the analysis process. Alignment between the methodology and the methods informs the consistency, transparency and plausibility elements.

Comprehensively describing the research context in a way that is understandable to an international audience helps to illuminate the specific ‘laboratory’ for the research, and how the processes applied or insights generated in this ‘laboratory’ can be adapted or translated to other contexts. This addresses the relevancy element. To further enhance plausibility and relevance, ECRs should situate their work clearly on the evaluation–research continuum. Although not a strictly qualitative research consideration, evaluation focuses mostly on understanding how specific local practices may have resulted in specific outcomes for learners. While evaluation is vital for quality assurance and improvement, research has a broader and strategic focus and rates more highly against the currency and relevancy criteria. ECRs are more likely to undertake evaluation studies aimed at demonstrating the impact and outcomes of an educational intervention in their local setting, consistent with level one of Kirkpatrick’s criteria [ 16 ]. For example, Palmer and colleagues explain that they aimed to “develop and evaluate a continuing medical education (CME) course aimed at improving healthcare provider knowledge” [ 17 ]. To be competitive for publication, evaluation studies need to (measure and) report on at least level two and above of Kirkpatrick’s criteria. Learning how to problematise and frame the investigation of a problem arising from practice as research, provides ECRs with an opportunity to adopt a more critical and scholarly stance.

Also, in the methods, ECRs may provide detail about the study context and participants but little in the way of personal reflexive statements. Unlike quantitative research which claims that knowledge is objective and seeks to remove subjective influences, qualitative research recognises that subjectivity is inherent and that the researcher is directly involved in interpreting and constructing meanings [ 8 ]. For example, Bindels and colleagues provide a clear and concise description about their own backgrounds making their ‘lens’ explicit and enabling the reader to understand the multiple perspectives that have informed their research process [ 18 ]. Therefore, a clear description of the researcher/s position and relationship to the research phenomenon, context and participants, is vital for transparency, relevance and plausibility. We three are all experienced qualitative researchers, writers, reviewers and are associate editors for BMC Medical Education. We are situated in this research landscape as consumers, architects, and arbiters and we engage in these roles in collaboration with others. This provides a useful vantage point from which to provide commentary on key elements which can cause frustration for would-be authors and reviewers of qualitative research papers [ 19 ].

In the discussion of a qualitative paper, ECRs are encouraged to make detailed comments about the contributions of their research and whether these reinforce, extend, or challenge existing understandings based on an analysis that is theoretically or socially significant [ 20 ]. As an example, Barratt et al., found important data to inform the training of medical interns in the use of personal protective equipment during the COVID 19 pandemic [ 21 ]. ECRs are also expected to address the “so what” question which relates to the the consequence of findings for policy, practice and theory. Authors will need to explicitly outline the practical, theoretical or methodological implications of the study findings in a way that is actionable, thereby enhancing relevance and plausibility. For example, Burgess et al., presented their discussion according to four themes and outlined associated implications for individuals and institutions [ 22 ]. A balanced view of the research can be presented by ensuring there is congruence between the data and the claims made and searching the data and/or literature for evidence that disconfirms the findings. ECRs will also need to put forward the sources of uncertainty (rather than limitations) in their research and argue what these may mean for the interpretations made and how the contributions to knowledge could be adopted by others in different contexts [ 23 ]. This links to the plausibility and transparency elements.

In conclusion

Qualitative research is underpinned by specific philosophical assumptions, quality criteria and a lexicon, which ECRs and reviewers need to be mindful of as they navigate the qualitative manuscript writing and reviewing processes. We hope that the guidance provided here is helpful for ECRs in preparing submissions and for reviewers in making informed decisions and providing quality feedback.

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Qualitative Studies

Phillips-Wangensteen Building.

Qualitative Research Studies: Introduction

Introduction

Research design decides how research materials will be collected. One or more research methods, for example -- experiment, survey, interview, etc. -- are chosen depending on the research objectives. In some research contexts, a survey may be suitable. In other instances, interviews or case studies or observation might be more appropriate. Research design actually provides insights into “how” to conduct research using a particular research methodology. Basically, every researcher has a list of research questions that need to be assessed that can be done with research design.

So research design can be defined as a framework of research methods and techniques applied by a researcher to incorporate different elements & components of research in a systematic manner. Most significantly, research design provides insights into how to Conduct Research using a particular research methodology. 

Qualitative Methods try to gather detailed, rich data allowing for an in-depth understanding of research phenomena.  Seeks the “why” rather than the “how.”

Qualitative Data Collection

Data obtained using qualitative data collection methods can be used to find new ideas, opportunities, and problems, test their value and accuracy, formulate predictions, explore a certain field in more detail, and explain the numbers obtained using quantitative data collection techniques.

Since qualitative data collection methods usually do not involve numbers and mathematical calculations, qualitative data is often seen as more subjective, but at the same time, it allows a greater depth of understanding.

Aspers, P., Corte, U. What is Qualitative in Qualitative Research .  Qual Sociol   42 , 139–160 (2019). 

Types of Qualitative Studies

Qualitative study methods are semi-structured or unstructured, usually involve small sample sizes and lack strong scientific controls.

Qualitative Study Methods

Qualitative study methods employ many of the same methods as quantitative data collection, except that instead of structured or closed, they are semi- or unstructured and open-ended.  Some of the most common qualitative  study techniques include open-ended surveys and questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, observation, case studies, and so on.

There is generally five types of qualitative data collection:

  • Ethnography research: Involves semi-structure or unstructured interviews with open-ended questions; participant and non-participant observation; collected materials including documents, books, papers, audio, images, videos etc.
  • Phenomenological research : I n-depth interviewing which involves conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives on a particular idea, program, or situation.  The participant interviews may be structured, semi-structured or unstructured; it also includes reflective journals; written oral self-reports; and participant’s aesthetic expressions.
  • Grounded theory research: Data collection methods often include in-depth interviews using open-ended questions. Questions can be adjusted as theory emerges. Participant observation and focus groups may also be used as well as collecting and studying …  including documents, books, papers, audio, images, artifacts; videos etc. used by participants in their daily lives.
  • Narrative: Participant or non-participant interview, aesthetic expressions; one’s own and other’s observation; storytelling; letter writing; autobiographic writing; collected materials …..; personal information such as values. Narrative analysis focuses on different elements to make diverse but equally substantial and meaningful interpretations and conclusions. It is a genre of analytical frames used by researchers to interpret information with the context of research shared by all in daily life. 
  • Case study : Focus groups; semi-structured or unstructured interviews with open-ended questions; participant and non-participant observation; collected materials

Nayar, S., & Stanley, D. M. (Eds.). (2015).  Qualitative research methodologies for occupational science and therapy . London: Routledge.

Frank, G., & Polkinghorne, D. (2010). Qualitative Research in Occupational Therapy: From the First to the Second Generation . OTJR (Thorofare, N.J.), 30(2), 51-57.

How To Search for Qualitative Studies

Databases categorize their records using subject terms or controlled vocabularies. These Subject Headings vary for each database.

Medline/PubMed : MeSH Subject Headings

  • Qualitative Research : Any type of research that employs nonnumeric information to explore individual or group characteristics, producing findings not arrived at by statistical procedures or other quantitative means.  Includes Document Analysis & Hermaneutics.
  • Interviews as Topic:  Works about conversations with an individual or individuals held in order to obtain information about their background and other personal biographical data, their attitudes and opinions, etc. It includes works about school admission or job interviews.
  • Focus Groups : A method of data collection and a QUALITATIVE RESEARCH tool in which a small group of individuals are brought together and allowed to interact in a discussion of their opinions about topics, issues, or questions.
  • Grounded Theory : The generation of theories from analysis of empirical data.
  • Nursing Methodology Research :  Research carried out by nurses concerning techniques and methods to implement projects and to document information, including methods of interviewing patients, collecting data, and forming inferences. The concept includes exploration of methodological issues such as human subjectivity and human experience.
  • Anecdotes As Topic : Works about brief accounts or narratives of an incident or event.
  • Narration : The act, process, or an instance of narrating, i.e., telling a story. In the context of MEDICINE or ETHICS, narration includes relating the particular and the personal in the life story of an individual.
  • Personal Narratives As Topic:  Works about accounts of individual experience in relation to a particular field or of participation in related activities.
  • Observational Studies As Topic : Works about clinical studies in which participants may receive diagnostic, therapeutic, or other types of interventions, but the investigator does not assign participants to specific interventions (as in an interventional study).

CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health) : CINAHL Subject Headings 

  • Action Research: Research in which problem definition, data collection, factor formulation, planned change, data analysis, and problem redefinition continue in an ongoing cycle.
  • Ethnographic Research: Research which seeks to uncover the symbols and categories that members of a given culture use to interpret their world.
  • Ethnological Research: Comparison and contrasting of cultures and societies as a whole.
  • Ethnonursing Research: The study and analysis of a designated culture's viewpoints, beliefs, and practices about nursing care behavior.
  • Grounded Theory: A qualitative method developed by Glaser and Strauss to unite theory construction and data analysis.
  • Naturalist Inquiry: The use of the natural setting in research to enable understanding the whole rather than only part of the reality being studied.
  • Phenomenological Research: Research designed to discover and understand the meaning of human life experiences.
  • Focus Groups : Small groups of individuals brought together to discuss their opinions regarding specific issues, topics, and questions.
  • Interviews:  Face-to-face or telephone meetings with subjects for the purpose of gathering information.
  • Narratives : Descriptions or interpretations of events, usually in an informal manner. Often used as a data collection method for research. Do not confuse with STORYTELLING, a form of literature or telling a real or imagined story to an audience or listener.
  • Descriptive Research : Research studies that have as their main objective the accurate portrayal of the characteristics of persons, situations, or groups, and the frequency with which certain phenomena occur.
  • Observational Methods:  Methods of data collection in which the investigator witnesses and records behaviors of interest.
  • Projective Techniques : A variety of methods for measuring by providing respondents with unstructured stimuli to which to respond.

In CINHAL, on the Advanced Search page, there are Search Options.  Scroll down to the Clinical Queries drop down box and choose to limit the search to  Qualitative-High Sensitivity; Qualitative-High Specificity ; Qualitative-Best Balance . High Sensitivity is the broadest search, to include ALL relevant material, but may also include less relevant materials. High Specificity is the most targeted search to include only the most relevant result set, but may miss some relevant materials. Best Balance retrieves the best balance between Sensitivity and Specificity.

PsycINFO: Subject Headings

  • Grounded Theory
  • Narrative Analysis
  • Thematic Analysis : A qualitative research strategy for identifying, analyzing, and reporting identifiable patterns or clusters within data.
  • Focus Grou p
  • Focus Group Interview
  • Semi-Structured Interview
  • Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis : A systematic qualitative approach in which a researcher explores how individual's make sense of particular experiences, events, and states, primarily through the analysis of data from structured and semi-structured interviews.
  • Qualitative Measures : Measures or tests employing qualitative methods and/or data, such as narratives, interviews, and focus groups.

As with CINAHL, you can limit to Methodology.  Click on Additional Limits, scroll down to "Methodology" and choose "Qualitative Study", "Focus Groups" or "Interview".

NOTE!: Be aware of  Inconsistent indexing. The above subject headings as not always indexed (i.e. added to articles) for qualitative research nor is the publication type/methodology.  So, to successfully find qualitative articles you also need to add keywords to your search strategy or if you are getting too few results, leave off the Clinical Queries or Methodology filters.

