What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is an umbrella term that refers to a number of research methodologies that are well established in the social sciences. They are increasingly being recognized and employed in the health sciences (and funded by agencies such as NIH, CIHR, FRSQ, SSHRC).

Qualitative research is particularly suited for certain types of research questions. For example, questions that address poorly understood topics where there is insufficient knowledge about what should be measured and how it could be measured. More advanced qualitative research can address topics that involve complex social processes.

Qualitative data are collected through verbal reports or observed behaviours, and are often collected over time and in the natural setting of the research participant or phenomenon under study. Qualitative research has established specific standards for methodological rigour.

Several highly acclaimed qualitative health research studies have examined topics such as: surgical practices, genetic counseling, critical care decision making, brain death, clinical reasoning, organ donation, and the construction of scientific facts in a laboratory.

Click PDF icon here for a helpful schema that situates qualitative research in a continuum of research approaches. Its citation is Bergman E et al. AM Last Page: A Guide to Research Paradigms Relevant to Medical Education. Academic Medicine, 2012, 87(4). Thank you to Jiameng Xu for sharing it with us!

Qualiative Searching Tips PDF icon qualitative_searching_handout.pdf


Back to top