Free text keywords

Use selective free text keywords to search in Titles, Abstracts or Keywords of records held in the databases to identify Qualitative Research.  Examples:

When searching, do a combination of subject terms and keywords depending on the type of qualitative study you are looking for:

Qualitative Research [MeSH] OR (qualitative AND (research OR study OR method))

(Grounded Theory[MeSH] OR "grounded theory")

then combine it with your topic of interest

post-traumatic stress disorder OR PTSD

brain injury, OR BTI OR "traumatic, brain injury"

How to Critically Analyze Qualitative Studies

 A critical analysis of a qualitative study considers the “fit” of the research question with the qualitative method used in the study. There are many checklists available for the assessment of qualitative research studies.  Here are a few:

  • The Johanna Briggs Institute: The Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal tools  for use in JBI Systematic Reviews Checklist for  Qualitative Research  
  • CASP:  CASP Checklist: 10 questions to help you make sense of a Qualitative research
  • McMaster University:  Guidelines for Critical Review Form:  Qualitative Studies (Version 2.0) © Letts, L., Wilkins, S., Law, M., Stewart, D., Bosch, J., & Westmorland, M., 2007  

NOTE:  When using these checklists, be sure to use them critically and with careful consideration of the research context.  In other words, use the checklists as the beginning point in assessing the article and then re-assess the article based on whether the findings can be applied in your setting/population/disease/condition.

Additional Resources

Moorley, C., & Cathala, X. (2019). How to appraise qualitative research .  Evidence-Based Nursing ,  22 (1), 10-13.    ( open access)

Stenfors, T., Kajamaa, A. and Bennett, D. (2020), How to … assess the quality of qualitative research . Clin Teach, 17: 596-599.

Greenhalgh, T., & Taylor, R. (1997). How to read a paper: Papers that go beyond numbers (qualitative research).   BMj ,  315 (7110), 740-743. 

Jeanfreau, S. G., & Jack, L., Jr (2010). Appraising qualitative research in health education: guidelines for public health educators.   Health promotion practice ,  11 (5), 612–617. 

Research Series - Critical appraisal of qualitative research when reading papers Jul 22, 2022 Virtual Tutor; Research Series (Elsevier Health Education) YouTube Video 10:04 min [ This episode Professor Dall'Ora will be looking at qualitative research in more detail. In particular how to critically appraise qualitative studies.]

Hanes K. Chapter 4: Critical appraisal of qualitative research. In: Noyes J, Booth A, Hannes K, Harden A, Harris J, Lewin S, Lockwood C (editors), Supplementary Guidance for Inclusion of Qualitative Research in Cochrane Systematic Reviews of Interventions. Version 1 (updated August 2011). Cochrane Collaboration Qualitative Methods Group, 2011. 

David Tod, Andrew Booth & Brett Smith (2022)  Critical appraisal ,  International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 15:1, 52-72  (open access)

Validity & Reliability in Qualitative Studies

Validity & Reliability

Validity in qualitative research means the “appropriateness” of the tools, processes, and data -- are the tools, processes and data measuring what it is intended to measure to answer the research question?  Assessing for validity is looking to see if the research question is "valid" for the desired outcome -- whether the choice of of the methodology used was appropriate for answering the research question, was the study design valid for the methodology, were the appropriate sampling and data analysis used and finally, were the results and conclusions valid for the sample and within the context of the research question. 

In contrast, reliability concerns the degree of consistency in the results if the study, using the same methodology, can be repeated over and over.

The Basics of Validity and Reliability in Research by Joe O'Brian & Anders Orn, Research Collective.com

Brewer, M., & Crano, W. (2014). Research Design and Issues of Validity. In H. Reis & C. Judd (Eds.),  Handbook of Research Methods in Social and Personality Psychology  (pp. 11-26). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Golafshani, N. (2003). Understanding Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research.   The Qualitative Report ,  8 (4), 597-606. 

Cypress, Brigitte S. EdD, RN, CCRN. Rigor or Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research: Perspectives, Strategies, Reconceptualization, and Recommendations . Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing 36(4):p 253-263, 7/8 2017. 

Leung L. (2015). Validity, reliability, and generalizability in qualitative research .  Journal of family medicine and primary care ,  4 (3), 324–327. 

Understanding Reliability and Validity . Writing@CSU

Rosumeck, S., Wagner, M., Wallraf, S., & Euler, U. (2020). A validation study revealed differences in design and performance of search filters for qualitative research in PsycINFO and CINAHL.   Journal of clinical epidemiology ,  128 , 101–108. 

Wagner, M., Rosumeck, S., Küffmeier, C., Döring, K., & Euler, U. (2020). A validation study revealed differences in design and performance of MEDLINE search filters for qualitative research .  Journal of clinical epidemiology ,  120 , 17–24.

Franzel, B., Schwiegershausen, M., Heusser, P.  et al.   How to locate and appraise qualitative research in complementary and alternative medicine.   BMC Complement Altern Med   13 , 125 (2013). 

Finfgeld-Connett, D. and Johnson, E.D. (2013), Literature search strategies for conducting knowledge-building and theory-generating qualitative systematic reviews. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 69: 194-204. 

Rogers, M, Bethel, A, Abbott, R.  Locating qualitative studies in dementia on MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and PsycINFO: A comparison of search strategies.   Res Syn Meth . 2018; 9: 579– 586. 

Booth, A. Searching for qualitative research for inclusion in systematic reviews: a structured methodological review .  Syst Rev   5 , 74 (2016). 

Noyes, J., Hannes, K., Booth, A., Harris, J., Harden, A., Popay, J., ... & Pantoja, T. (2015). Qualitative research and Cochrane reviews .

Citing Sources

Citations are brief notations in the body of a research paper that point to a source in the bibliography or references cited section.

If your paper quotes, paraphrases, summarizes the work of someone else, you need to use citations.

Citation style guides such as APA, Chicago and MLA provide detailed instructions on how citations and bibliographies should be formatted.

Health Sciences Research Toolkit

Resources, tips, and guidelines to help you through the research process., finding information.

Library Research Checklist Helpful hints for starting a library research project.

Search Strategy Checklist and Tips Helpful tips on how to develop a literature search strategy.

Boolean Operators: A Cheat Sheet Boolean logic (named after mathematician George Boole) is a system of logic to designed to yield optimal search results. The Boolean operators, AND, OR, and NOT, help you construct a logical search. Boolean operators act on sets -- groups of records containing a particular word or concept.

Literature Searching Overview and tips on how to conduct a literature search.

Health Statistics and Data Sources Health related statistics and data sources are increasingly available on the Internet. They can be found already neatly packaged, or as raw data sets. The most reliable data comes from governmental sources or health-care professional organizations.

Evaluating Information

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources in the Health Sciences Understand what are considered primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

Scholarly vs Popular Journals/Magazines How to determine what are scholarly journals vs trade or popular magazines.

Identifying Peer-Reviewed Journals A “peer-reviewed” or “refereed” journal is one in which the articles it contains have been examined by people with credentials in the article’s field of study before it is published.

Evaluating Web  Resources When searching for information on the Internet, it is important to be aware of the quality of the information being presented to you. Keep in mind that anyone can host a web site. To be sure that the information you are looking at is credible and of value.

Conducting Research Through An Anti-Racism Lens This guide is for students, staff, and faculty who are incorporating an anti-racist lens at all stages of the research life cycle.

Understanding Research Study Designs Covers case studies, randomized control trials, systematic reviews and meta-analysis.

Qualitative Studies Overview of what is a qualitative study and how to recognize, find and critically appraise.

Writing and Publishing

Citing Sources Citations are brief notations in the body of a research paper that point to a source in the bibliography or references cited section.

Structure of a Research Paper Reports of research studies usually follow the IMRAD format. IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results, [and] Discussion) is a mnemonic for the major components of a scientific paper. These elements are included in the overall structure of a research paper.

Top Reasons for Non-Acceptance of Scientific Articles Avoid these mistakes when preparing an article for publication.

Annotated Bibliographies Guide on how to create an annotated bibliography.

Writing guides, Style Manuals and the Publication Process in the Biological and Health Sciences Style manuals, citation guides as well as information on public access policies, copyright and plagiarism.

Research Paper Guide

Qualitative Research Method

Nova A.

Qualitative Research - Methods, Types, and Examples

16 min read

Published on: Dec 25, 2017

Last updated on: Jan 11, 2024

Qualitative research

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There are various methods for conducting scientific research. The two broad approaches to data collection include qualitative and quantitative research methods. 

However, it is not easy to decide which one to choose while writing a research paper .

If you know the basic difference between both methods, you will produce a well-written and structured paper. 

In this blog, we have explored what is qualitative research, its nature, purpose, and methods of data collection. By reading this, students can gain a good understanding of qualitative research, enhancing their ability to conduct in-depth studies. 

So keep reading!

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What is Qualitative Research - Definition

Qualitative research is a research methodology that aims to explore and understand the complexities of human behavior, emotions, and experiences through non-numerical data.

Unlike quantitative research, which deals in numbers and statistics, qualitative research is all about revealing the stories, and perspectives that make us uniquely human.

Let's dive deeper and discover why it's a powerful tool in the researcher's arsenal.

Purpose of Qualitative Research Design

Qualitative research simplifies the understanding of complex human behavior and experiences. Its purpose is to:

  • Explore Complex Phenomena: Qualitative research allows us to delve deep into intricate human experiences and behaviors.
  • Understand Motivations: It helps uncover the 'whys' behind actions, shedding light on underlying motivations.
  • Capture Richness: By collecting narratives and stories, qualitative research captures the richness of human life.
  • Generate Hypotheses: It often serves as a foundation for hypothesis generation in further quantitative studies.
  • Inform Decision-Making: Qualitative findings guide decisions in fields like psychology, sociology, and market research.
  • Contextualize Quantitative Data: It provides context to quantitative data, explaining the 'how' and 'why' behind the numbers.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

The following are the main characteristics of qualitative research.

  • The real-world setting is the first important characteristic. It involves various qualitative research methods to study the behavior of participants.
  • Researchers play an essential role in choosing a method and making a plan for conducting research.
  • All qualitative approaches have their significance and are used for different scenarios.
  • Qualitative research questions are beneficial for complex reasoning to get the right results.
  • It is also used to explain the outcome of quantitative research methods.
  • The role of participants is essential as it brings meaning to the study.
  • Qualitative research is flexible and can be changed at any stage of the research work.
  • It also describes the research problem by developing a complex cause-and-effect relationship between the variables. 
  • Data analysis in qualitative research is an ongoing process.
  • Conclusions can be drawn based on the outcomes of the research process.
  • Participants are selected from a particular and relevant group.

Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research methods - MyPerfectWords.com

A detailed description of the major qualitative approaches to collecting data is given below.

In-depth Interview

In-depth interviews involve one-on-one conversations to gather detailed information about a specific topic. This method allows researchers to explore participants' motivations, inspirations, and body language.

Interviews can be conducted face-to-face, via email, or over the phone for flexibility.

Focus Groups

Focus groups consist of small group discussions (5-15 participants) on specific topics, ideal for 'what,' 'why,' and 'how' questions about society and the environment. They can be conducted in-person or online, offering versatility in data collection.

Direct Observation

Direct observation collects subjective data through the five senses without interference. It focuses on characteristics, not measurements, often in public settings where privacy isn't a concern.

Open-Ended Surveys

Open-ended surveys use structured or unstructured questions to collect information on respondents' opinions and beliefs, providing insights into their perspectives.

Participant Observation

Participant observation involves researchers actively participating in events while observing people in natural settings, offering firsthand experience and insights.

Literature Review

The literature review method interprets words and images from published works to analyze social life. It examines word usage in context to draw inferences and identify meanings.

Types of Qualitative Research

Types of Qualitative Research - MyPerfectWords.com

The following is a comprehensive overview of the types of qualitative research methods.

The case study research method has now become the most valuable method of conducting research. It has evolved in recent years and is used to explain an entity in detail.

Moreover, it also involves a thorough understanding of different types of data sources. These include interviews, documents, reports, and observations.  Mainly, this research type is used in different areas like education, social sciences, etc.

Ethnographic Research

The ethnographic research method is the most familiar and in-depth observational method. It focuses on people and their behaviors in the natural environment.

Here, a researcher needs to adapt to the environment and society of the target audience to conduct better research. It helps to get a first-hand experience of the natural setting, including the customs, traditions, and culture of the subjects.

This type of research is a challenging and time-consuming process as it can last from days to years. However, geographical constraints can be an issue while collecting data.

Grounded Theory

While other methods discuss and focus on an event or activity. The grounded theory method deeply looks into the explanation and the main theory behind the event.

It requires the researcher to observe the interviews and documents to build a theory. Moreover, it usually starts with a question or collection of data.  However, the sample sizes in this method are usually larger than in other methods. 

Phenomenological Method

This type is used in the description of an event, phenomenon, and activity. Here, methods like interviews, reading documents, visiting places, and watching videos are used.

This will help to add new insights to the existing data analysis by checking its reliability and validity.

Check out the video to learn more about the phenomenological method of qualitative research!

Narrative Method 

The narrative method is used to gather data from subjects through interviews or documents. Later, the gathered information is used to derive answers and suggestions for future research. 

Historical Method

The historical method involves the examination of past events to draw conclusions and predictions about the future. The steps included in the method are formulating a plan, gathering data, and analyzing the sources. 

Steps in Conducting Qualitative Research

Conducting qualitative research is a systematic process that involves several key steps to ensure the collection of meaningful data.

Here's a chronological guide to conducting qualitative research:

Step 1: Define Research Objectives

Begin by clearly defining the research objectives and questions. What do you want to learn, explore, or understand through your qualitative research? This step sets the direction for your study.

Step 2: Select a Research Design

Choose an appropriate research design based on your objectives. Common designs include case studies, ethnography, grounded theory, or phenomenology. The design informs your data collection and analysis methods.

Step 3: Sampling Methods

Decide on your sampling strategy. Will you use purposive sampling to select specific participants who are most relevant to your research question? Or will you employ snowball sampling to find participants through referrals?

Step 4: Data Collection Techniques

Determine the data collection techniques that align with your research design. Depending on your approach, this may involve conducting in-depth interviews, facilitating focus groups, observing participants, or analyzing existing documents and content.

Step 5: Plan Interviews and Questions

If conducting interviews, create interview guides with open-ended questions. These questions should allow participants to share their thoughts, experiences, and perspectives freely. Ensure that questions are related to your research objectives.

Step 6: Conducting Data Collection

Collect data according to your chosen methods. For interviews, arrange and conduct interviews with participants, ensuring a comfortable and open environment. If using other techniques, follow the procedures outlined in your research design.

Step 7: Data Recording and Management

Record data meticulously. This may involve audio or video recordings, note-taking, or transcribing interviews. Organize and store data securely to maintain confidentiality.

Step 8: Data Analysis

Qualitative data can be in the form of interviews, transcripts, surveys, videos, audio, etc. The steps involved in qualitative data analysis are given below.   

  • Organize the Data: This can be done by transcribing interviews or making detailed notes.
  • Review the Data: Examine the data, ideas, and patterns.
  • Establish a Data Coding System: Generate a set of codes that you can apply to classify your data.
  • Assign Codes to the Data: For qualitative survey analysis, create codes, and add them to your system.
  • Identify Themes: Link the codes together into cohesive themes.

Similarly, the following are different approaches to analyzing qualitative data. 

  • Content Analysis – It is used to categorize common words and ideas.
  • Thematic Analysis – thematic analysis in qualitative research is used to identify and interpret different themes and patterns.
  • Textual Analysis – This type of analysis is used to examine the structure, content, and design of text.
  • Discourse Analysis – It is used to study how a language is used to achieve specific results.

Step 9: Validity and Reliability

Ensure the validity and reliability of your findings. Consistently apply your chosen analysis methods and cross-check interpretations with colleagues or participants to validate your results.

Step 10: Ethical Considerations

Throughout the research process, uphold ethical principles. Protect the privacy and anonymity of participants, obtain informed consent, and address any ethical concerns that may arise.

Qualitative Research vs Quantitative Research

Qualitative and quantitative research are two distinct approaches to conducting research. Here are the main differences between qualitative vs. quantitative research.

Looking for a more detailed comparison between these 2 types of research? Check out our qualitative vs. quantitative research blog.

Qualitative Research Topics

To write an amazing qualitative research paper, here are some interesting topics for you.

  • The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children's Education
  • Social Isolation and Loneliness Among the Elderly
  • Factors Influencing Consumer Choices in Sustainable Fashion
  • Coping Mechanisms for Stress Among College Students
  • Experiences of Immigrant Workers in Low-Wage Jobs
  • The Role of Music in Expressing Emotions and Well-being
  • Perceptions of Mental Health Stigma in Ethnic Communities
  • Exploring the Transition to Parenthood: Challenges and Joys
  • How Cultural Differences Influence Conflict Resolution Styles
  • The Influence of Family Dynamics on Eating Habits and Nutrition in Children

We have also compiled a list of research paper topics in case you need more unique ideas.

Qualitative Research Examples

Check out the examples of qualitative research to get a better idea of writing a qualitative research study.

Qualitative Research Example

Qualitative Research Paper Sample

Qualitative Research Limitations

The following discussed are the qualitative research limitations. 

  • The qualitative research data involve fewer expenses and time. 
  • It does not have large-scale data.
  • It requires a lot of time to manage, gather, and analyze data.
  • It is not possible to verify the results as it is open-ended research. 
  • It is difficult to analyze the credibility and validity of data because of its subjective nature.
  • Expert knowledge of the area is necessary to understand the collected information.

In Conclusion, the qualitative research method shows the idea and perception of your targeted audience. However, not every student is able to choose the right approach while writing a research paper. It requires a thorough understanding of both qualitative research and quantitative research methods.

This is where the professional help from  MyPerfectWords.com comes in. We are a legit paper writing service that provides reliable help with your academic assignments. 

Contact our customer support and place " write my research paper " order today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the two methods in research study.

There are two types of studies that involve observing people during a study, participant observation and non-participant observation. 

Why is qualitative research better?

Because qualitative research includes the ability to gain unique insights through deep exploration. Survey respondents are able to disclose their experiences, thoughts, and feelings without constraint or influence from an outside source. 

Nova A. (Literature, Marketing)

Nova Allison is a Digital Content Strategist with over eight years of experience. Nova has also worked as a technical and scientific writer. She is majorly involved in developing and reviewing online content plans that engage and resonate with audiences. Nova has a passion for writing that engages and informs her readers.

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Criteria for Good Qualitative Research: A Comprehensive Review

  • Regular Article
  • Open access
  • Published: 18 September 2021
  • Volume 31 , pages 679–689, ( 2022 )

Cite this article

You have full access to this open access article

  • Drishti Yadav   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2974-0323 1  

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This review aims to synthesize a published set of evaluative criteria for good qualitative research. The aim is to shed light on existing standards for assessing the rigor of qualitative research encompassing a range of epistemological and ontological standpoints. Using a systematic search strategy, published journal articles that deliberate criteria for rigorous research were identified. Then, references of relevant articles were surveyed to find noteworthy, distinct, and well-defined pointers to good qualitative research. This review presents an investigative assessment of the pivotal features in qualitative research that can permit the readers to pass judgment on its quality and to condemn it as good research when objectively and adequately utilized. Overall, this review underlines the crux of qualitative research and accentuates the necessity to evaluate such research by the very tenets of its being. It also offers some prospects and recommendations to improve the quality of qualitative research. Based on the findings of this review, it is concluded that quality criteria are the aftereffect of socio-institutional procedures and existing paradigmatic conducts. Owing to the paradigmatic diversity of qualitative research, a single and specific set of quality criteria is neither feasible nor anticipated. Since qualitative research is not a cohesive discipline, researchers need to educate and familiarize themselves with applicable norms and decisive factors to evaluate qualitative research from within its theoretical and methodological framework of origin.

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Responsible Design Thinking for Sustainable Development: Critical Literature Review, New Conceptual Framework, and Research Agenda

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Introduction

“… It is important to regularly dialogue about what makes for good qualitative research” (Tracy, 2010 , p. 837)

To decide what represents good qualitative research is highly debatable. There are numerous methods that are contained within qualitative research and that are established on diverse philosophical perspectives. Bryman et al., ( 2008 , p. 262) suggest that “It is widely assumed that whereas quality criteria for quantitative research are well‐known and widely agreed, this is not the case for qualitative research.” Hence, the question “how to evaluate the quality of qualitative research” has been continuously debated. There are many areas of science and technology wherein these debates on the assessment of qualitative research have taken place. Examples include various areas of psychology: general psychology (Madill et al., 2000 ); counseling psychology (Morrow, 2005 ); and clinical psychology (Barker & Pistrang, 2005 ), and other disciplines of social sciences: social policy (Bryman et al., 2008 ); health research (Sparkes, 2001 ); business and management research (Johnson et al., 2006 ); information systems (Klein & Myers, 1999 ); and environmental studies (Reid & Gough, 2000 ). In the literature, these debates are enthused by the impression that the blanket application of criteria for good qualitative research developed around the positivist paradigm is improper. Such debates are based on the wide range of philosophical backgrounds within which qualitative research is conducted (e.g., Sandberg, 2000 ; Schwandt, 1996 ). The existence of methodological diversity led to the formulation of different sets of criteria applicable to qualitative research.

Among qualitative researchers, the dilemma of governing the measures to assess the quality of research is not a new phenomenon, especially when the virtuous triad of objectivity, reliability, and validity (Spencer et al., 2004 ) are not adequate. Occasionally, the criteria of quantitative research are used to evaluate qualitative research (Cohen & Crabtree, 2008 ; Lather, 2004 ). Indeed, Howe ( 2004 ) claims that the prevailing paradigm in educational research is scientifically based experimental research. Hypotheses and conjectures about the preeminence of quantitative research can weaken the worth and usefulness of qualitative research by neglecting the prominence of harmonizing match for purpose on research paradigm, the epistemological stance of the researcher, and the choice of methodology. Researchers have been reprimanded concerning this in “paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences” (Lincoln & Guba, 2000 ).

In general, qualitative research tends to come from a very different paradigmatic stance and intrinsically demands distinctive and out-of-the-ordinary criteria for evaluating good research and varieties of research contributions that can be made. This review attempts to present a series of evaluative criteria for qualitative researchers, arguing that their choice of criteria needs to be compatible with the unique nature of the research in question (its methodology, aims, and assumptions). This review aims to assist researchers in identifying some of the indispensable features or markers of high-quality qualitative research. In a nutshell, the purpose of this systematic literature review is to analyze the existing knowledge on high-quality qualitative research and to verify the existence of research studies dealing with the critical assessment of qualitative research based on the concept of diverse paradigmatic stances. Contrary to the existing reviews, this review also suggests some critical directions to follow to improve the quality of qualitative research in different epistemological and ontological perspectives. This review is also intended to provide guidelines for the acceleration of future developments and dialogues among qualitative researchers in the context of assessing the qualitative research.

The rest of this review article is structured in the following fashion: Sect.  Methods describes the method followed for performing this review. Section Criteria for Evaluating Qualitative Studies provides a comprehensive description of the criteria for evaluating qualitative studies. This section is followed by a summary of the strategies to improve the quality of qualitative research in Sect.  Improving Quality: Strategies . Section  How to Assess the Quality of the Research Findings? provides details on how to assess the quality of the research findings. After that, some of the quality checklists (as tools to evaluate quality) are discussed in Sect.  Quality Checklists: Tools for Assessing the Quality . At last, the review ends with the concluding remarks presented in Sect.  Conclusions, Future Directions and Outlook . Some prospects in qualitative research for enhancing its quality and usefulness in the social and techno-scientific research community are also presented in Sect.  Conclusions, Future Directions and Outlook .

For this review, a comprehensive literature search was performed from many databases using generic search terms such as Qualitative Research , Criteria , etc . The following databases were chosen for the literature search based on the high number of results: IEEE Explore, ScienceDirect, PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science. The following keywords (and their combinations using Boolean connectives OR/AND) were adopted for the literature search: qualitative research, criteria, quality, assessment, and validity. The synonyms for these keywords were collected and arranged in a logical structure (see Table 1 ). All publications in journals and conference proceedings later than 1950 till 2021 were considered for the search. Other articles extracted from the references of the papers identified in the electronic search were also included. A large number of publications on qualitative research were retrieved during the initial screening. Hence, to include the searches with the main focus on criteria for good qualitative research, an inclusion criterion was utilized in the search string.

From the selected databases, the search retrieved a total of 765 publications. Then, the duplicate records were removed. After that, based on the title and abstract, the remaining 426 publications were screened for their relevance by using the following inclusion and exclusion criteria (see Table 2 ). Publications focusing on evaluation criteria for good qualitative research were included, whereas those works which delivered theoretical concepts on qualitative research were excluded. Based on the screening and eligibility, 45 research articles were identified that offered explicit criteria for evaluating the quality of qualitative research and were found to be relevant to this review.

Figure  1 illustrates the complete review process in the form of PRISMA flow diagram. PRISMA, i.e., “preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses” is employed in systematic reviews to refine the quality of reporting.

figure 1

PRISMA flow diagram illustrating the search and inclusion process. N represents the number of records

Criteria for Evaluating Qualitative Studies

Fundamental criteria: general research quality.

Various researchers have put forward criteria for evaluating qualitative research, which have been summarized in Table 3 . Also, the criteria outlined in Table 4 effectively deliver the various approaches to evaluate and assess the quality of qualitative work. The entries in Table 4 are based on Tracy’s “Eight big‐tent criteria for excellent qualitative research” (Tracy, 2010 ). Tracy argues that high-quality qualitative work should formulate criteria focusing on the worthiness, relevance, timeliness, significance, morality, and practicality of the research topic, and the ethical stance of the research itself. Researchers have also suggested a series of questions as guiding principles to assess the quality of a qualitative study (Mays & Pope, 2020 ). Nassaji ( 2020 ) argues that good qualitative research should be robust, well informed, and thoroughly documented.

Qualitative Research: Interpretive Paradigms

All qualitative researchers follow highly abstract principles which bring together beliefs about ontology, epistemology, and methodology. These beliefs govern how the researcher perceives and acts. The net, which encompasses the researcher’s epistemological, ontological, and methodological premises, is referred to as a paradigm, or an interpretive structure, a “Basic set of beliefs that guides action” (Guba, 1990 ). Four major interpretive paradigms structure the qualitative research: positivist and postpositivist, constructivist interpretive, critical (Marxist, emancipatory), and feminist poststructural. The complexity of these four abstract paradigms increases at the level of concrete, specific interpretive communities. Table 5 presents these paradigms and their assumptions, including their criteria for evaluating research, and the typical form that an interpretive or theoretical statement assumes in each paradigm. Moreover, for evaluating qualitative research, quantitative conceptualizations of reliability and validity are proven to be incompatible (Horsburgh, 2003 ). In addition, a series of questions have been put forward in the literature to assist a reviewer (who is proficient in qualitative methods) for meticulous assessment and endorsement of qualitative research (Morse, 2003 ). Hammersley ( 2007 ) also suggests that guiding principles for qualitative research are advantageous, but methodological pluralism should not be simply acknowledged for all qualitative approaches. Seale ( 1999 ) also points out the significance of methodological cognizance in research studies.

Table 5 reflects that criteria for assessing the quality of qualitative research are the aftermath of socio-institutional practices and existing paradigmatic standpoints. Owing to the paradigmatic diversity of qualitative research, a single set of quality criteria is neither possible nor desirable. Hence, the researchers must be reflexive about the criteria they use in the various roles they play within their research community.

Improving Quality: Strategies

Another critical question is “How can the qualitative researchers ensure that the abovementioned quality criteria can be met?” Lincoln and Guba ( 1986 ) delineated several strategies to intensify each criteria of trustworthiness. Other researchers (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016 ; Shenton, 2004 ) also presented such strategies. A brief description of these strategies is shown in Table 6 .

It is worth mentioning that generalizability is also an integral part of qualitative research (Hays & McKibben, 2021 ). In general, the guiding principle pertaining to generalizability speaks about inducing and comprehending knowledge to synthesize interpretive components of an underlying context. Table 7 summarizes the main metasynthesis steps required to ascertain generalizability in qualitative research.

Figure  2 reflects the crucial components of a conceptual framework and their contribution to decisions regarding research design, implementation, and applications of results to future thinking, study, and practice (Johnson et al., 2020 ). The synergy and interrelationship of these components signifies their role to different stances of a qualitative research study.

figure 2

Essential elements of a conceptual framework

In a nutshell, to assess the rationale of a study, its conceptual framework and research question(s), quality criteria must take account of the following: lucid context for the problem statement in the introduction; well-articulated research problems and questions; precise conceptual framework; distinct research purpose; and clear presentation and investigation of the paradigms. These criteria would expedite the quality of qualitative research.

How to Assess the Quality of the Research Findings?

The inclusion of quotes or similar research data enhances the confirmability in the write-up of the findings. The use of expressions (for instance, “80% of all respondents agreed that” or “only one of the interviewees mentioned that”) may also quantify qualitative findings (Stenfors et al., 2020 ). On the other hand, the persuasive reason for “why this may not help in intensifying the research” has also been provided (Monrouxe & Rees, 2020 ). Further, the Discussion and Conclusion sections of an article also prove robust markers of high-quality qualitative research, as elucidated in Table 8 .

Quality Checklists: Tools for Assessing the Quality

Numerous checklists are available to speed up the assessment of the quality of qualitative research. However, if used uncritically and recklessly concerning the research context, these checklists may be counterproductive. I recommend that such lists and guiding principles may assist in pinpointing the markers of high-quality qualitative research. However, considering enormous variations in the authors’ theoretical and philosophical contexts, I would emphasize that high dependability on such checklists may say little about whether the findings can be applied in your setting. A combination of such checklists might be appropriate for novice researchers. Some of these checklists are listed below:

The most commonly used framework is Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research (COREQ) (Tong et al., 2007 ). This framework is recommended by some journals to be followed by the authors during article submission.

Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR) is another checklist that has been created particularly for medical education (O’Brien et al., 2014 ).

Also, Tracy ( 2010 ) and Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP, 2021 ) offer criteria for qualitative research relevant across methods and approaches.

Further, researchers have also outlined different criteria as hallmarks of high-quality qualitative research. For instance, the “Road Trip Checklist” (Epp & Otnes, 2021 ) provides a quick reference to specific questions to address different elements of high-quality qualitative research.

Conclusions, Future Directions, and Outlook

This work presents a broad review of the criteria for good qualitative research. In addition, this article presents an exploratory analysis of the essential elements in qualitative research that can enable the readers of qualitative work to judge it as good research when objectively and adequately utilized. In this review, some of the essential markers that indicate high-quality qualitative research have been highlighted. I scope them narrowly to achieve rigor in qualitative research and note that they do not completely cover the broader considerations necessary for high-quality research. This review points out that a universal and versatile one-size-fits-all guideline for evaluating the quality of qualitative research does not exist. In other words, this review also emphasizes the non-existence of a set of common guidelines among qualitative researchers. In unison, this review reinforces that each qualitative approach should be treated uniquely on account of its own distinctive features for different epistemological and disciplinary positions. Owing to the sensitivity of the worth of qualitative research towards the specific context and the type of paradigmatic stance, researchers should themselves analyze what approaches can be and must be tailored to ensemble the distinct characteristics of the phenomenon under investigation. Although this article does not assert to put forward a magic bullet and to provide a one-stop solution for dealing with dilemmas about how, why, or whether to evaluate the “goodness” of qualitative research, it offers a platform to assist the researchers in improving their qualitative studies. This work provides an assembly of concerns to reflect on, a series of questions to ask, and multiple sets of criteria to look at, when attempting to determine the quality of qualitative research. Overall, this review underlines the crux of qualitative research and accentuates the need to evaluate such research by the very tenets of its being. Bringing together the vital arguments and delineating the requirements that good qualitative research should satisfy, this review strives to equip the researchers as well as reviewers to make well-versed judgment about the worth and significance of the qualitative research under scrutiny. In a nutshell, a comprehensive portrayal of the research process (from the context of research to the research objectives, research questions and design, speculative foundations, and from approaches of collecting data to analyzing the results, to deriving inferences) frequently proliferates the quality of a qualitative research.

Prospects : A Road Ahead for Qualitative Research

Irrefutably, qualitative research is a vivacious and evolving discipline wherein different epistemological and disciplinary positions have their own characteristics and importance. In addition, not surprisingly, owing to the sprouting and varied features of qualitative research, no consensus has been pulled off till date. Researchers have reflected various concerns and proposed several recommendations for editors and reviewers on conducting reviews of critical qualitative research (Levitt et al., 2021 ; McGinley et al., 2021 ). Following are some prospects and a few recommendations put forward towards the maturation of qualitative research and its quality evaluation:

In general, most of the manuscript and grant reviewers are not qualitative experts. Hence, it is more likely that they would prefer to adopt a broad set of criteria. However, researchers and reviewers need to keep in mind that it is inappropriate to utilize the same approaches and conducts among all qualitative research. Therefore, future work needs to focus on educating researchers and reviewers about the criteria to evaluate qualitative research from within the suitable theoretical and methodological context.

There is an urgent need to refurbish and augment critical assessment of some well-known and widely accepted tools (including checklists such as COREQ, SRQR) to interrogate their applicability on different aspects (along with their epistemological ramifications).

Efforts should be made towards creating more space for creativity, experimentation, and a dialogue between the diverse traditions of qualitative research. This would potentially help to avoid the enforcement of one's own set of quality criteria on the work carried out by others.

Moreover, journal reviewers need to be aware of various methodological practices and philosophical debates.

It is pivotal to highlight the expressions and considerations of qualitative researchers and bring them into a more open and transparent dialogue about assessing qualitative research in techno-scientific, academic, sociocultural, and political rooms.

Frequent debates on the use of evaluative criteria are required to solve some potentially resolved issues (including the applicability of a single set of criteria in multi-disciplinary aspects). Such debates would not only benefit the group of qualitative researchers themselves, but primarily assist in augmenting the well-being and vivacity of the entire discipline.

To conclude, I speculate that the criteria, and my perspective, may transfer to other methods, approaches, and contexts. I hope that they spark dialog and debate – about criteria for excellent qualitative research and the underpinnings of the discipline more broadly – and, therefore, help improve the quality of a qualitative study. Further, I anticipate that this review will assist the researchers to contemplate on the quality of their own research, to substantiate research design and help the reviewers to review qualitative research for journals. On a final note, I pinpoint the need to formulate a framework (encompassing the prerequisites of a qualitative study) by the cohesive efforts of qualitative researchers of different disciplines with different theoretic-paradigmatic origins. I believe that tailoring such a framework (of guiding principles) paves the way for qualitative researchers to consolidate the status of qualitative research in the wide-ranging open science debate. Dialogue on this issue across different approaches is crucial for the impending prospects of socio-techno-educational research.

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Yadav, D. Criteria for Good Qualitative Research: A Comprehensive Review. Asia-Pacific Edu Res 31 , 679–689 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40299-021-00619-0

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Research Method

Home » Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

Table of Contents

Research Paper

Research Paper

Definition:

Research Paper is a written document that presents the author’s original research, analysis, and interpretation of a specific topic or issue.

It is typically based on Empirical Evidence, and may involve qualitative or quantitative research methods, or a combination of both. The purpose of a research paper is to contribute new knowledge or insights to a particular field of study, and to demonstrate the author’s understanding of the existing literature and theories related to the topic.

Structure of Research Paper

The structure of a research paper typically follows a standard format, consisting of several sections that convey specific information about the research study. The following is a detailed explanation of the structure of a research paper:

The title page contains the title of the paper, the name(s) of the author(s), and the affiliation(s) of the author(s). It also includes the date of submission and possibly, the name of the journal or conference where the paper is to be published.

The abstract is a brief summary of the research paper, typically ranging from 100 to 250 words. It should include the research question, the methods used, the key findings, and the implications of the results. The abstract should be written in a concise and clear manner to allow readers to quickly grasp the essence of the research.

Introduction

The introduction section of a research paper provides background information about the research problem, the research question, and the research objectives. It also outlines the significance of the research, the research gap that it aims to fill, and the approach taken to address the research question. Finally, the introduction section ends with a clear statement of the research hypothesis or research question.

Literature Review

The literature review section of a research paper provides an overview of the existing literature on the topic of study. It includes a critical analysis and synthesis of the literature, highlighting the key concepts, themes, and debates. The literature review should also demonstrate the research gap and how the current study seeks to address it.

The methods section of a research paper describes the research design, the sample selection, the data collection and analysis procedures, and the statistical methods used to analyze the data. This section should provide sufficient detail for other researchers to replicate the study.

The results section presents the findings of the research, using tables, graphs, and figures to illustrate the data. The findings should be presented in a clear and concise manner, with reference to the research question and hypothesis.

The discussion section of a research paper interprets the findings and discusses their implications for the research question, the literature review, and the field of study. It should also address the limitations of the study and suggest future research directions.

The conclusion section summarizes the main findings of the study, restates the research question and hypothesis, and provides a final reflection on the significance of the research.

The references section provides a list of all the sources cited in the paper, following a specific citation style such as APA, MLA or Chicago.

How to Write Research Paper

You can write Research Paper by the following guide:

  • Choose a Topic: The first step is to select a topic that interests you and is relevant to your field of study. Brainstorm ideas and narrow down to a research question that is specific and researchable.
  • Conduct a Literature Review: The literature review helps you identify the gap in the existing research and provides a basis for your research question. It also helps you to develop a theoretical framework and research hypothesis.
  • Develop a Thesis Statement : The thesis statement is the main argument of your research paper. It should be clear, concise and specific to your research question.
  • Plan your Research: Develop a research plan that outlines the methods, data sources, and data analysis procedures. This will help you to collect and analyze data effectively.
  • Collect and Analyze Data: Collect data using various methods such as surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments. Analyze data using statistical tools or other qualitative methods.
  • Organize your Paper : Organize your paper into sections such as Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. Ensure that each section is coherent and follows a logical flow.
  • Write your Paper : Start by writing the introduction, followed by the literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and follows the required formatting and citation styles.
  • Edit and Proofread your Paper: Review your paper for grammar and spelling errors, and ensure that it is well-structured and easy to read. Ask someone else to review your paper to get feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Cite your Sources: Ensure that you properly cite all sources used in your research paper. This is essential for giving credit to the original authors and avoiding plagiarism.

Research Paper Example

Note : The below example research paper is for illustrative purposes only and is not an actual research paper. Actual research papers may have different structures, contents, and formats depending on the field of study, research question, data collection and analysis methods, and other factors. Students should always consult with their professors or supervisors for specific guidelines and expectations for their research papers.

Research Paper Example sample for Students:

Title: The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health among Young Adults

Abstract: This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults. A literature review was conducted to examine the existing research on the topic. A survey was then administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Introduction: Social media has become an integral part of modern life, particularly among young adults. While social media has many benefits, including increased communication and social connectivity, it has also been associated with negative outcomes, such as addiction, cyberbullying, and mental health problems. This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults.

Literature Review: The literature review highlights the existing research on the impact of social media use on mental health. The review shows that social media use is associated with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems. The review also identifies the factors that contribute to the negative impact of social media, including social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Methods : A survey was administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The survey included questions on social media use, mental health status (measured using the DASS-21), and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis.

Results : The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Discussion : The study’s findings suggest that social media use has a negative impact on the mental health of young adults. The study highlights the need for interventions that address the factors contributing to the negative impact of social media, such as social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Conclusion : In conclusion, social media use has a significant impact on the mental health of young adults. The study’s findings underscore the need for interventions that promote healthy social media use and address the negative outcomes associated with social media use. Future research can explore the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health. Additionally, longitudinal studies can investigate the long-term effects of social media use on mental health.

Limitations : The study has some limitations, including the use of self-report measures and a cross-sectional design. The use of self-report measures may result in biased responses, and a cross-sectional design limits the ability to establish causality.

Implications: The study’s findings have implications for mental health professionals, educators, and policymakers. Mental health professionals can use the findings to develop interventions that address the negative impact of social media use on mental health. Educators can incorporate social media literacy into their curriculum to promote healthy social media use among young adults. Policymakers can use the findings to develop policies that protect young adults from the negative outcomes associated with social media use.

References :

  • Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports, 15, 100918.
  • Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Barrett, E. L., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., … & James, A. E. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among US young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1-9.
  • Van der Meer, T. G., & Verhoeven, J. W. (2017). Social media and its impact on academic performance of students. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 16, 383-398.

Appendix : The survey used in this study is provided below.

Social Media and Mental Health Survey

  • How often do you use social media per day?
  • Less than 30 minutes
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • 1 to 2 hours
  • 2 to 4 hours
  • More than 4 hours
  • Which social media platforms do you use?
  • Others (Please specify)
  • How often do you experience the following on social media?
  • Social comparison (comparing yourself to others)
  • Cyberbullying
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Have you ever experienced any of the following mental health problems in the past month?
  • Do you think social media use has a positive or negative impact on your mental health?
  • Very positive
  • Somewhat positive
  • Somewhat negative
  • Very negative
  • In your opinion, which factors contribute to the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Social comparison
  • In your opinion, what interventions could be effective in reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Education on healthy social media use
  • Counseling for mental health problems caused by social media
  • Social media detox programs
  • Regulation of social media use

Thank you for your participation!

Applications of Research Paper

Research papers have several applications in various fields, including:

  • Advancing knowledge: Research papers contribute to the advancement of knowledge by generating new insights, theories, and findings that can inform future research and practice. They help to answer important questions, clarify existing knowledge, and identify areas that require further investigation.
  • Informing policy: Research papers can inform policy decisions by providing evidence-based recommendations for policymakers. They can help to identify gaps in current policies, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and inform the development of new policies and regulations.
  • Improving practice: Research papers can improve practice by providing evidence-based guidance for professionals in various fields, including medicine, education, business, and psychology. They can inform the development of best practices, guidelines, and standards of care that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • Educating students : Research papers are often used as teaching tools in universities and colleges to educate students about research methods, data analysis, and academic writing. They help students to develop critical thinking skills, research skills, and communication skills that are essential for success in many careers.
  • Fostering collaboration: Research papers can foster collaboration among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and ideas. They can facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships that can lead to innovative solutions to complex problems.

When to Write Research Paper

Research papers are typically written when a person has completed a research project or when they have conducted a study and have obtained data or findings that they want to share with the academic or professional community. Research papers are usually written in academic settings, such as universities, but they can also be written in professional settings, such as research organizations, government agencies, or private companies.

Here are some common situations where a person might need to write a research paper:

  • For academic purposes: Students in universities and colleges are often required to write research papers as part of their coursework, particularly in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Writing research papers helps students to develop research skills, critical thinking skills, and academic writing skills.
  • For publication: Researchers often write research papers to publish their findings in academic journals or to present their work at academic conferences. Publishing research papers is an important way to disseminate research findings to the academic community and to establish oneself as an expert in a particular field.
  • To inform policy or practice : Researchers may write research papers to inform policy decisions or to improve practice in various fields. Research findings can be used to inform the development of policies, guidelines, and best practices that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • To share new insights or ideas: Researchers may write research papers to share new insights or ideas with the academic or professional community. They may present new theories, propose new research methods, or challenge existing paradigms in their field.

Purpose of Research Paper

The purpose of a research paper is to present the results of a study or investigation in a clear, concise, and structured manner. Research papers are written to communicate new knowledge, ideas, or findings to a specific audience, such as researchers, scholars, practitioners, or policymakers. The primary purposes of a research paper are:

  • To contribute to the body of knowledge : Research papers aim to add new knowledge or insights to a particular field or discipline. They do this by reporting the results of empirical studies, reviewing and synthesizing existing literature, proposing new theories, or providing new perspectives on a topic.
  • To inform or persuade: Research papers are written to inform or persuade the reader about a particular issue, topic, or phenomenon. They present evidence and arguments to support their claims and seek to persuade the reader of the validity of their findings or recommendations.
  • To advance the field: Research papers seek to advance the field or discipline by identifying gaps in knowledge, proposing new research questions or approaches, or challenging existing assumptions or paradigms. They aim to contribute to ongoing debates and discussions within a field and to stimulate further research and inquiry.
  • To demonstrate research skills: Research papers demonstrate the author’s research skills, including their ability to design and conduct a study, collect and analyze data, and interpret and communicate findings. They also demonstrate the author’s ability to critically evaluate existing literature, synthesize information from multiple sources, and write in a clear and structured manner.

Characteristics of Research Paper

Research papers have several characteristics that distinguish them from other forms of academic or professional writing. Here are some common characteristics of research papers:

  • Evidence-based: Research papers are based on empirical evidence, which is collected through rigorous research methods such as experiments, surveys, observations, or interviews. They rely on objective data and facts to support their claims and conclusions.
  • Structured and organized: Research papers have a clear and logical structure, with sections such as introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. They are organized in a way that helps the reader to follow the argument and understand the findings.
  • Formal and objective: Research papers are written in a formal and objective tone, with an emphasis on clarity, precision, and accuracy. They avoid subjective language or personal opinions and instead rely on objective data and analysis to support their arguments.
  • Citations and references: Research papers include citations and references to acknowledge the sources of information and ideas used in the paper. They use a specific citation style, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago, to ensure consistency and accuracy.
  • Peer-reviewed: Research papers are often peer-reviewed, which means they are evaluated by other experts in the field before they are published. Peer-review ensures that the research is of high quality, meets ethical standards, and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in the field.
  • Objective and unbiased: Research papers strive to be objective and unbiased in their presentation of the findings. They avoid personal biases or preconceptions and instead rely on the data and analysis to draw conclusions.

Advantages of Research Paper

Research papers have many advantages, both for the individual researcher and for the broader academic and professional community. Here are some advantages of research papers:

  • Contribution to knowledge: Research papers contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field or discipline. They add new information, insights, and perspectives to existing literature and help advance the understanding of a particular phenomenon or issue.
  • Opportunity for intellectual growth: Research papers provide an opportunity for intellectual growth for the researcher. They require critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, which can help develop the researcher’s skills and knowledge.
  • Career advancement: Research papers can help advance the researcher’s career by demonstrating their expertise and contributions to the field. They can also lead to new research opportunities, collaborations, and funding.
  • Academic recognition: Research papers can lead to academic recognition in the form of awards, grants, or invitations to speak at conferences or events. They can also contribute to the researcher’s reputation and standing in the field.
  • Impact on policy and practice: Research papers can have a significant impact on policy and practice. They can inform policy decisions, guide practice, and lead to changes in laws, regulations, or procedures.
  • Advancement of society: Research papers can contribute to the advancement of society by addressing important issues, identifying solutions to problems, and promoting social justice and equality.

Limitations of Research Paper

Research papers also have some limitations that should be considered when interpreting their findings or implications. Here are some common limitations of research papers:

  • Limited generalizability: Research findings may not be generalizable to other populations, settings, or contexts. Studies often use specific samples or conditions that may not reflect the broader population or real-world situations.
  • Potential for bias : Research papers may be biased due to factors such as sample selection, measurement errors, or researcher biases. It is important to evaluate the quality of the research design and methods used to ensure that the findings are valid and reliable.
  • Ethical concerns: Research papers may raise ethical concerns, such as the use of vulnerable populations or invasive procedures. Researchers must adhere to ethical guidelines and obtain informed consent from participants to ensure that the research is conducted in a responsible and respectful manner.
  • Limitations of methodology: Research papers may be limited by the methodology used to collect and analyze data. For example, certain research methods may not capture the complexity or nuance of a particular phenomenon, or may not be appropriate for certain research questions.
  • Publication bias: Research papers may be subject to publication bias, where positive or significant findings are more likely to be published than negative or non-significant findings. This can skew the overall findings of a particular area of research.
  • Time and resource constraints: Research papers may be limited by time and resource constraints, which can affect the quality and scope of the research. Researchers may not have access to certain data or resources, or may be unable to conduct long-term studies due to practical limitations.

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  • http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4808-3880 Andrew Booth 1 , 2 ,
  • Isolde Sommer 3 , 4 ,
  • Jane Noyes 2 , 5 ,
  • Catherine Houghton 2 , 6 ,
  • Fiona Campbell 1 , 7
  • The Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group and Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group (CQIMG)
  • 1 EnSyGN Sheffield Evidence Synthesis Group , University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
  • 2 Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group (CQIMG) , London , UK
  • 3 Department for Evidence-based Medicine and Evaluation , University for Continuing Education Krems , Krems , Austria
  • 4 Cochrane Rapid Reviews Group & Cochrane Austria , Krems , Austria
  • 5 Bangor University , Bangor , UK
  • 6 University of Galway , Galway , Ireland
  • 7 University of Newcastle upon Tyne , Newcastle upon Tyne , UK
  • Correspondence to Professor Andrew Booth, Univ Sheffield, Sheffield, UK; a.booth{at}sheffield.ac.uk

This paper forms part of a series of methodological guidance from the Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group and addresses rapid qualitative evidence syntheses (QESs), which use modified systematic, transparent and reproducible methodsu to accelerate the synthesis of qualitative evidence when faced with resource constraints. This guidance covers the review process as it relates to synthesis of qualitative research. ‘Rapid’ or ‘resource-constrained’ QES require use of templates and targeted knowledge user involvement. Clear definition of perspectives and decisions on indirect evidence, sampling and use of existing QES help in targeting eligibility criteria. Involvement of an information specialist, especially in prioritising databases, targeting grey literature and planning supplemental searches, can prove invaluable. Use of templates and frameworks in study selection and data extraction can be accompanied by quality assurance procedures targeting areas of likely weakness. Current Cochrane guidance informs selection of tools for quality assessment and of synthesis method. Thematic and framework synthesis facilitate efficient synthesis of large numbers of studies or plentiful data. Finally, judicious use of Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach for assessing the Confidence of Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative research assessments and of software as appropriate help to achieve a timely and useful review product.

  • Systematic Reviews as Topic
  • Patient Care

Data availability statement

No data are available. Not applicable. All data is from published articles.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ .

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjebm-2023-112620

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WHAT IS ALREADY KNOWN ON THIS TOPIC

Rapid Qualitative Evidence Synthesis (QES) is a relatively recent innovation in evidence synthesis and few published examples currently exists.

Guidance for authoring a rapid QES is scattered and requires compilation and summary.

WHAT THIS STUDY ADDS

This paper represents the first attempt to compile current guidance, illustrated by the experience of several international review teams.

We identify features of rapid QES methods that could be accelerated or abbreviated and where methods resemble those for conventional QESs.

HOW THIS STUDY MIGHT AFFECT RESEARCH, PRACTICE OR POLICY

This paper offers guidance for researchers when conducting a rapid QES and informs commissioners of research and policy-makers what to expect when commissioning such a review.

Introduction

This paper forms part of a series from the Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group providing methodological guidance for rapid reviews. While other papers in the series 1–4 focus on generic considerations, we aim to provide in-depth recommendations specific to a resource-constrained (or rapid) qualitative evidence synthesis (rQES). 5 This paper is accompanied by recommended resources ( online supplemental appendix A ) and an elaboration with practical considerations ( online supplemental appendix B ).

Supplemental material

The role of qualitative evidence in decision-making is increasingly recognised. 6 This, in turn, has led to appreciation of the value of qualitative evidence syntheses (QESs) that summarise findings across multiple contexts. 7 Recognition of the need for such syntheses to be available at the time most useful to decision-making has, in turn, driven demand for rapid qualitative evidence syntheses. 8 The breadth of potential rQES mirrors the versatility of QES in general (from focused questions to broad overviews) and outputs range from descriptive thematic maps through to theory-informed syntheses (see table 1 ).

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Glossary of important terms (alphabetically)

As with other resource-constrained reviews, no one size fits all. A team should start by specifying the phenomenon of interest, the review question, 9 the perspectives to be included 9 and the sample to be determined and selected. 10 Subsequently, the team must finalise the appropriate choice of synthesis. 11 Above all, the review team should consider the intended knowledge users, 3 including requirements of the funder.

An rQES team, in particular, cannot afford any extra time or resource requirements that might arise from either a misunderstanding of the review question, an unclear picture of user requirements or an inappropriate choice of methods. The team seeks to align the review question and the requirements of the knowledge user with available time and resources. They also need to ensure that the choice of data and choice of synthesis are appropriate to the intended ‘knowledge claims’ (epistemology) made by the rQES. 11 This involves the team asking ‘what types of data are meaningful for this review question?’, ‘what types of data are trustworthy?’ and ‘is the favoured synthesis method appropriate for this type of data?’. 12 This paper aims to help rQES teams to choose methods that best fit their project while understanding the limitations of those choices. Our recommendations derive from current QES guidance, 5 evidence on modified QES methods, 8 13 and practical experience. 14 15

This paper presents an overview of considerations and recommendations as described in table 2 . Supplemental materials including additional resources details of our recommendations and practical examples are provided in online supplemental appendices A and B .

Recommendations for resource-constrained qualitative evidence synthesis (rQES)

Setting the review question and topic refinement

Rapid reviews summarise information from multiple research studies to produce evidence for ‘the public, researchers, policymakers and funders in a systematic, resource-efficient manner’. 16 Involvement of knowledge users is critical. 3 Given time constraints, individual knowledge users could be asked only to feedback on very specific decisions and tasks or on selective sections of the protocol. Specifically, whenever a QES is abbreviated or accelerated, a team should ensure that the review question is agreed by a minimum number of knowledge users with expertise or experience that reflects all the important review perspectives and with authority to approve the final version 2 5 11 ( table 2 , item R1).

Involvement of topic experts can ensure that the rQES is responsive to need. 14 17 One Cochrane rQES saved considerable time by agreeing the review topic within a single meeting and one-phase iteration. 9 Decisions on topics to be omitted are also informed by a knowledge of existing QESs. 17

An information specialist can help to manage the quantity and quality of available evidence by setting conceptual boundaries and logistic limits. A structured question format, such as Setting-Perspective-Interest, phenomenon of-Comparison-Evaluation or Population-Interest, phenomenon of-Context helps in communicating the scope and, subsequently, in operationalising study selection. 9 18

Scoping (of review parameters) and mapping (of key types of evidence and likely richness of data) helps when planning the review. 5 19 The option to choose purposive sampling over comprehensive sampling approaches, as offered by standard QES, may be particularly helpful in the context of a rapid QES. 8 Once a team knows the approximate number and distribution of studies, perhaps mapping them against country, age, ethnicity, etc), they can decide whether or not to use purposive sampling. 12 An rQES for the WHO combined purposive with variation sampling. Sampling in two stages started by reducing the initial number of studies to a more manageable sampling frame and then sampling approximately a third of the remaining studies from within the sampling frame. 20

Sampling may target richer studies and/or privilege diversity. 8 21 A rich qualitative study typically illustrates findings with verbatim extracts from transcripts from interviews or textual responses from questionnaires. Rich studies are often found in specialist qualitative research or social science journals. In contrast, less rich studies may itemise themes with an occasional indicative text extract and tend to summarise findings. In clinical or biomedical journals less rich findings may be placed within a single table or box.

No rule exists on an optimal number of studies; too many studies makes it challenging to ‘maintain insight’, 22 too few does not sustain rigorous analysis. 23 Guidance on sampling is available from the forthcoming Cochrane-Campbell QES Handbook.

A review team can use templates to fast-track writing of a protocol. The protocol should always be publicly available ( table 2 , item R2). 24 25 Formal registration may require that the team has not commenced data extraction but should be considered if it does not compromise the rQES timeframe. Time pressures may require that methods are left suitably flexible to allow well-justified changes to be made as a detailed picture of the studies and data emerge. 26 The first Cochrane rQES drew heavily on text from a joint protocol/review template previously produced within Cochrane. 24

Setting eligibility criteria

An rQES team may need to limit the number of perspectives, focusing on those most important for decision-making 5 9 27 ( table 2 , item R3). Beyond the patients/clients each additional perspective (eg, family members, health professionals, other professionals, etc) multiplies the additional effort involved.

A rapid QES may require strict date and setting restrictions 17 and language restrictions that accommodate the specific requirements of the review. Specifically, the team should consider whether changes in context over time or substantive differences between geographical regions could be used to justify a narrower date range or a limited coverage of countries and/or languages. The team should also decide if ‘indirect evidence’ is to substitute for the absence of direct evidence. An rQES typically focuses on direct evidence, except when only indirect evidence is available 28 ( table 2 , item R4). Decisions on relevance are challenging—precautions for swine influenza may inform precautions for bird influenza. 28 A smoking ban may operate similarly to seat belt legislation, etc. A review team should identify where such shared mechanisms might operate. 28 An rQES team must also decide whether to use frameworks or models to focus the review. Theories may be unearthed within the topic search or be already known to team members, fro example, Theory of Planned Behaviour. 29

Options for managing the quantity and quality of studies and data emerge during the scoping (see above). In summary, the review team should consider privileging rich qualitative studies 2 ; consider a stepwise approach to inclusion of qualitative data and explore the possibility of sampling ( table 2 , item R5). For example, where data is plentiful an rQES may be limited to qualitative research and/or to mixed methods studies. Where data is less plentiful then surveys or other qualitative data sources may need to be included. Where plentiful reviews already exist, a team may decide to conduct a review of reviews 5 by including multiple QES within a mega-synthesis 28 29 ( table 2 , item R6).

Searching for QES merits its own guidance, 21–23 30 this section reinforces important considerations from guidance specific to qualitative research. Generic guidance for rapid reviews in this series broadly applies to rapid QESs. 1

In addition to journal articles, by far the most plentiful source, qualitative research is found in book chapters, theses and in published and unpublished reports. 21 Searches to support an rQES can (a) limit the number of databases searched, deliberately selecting databases from diverse disciplines, (b) use abbreviated study filters to retrieve qualitative designs and (c) employ high yield complementary methods (eg, reference checking, citation searching and Related Articles features). An information specialist (eg, librarian) should be involved in prioritising sources and search methods ( table 2 , item R7). 11 14

According to empirical evidence optimal database combinations include Scopus plus CINAHL or Scopus plus ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global (two-database combinations) and Scopus plus CINAHL plus ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global (three-database combination) with both choices retrieving between 89% and 92% of relevant studies. 30

If resources allow, searches should include one or two specialised databases ( table 2 , item R8) from different disciplines or contexts 21 (eg, social science databases, specialist discipline databases or regional or institutional repositories). Even when resources are limited, the information specialist should factor in time for peer review of at least one search strategy ( table 2 , item R9). 31 Searches for ‘grey literature’ should selectively target appropriate types of grey literature (such as theses or process evaluations) and supplemental searches, including citation chaining or Related Articles features ( table 2 , item R10). 32 The first Cochrane rQES reported that searching reference lists of key papers yielded an extra 30 candidate papers for review. However, the team documented exclusion of grey literature as a limitation of their review. 15

Study selection

Consistency in study selection is achieved by using templates, by gaining a shared team understanding of the audience and purpose, and by ongoing communication within, and beyond, the team. 2 33 Individuals may work in parallel on the same task, as in the first Cochrane rQES, or follow a ‘segmented’ approach where each reviewer is allocated a different task. 14 The use of machine learning in the specific context of rQES remains experimental. However, the possibility of developing qualitative study classifiers comparable to those for randomised controlled trials offers an achievable aspiration. 34

Title and abstract screening

The entire screening team should use pre-prepared, pretested title and abstract templates to limit the scale of piloting, calibration and testing ( table 2 , item R11). 1 14 The first Cochrane rQES team double-screened titles and abstracts within Covidence review software. 14 Disagreements were resolved with reference to a third reviewer achieving a shared understanding of the eligibility criteria and enhancing familiarity with target studies and insight from data. 14 The team should target and prioritise identified risks of either over-zealous inclusion or over-exclusion specific to each rQES ( table 2 , item R12). 14 The team should maximise opportunities to capture divergent views and perspectives within study findings. 35

Full-text screening

Full-text screening similarly benefits from using a pre-prepared pretested standardised template where possible 1 14 ( table 2 , item R11). If a single reviewer undertakes full-text screening, 8 the team should identify likely risks to trustworthiness of findings and focus quality control procedures (eg, use of additional reviewers and percentages for double screening) on specific threats 14 ( table 2 , item R13). The Cochrane rQES team opted for double screening to assist their immersion within the topic. 14

Data extraction

Data extraction of descriptive/contextual data may be facilitated by review management software (eg, EPPI-Reviewer) or home-made approaches using Google Forms, or other survey software. 36 Where extraction of qualitative findings requires line-by-line coding with multiple iterations of the data then a qualitative data management analysis package, such as QSR NVivo, reaps dividends. 36 The team must decide if, collectively, they favour extracting data to a template or coding direct within an electronic version of an article.

Quality control must be fit for purpose but not excessive. Published examples typically use a single reviewer for data extraction 8 with use of two independent reviewers being the exception. The team could limit data extraction to minimal essential items. They may also consider re-using descriptive details and findings previously extracted within previous well-conducted QES ( table 2 , item R14). A pre-existing framework, where readily identified, may help to structure the data extraction template. 15 37 The same framework may be used to present the findings. Some organisations may specify a preferred framework, such as an evidence-to-decision-making framework. 38

Assessment of methodological limitations

The QES community assess ‘methodological limitations’ rather than use ‘risk of bias’ terminology. An rQES team should pick an approach appropriate to their specific review. For example, a thematic map may not require assessment of individual studies—a brief statement of the generic limitations of the set of studies may be sufficient. However, for any synthesis that underpins practice recommendations 39 assessment of included studies is integral to the credibility of findings. In any decision-making context that involves recommendations or guidelines, an assessment of methodological limitations is mandatory. 40 41

Each review team should work with knowledge users to determine a review-specific approach to quality assessment. 27 While ‘traffic lights’, similar to the outputs from the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool, may facilitate rapid interpretation, accompanying textual notes are invaluable in highlighting specific areas for concern. In particular, the rQES team should demonstrate that they are aware (a) that research designs for qualitative research seek to elicit divergent views, rather than control for variation; (b) that, for qualitative research, the selection of the sample is far more informative than the size of the sample; and (c) that researchers from primary research, and equally reviewers for the qualitative synthesis, need to be thoughtful and reflexive about their possible influences on interpretation of either the primary data or the synthesised findings.

Selection of checklist

Numerous scales and checklists exist for assessing the quality of qualitative studies. In the absence of validated risk of bias tools for qualitative studies, the team should choose a tool according to Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group (CQIMG) guidance together with expediency (according to ease of use, prior familiarity, etc) ( table 2 , item R15). 41 In comparison to the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist which was never designed for use in synthesis, 42 the Cochrane qualitative tool is similarly easy to use and was designed for QES use. Work is underway to identify an assessment process that is compatible with QESs that support decision-making. 41 For now the choice of a checklist remains determined by interim Cochrane guidance and, beyond this, by personal preference and experience. For an rQES a team could use a single reviewer to assess methodological limitations, with verification of judgements (and support statements) by a second reviewer ( table 2 , item R16).

The CQIMG endorses three types of synthesis; thematic synthesis, framework synthesis and meta-ethnography ( box 1 ). 43 44 Rapid QES favour descriptive thematic synthesis 45 or framework synthesis, 46 47 except when theory generation (meta-ethnography 48 49 or analytical thematic synthesis) is a priority ( table 2 , item R17).

Choosing a method for rapid qualitative synthesis

Thematic synthesis: first choice method for rQES. 45 For example, in their rapid QES Crooks and colleagues 44 used a thematic synthesis to understand the experiences of both academic and lived experience coresearchers within palliative and end of life research. 45

Framework synthesis: alternative where a suitable framework can be speedily identified. 46 For example, Bright and colleagues 46 considered ‘best-fit framework synthesis’ as appropriate for mapping study findings to an ‘a priori framework of dimensions measured by prenatal maternal anxiety tools’ within their ‘streamlined and time-limited evidence review’. 47

Less commonly, an adapted meta-ethnographical approach was used for an implementation model of social distancing where supportive data (29 studies) was plentiful. 48 However, this QES demonstrates several features that subsequently challenge its original identification as ‘rapid’. 49

Abbrevations: QES, qualitative evidence synthesis; rQES, resource-constrained qualitative evidence synthesis.

The team should consider whether a conceptual model, theory or framework offers a rapid way for organising, coding, interpreting and presenting findings ( table 2 , item R18). If the extracted data appears rich enough to sustain further interpretation, data from a thematic or framework synthesis can subsequently be explored within a subsequent meta-ethnography. 43 However, this requires a team with substantial interpretative expertise. 11

Assessments of confidence in the evidence 4 are central to any rQES that seeks to support decision-making and the QES-specific Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach for assessing the Confidence of Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative research (GRADE-CERQual) approach is designed to assess confidence in qualitative evidence. 50 This can be performed by a single reviewer, confirmed by a second reviewer. 26 Additional reviewers could verify all, or a sample of, assessments. For a rapid assessment a team must prioritise findings, using objective criteria; a WHO rQES focused only on the three ‘highly synthesised findings’. 20 The team could consider reusing GRADE-CERQual assessments from published QESs if findings are relevant and of demonstrable high quality ( table 2 , item R19). 50 No rapid approach to full application of GRADE-CERQual currently exists.

Reporting and record management

Little is written on optimal use of technology. 8 A rapid review is not a good time to learn review management software or qualitative analysis management software. Using such software for all general QES processes ( table 2 , item R20), and then harnessing these skills and tools when specifically under resource pressures, is a sounder strategy. Good file labelling and folder management and a ‘develop once, re-use multi-times’ approach facilitates resource savings.

Reporting requirements include the meta-ethnography reporting guidance (eMERGe) 51 and the Enhancing transparency in reporting the synthesis of qualitative research (ENTREQ) statement. 52 An rQES should describe limitations and their implications for confidence in the evidence even more thoroughly than a regular QES; detailing the consequences of fast-tracking, streamlining or of omitting processes all together. 8 Time spent documenting reflexivity is similarly important. 27 If QES methodology is to remain credible rapid approaches must be applied with insight and documented with circumspection. 53 54 (56)

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication.

Not applicable.

Ethics approval

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Supplementary materials

Supplementary data.

This web only file has been produced by the BMJ Publishing Group from an electronic file supplied by the author(s) and has not been edited for content.

  • Data supplement 1

Contributors All authors (AB, IS, JN, CH, FC) have made substantial contributions to the conception and design of the guidance document. AB led on drafting the work and revising it critically for important intellectual content. All other authors (IS, JN, CH, FC) contributed to revisions of the document. All authors (AB, IS, JN, CH, FC) have given final approval of the version to be published. As members of the Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group and/or the Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group all authors (AB, IS, JN, CH, FC) agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Competing interests AB is co-convenor of the Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group. In the last 36 months, he received royalties from Systematic Approaches To a Successful Literature Review (Sage 3rd edition), honoraria from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and travel support from the WHO. JN is lead convenor of the Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group. In the last 36 months, she has received honoraria from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and travel support from the WHO. CH is co-convenor of the Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group.

Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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Top 60 Examples of Qualitative Research Topics

Table of contents

  • 1.1 Align your research topic with your field of interest
  • 1.2 Make sure you have all the right research on the topic
  • 1.3 Follow your university guidelines!
  • 2 List of qualitative research topics examples
  • 3 Conclusion

Qualitative research refers to the intuitive and creative analysis of intangible information you can use for writing a top-class college paper. Due to interacting with the data before and after the collection, having the best qualitative research topics is paramount to writing a research assignment that stands above the rest.

These topics can involve gathering key data from the most relevant sources to your assignment topics and are fundamental to your effort to collect first-hand information. Some of the major fields where qualitative research is performed include:

  • Anthropology
  • Political science
  • Business management
  • Social science

The main goal of qualitative research is to help you understand the topic of your assignment by identifying the most important aspects of your topic and gathering enough information to provide an in-depth analysis of the topic at hand and provide the answers to all the related questions. This type of research aims to identify and understand the general lifestyle, issues, and problems to provide solutions to a global problem. Since doing all the research on your own can turn out to be quite daunting, you can always resort to hiring an  affordable research paper writing service  to get professional assistance.

Tips on how to choose good qualitative research topics

Writing a research paper or a college assignment with success solely depends on your ability to choose suitable qualitative research topics. It’s essential to carefully examine and explore the field with all the challenges before you start writing to identify the key factors and aspects of your assignment. Here are a few tips on how to do that to get good research paper ideas.

Align your research topic with your field of interest

Your assignment topic should be something that interests you deeply so that you can completely get into it and make the most out of your efforts. More importantly, your topic should allow you to develop your personal skills and learn new things.

Make sure you have all the right research on the topic

If you choose a topic that has little to no supporting research available, you’ll end up getting stuck. You must properly research the topic before you start writing. This research will also help you shortlist unrelated topics and narrow down your scope so that you can focus on the information that matches your exact needs.

Follow your university guidelines!

Consulting with your professors and going through the assessment guidelines is paramount to writing a top-class paper. Follow your university guidelines to make sure your efforts get approved by your supervisor.

List of qualitative research topics examples

  • Long-term planning methods for better project management
  • How to deal with issues during a project implementation program
  • The best practices for dealing with tight project deadlines
  • Why time management is essential for goal setting
  • Flexibility in management: How to improve decision-making as a manager
  • Top professional techniques for developing management skills
  • Healthcare in low-income societies: How to achieve affordable medical care
  • Dealing with a loss and the process of recovery
  • How to make eco-friendly facemasks
  • Preventing flu during cold seasons: The most effective preventative methods
  • The importance of developing community-based sanitization programs
  • The best practices for quitting alcohol and cigarettes
  • Helping the young manage their obesity: The most effective obesity management strategies
  • Promoting healthcare during COVID-19: Strategies for expanding the health sector
  • Guide to collecting resources for building a centralized community
  • How academic and social practices can help uplift a society
  • Professional practices for building a one-on-one relationship between teachers and students
  • The science behind consumer motivations and appraisals
  • Reshaping the traditional form of virtual ethnography
  • Are homeschooling programs as efficient as they should be?
  • The importance of developing healthy eating habits
  • The best strategies for getting ahead of the prospective market
  • How to track the dynamics of real estate investments
  • How effective are modern newsgathering technologies?
  • Developing introvert behavior and its key effects
  • Can sharing help an individual overcome addictions?
  • Guide to creating a one-people community
  • The most effective methods for dealing with cyberbullying
  • The best way to bringing social equity to patriarchal societies
  • How quarantine prevents the spread of infectious diseases
  • The aging populations and the trends they follow
  • The latest digital media trends
  • Methods for mitigating communicable diseases
  • How governments work on protocol observance
  • Practices for preventing the spread of the coronavirus in crowded places
  • Alleviating pain during childbirth
  • Maternal healthcare in developing countries
  • Can pop music change erratic youth behavior?
  • The best therapies for recovering from brain surgery
  • How alcohol changes normal behavior
  • Depression management among school-going children
  • Strategies for avoiding a viral disease
  • Ways to influence the eating habits of children
  • How and when to engage in sporting activities
  • How low socioeconomic background impacts self-esteem
  • The importance of parenting for shaping children’s morals
  • The impact of poor market completion on supply and demand
  • Do children under four years need preschool education?
  • Single-gender schools vs. mixed schools
  • How the world would benefit from the same education system
  • How virtual reality helps reshape the world
  • The hottest destinations for traveling at the moment
  • How fast does the ozone layer deplete?
  • Is it possible to predict natural disasters before they occur?
  • The effects of digital marketing on modern businesses
  • Physical learning vs. online learning
  • How related are Windows and Apple products?
  • Study cases of bullying in schools
  • The effect of stress on human behavior
  • Patient behavior and the influence of social processes

If you’re looking for the best way to choose some of the most suitable qualitative research paper topics for your college assignment, these 60 topics should help you get ahead of your task and write an engaging paper. All topics above are for your personal education and motivation. If you still need help with your assignment, our professional paper writing services are available 24/7.

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  1. Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods

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COMMENTS

  1. Qualitative Study

    Qualitative research is a type of research that explores and provides deeper insights into real-world problems. [1] Instead of collecting numerical data points or intervene or introduce treatments just like in quantitative research, qualitative research helps generate hypotheses as well as further investigate and understand quantitative data.

  2. PDF Sample of the Qualitative Research Paper

    QUALITATIVE RESEARCH PAPER 1 Sample of the Qualitative Research Paper In the following pages you will find a sample of the full BGS research qualitative paper with each section or chapter as it might look in a completed research paper beginning with the title page and working through each chapter and section of the research paper.

  3. What Is Qualitative Research?

    Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.

  4. Qualitative research design (JARS-Qual)

    Home Journal Article Reporting Standards Qualitative research design (JARS-Qual) JARS-Qual, developed in 2018, mark the first time APA Style has included qualitative standards. They outline what should be reported in qualitative research manuscripts to make the review process easier.

  5. Qualitative Methods

    Voice, perspective, and reflexivity -- the qualitative methodologist owns and is reflective about her or his own voice and perspective; a credible voice conveys authenticity and trustworthiness; complete objectivity being impossible and pure subjectivity undermining credibility, the researcher's focus reflects a balance between understanding and...

  6. Navigating the qualitative manuscript writing process: some tips for

    Qualitative research explores the 'black box' of how phenomena are constituted. Such research can provide rich and diverse insights about social practices and individual experiences across the continuum of undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education, sectors and contexts.

  7. Home

    Qualitative Study Methods. Qualitative study methods employ many of the same methods as quantitative data collection, except that instead of structured or closed, they are semi- or unstructured and open-ended. Some of the most common qualitative study techniques include open-ended surveys and questionnaires, interviews, focus groups ...

  8. PDF A Front-to-Back Guide to Writing a Qualitative Research

    Purpose - This paper aims to offer junior scholars a front-to-back guide to writing an academic, Received25August2015 Revised25August2015 Accepted14September2015. theoretically positioned, qualitative research article in the social sciences. Design/methodology/approach - The paper draws on formal (published) advice from books and articles ...

  9. PDF Reporting Qualitative Research in Psychology

    What Are Qualitative Journal Article Reporting Standards? Qualitative researchers are interested not only in telling stories but also in developing knowledge to answer questions or solve problems.

  10. Guidelines for Preparing Qualitative Manuscripts

    Guidelines for Preparing Qualitative Manuscripts. Authors submitting qualitative manuscripts to Psychology of Religion and Spirituality ( PRS) should familiarize themselves with the Journal Article Reporting Standards for Qualitative Primary Research (JARS-Qual) and seek to adhere to them as much as possible. In particular, the following JARS ...

  11. A Front-to-Back Guide to Writing a Qualitative Research Article

    Findings - Most qualitative research articles can be divided into four major parts: the frontend, the methods, the findings, and the backend. This paper offers step-by-step instructions for...

  12. Qualitative Research

    Qualitative research is a research methodology that aims to explore and understand the complexities of human behavior, emotions, and experiences through non-numerical data. Unlike quantitative research, which deals in numbers and statistics, qualitative research is all about revealing the stories, and perspectives that make us uniquely human.

  13. Planning Qualitative Research: Design and Decision Making for New

    Given the nuance and complexity of qualitative research, this paper provides an accessible starting point from which novice researchers can begin their journey of learning about, designing, and conducting qualitative research. For students conducting their first qualitative research project, the choice of approach and subsequent alignment among ...

  14. Criteria for Good Qualitative Research: A Comprehensive Review

    Fundamental Criteria: General Research Quality. Various researchers have put forward criteria for evaluating qualitative research, which have been summarized in Table 3.Also, the criteria outlined in Table 4 effectively deliver the various approaches to evaluate and assess the quality of qualitative work. The entries in Table 4 are based on Tracy's "Eight big‐tent criteria for excellent ...

  15. Qualitative Research: Sage Journals

    Qualitative Research is a peer-reviewed international journal that has been leading debates about qualitative methods for over 20 years. The journal provides a forum for the discussion and development of qualitative methods across disciplines, publishing high quality articles that contribute to the ways in which we think about and practice the craft of qualitative research.

  16. (PDF) Qualitative Research Paper

    Qualitative Research Paper Authors: Nasiru Anas Gombe State University This paper examines the relevance of qualitative research methodology as a systematic method of inquiry that seeks...

  17. PDF Students' Perceptions towards the Quality of Online Education: A

    861. Students' Perceptions towards the Quality of Online Education: A Qualitative Approach. Yi Yang Linda F. Cornelius Mississippi State University. Abstract. How to ensure the quality of online learning in institutions of higher education has been a growin g concern during the past several years.

  18. Research Paper

    Definition: Research Paper is a written document that presents the author's original research, analysis, and interpretation of a specific topic or issue. It is typically based on Empirical Evidence, and may involve qualitative or quantitative research methods, or a combination of both. The purpose of a research paper is to contribute new ...

  19. PDF The Impact of Infrastructure on Development Outcomes

    e Policy Research Working Paper Series disseminates the ndings of work in progress to encourage the exchange of ideas about development issues. An objective of the series is to get the ndings out quickly, even if the presentations are less than fully polished. ... This paper has provided a qualitative synthesis of the main findings of a new ...

  20. Qualitative Psychology Sample articles

    February 2015. by Erin E. Toolis and Phillip L. Hammack. Lifetime Activism, Marginality, and Psychology: Narratives of Lifelong Feminist Activists Committed to Social Change (PDF, 93KB) August 2014. by Anjali Dutt and Shelly Grabe. Qualitative Inquiry in the History of Psychology (PDF, 82KB) February 2014. by Frederick J. Wertz.

  21. Rapid reviews methods series: guidance on rapid qualitative evidence

    This paper forms part of a series of methodological guidance from the Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group and addresses rapid qualitative evidence syntheses (QESs), which use modified systematic, transparent and reproducible methodsu to accelerate the synthesis of qualitative evidence when faced with resource constraints. This guidance covers the review process as it relates to synthesis of ...

  22. Qualitative Research Topics

    Anthropology. Political science. Psychology. Business management. History. Social science. The main goal of qualitative research is to help you understand the topic of your assignment by identifying the most important aspects of your topic and gathering enough information to provide an in-depth analysis of the topic at hand and provide the ...