Interpreting a Qualitative Research Paper
Original Editor - Mariam Hashem
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Critical Appraisal of Qualitative Research
- 3 Step by Step Guide to Interpreting A Qualitative Research Paper
- 4 References
Qualitative research aims to study things in their natural setting to make sense of a phenomenon in terms of meanings people bring to them Qualitative research involves the studied use of a variety of methods – case study, personal experience, introspective, life story, interview, observational, historical, interactional, and visual texts 
Characteristics of qualitative research:
- Explores meanings
- Acknowledges the researcher’s point of view (reflexivity)
- Uses interpretative methods of analysis
- Iterative process
- Contextual: concerned with the individual's perspective
Critical Appraisal of Qualitative Research
The qualitative researcher must:
- Eliminate subjectivity
- Acknowledge their relationship with the study/participants/data and question implications on study findings
- Discuss varied viewpoints to gain a greater range of perspectives
- Examine deviant participants and multiple coding that challenge assumptions
Trustworthiness or rigour of a study refers to the degree of confidence in data, interpretation, and methods used to ensure the quality of a study. Researchers should discuss the methods and procedures necessary for a study to be considered credible 
Credibility is how confident we are in the truth of a particulars studies findings. Lincoln and Guba suggested that the trustworthiness of a study depends on 4 factors: credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.
|Aspect||Qualitative Term||Quantitative Term|
|Truth value||Credibility Internal||Validity|
|Applicability||Transferability||External Validity or generalisability|
Techniques for imposing rigour
- Triangulation: is defined as the use of varied methods, data sources, and multiple researchers
- Reflexivity: refers to the position of the researchers in relation to the research and their interaction with the participants
- Multiple coding: refers to the use of independent researchers, calculate inter-rater reliability and idea generation
- Respondent validation: involving participants to give their opinion and interpretations to provide an overview and generate further data
- Deviant case analysis: exploring participants who might seem to be deviant from the norm and involve them in the study
Step by Step Guide to Interpreting A Qualitative Research Paper
The CASP is the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklists which are often used in health research. They cover many research methods, including qualitative research. They are designed to prompt the reader to reflect on different aspects of a research paper and are typically structured around three core domains:
- The validity of the results
- The findings of the study
- The transferability
Analyzing the Introduction
The introduction to a research paper should give the context and reflect the importance of the research question leading up to the rationale of the research. It should also discuss the gap in the area that's been researched as well as the angle of focus.
Previous research should also be discussed and highlight similarities and limitations to explain why this research should take place and it's significance to find answers,
When interpreting the introduction, a good question to ask is whether the use of qualitative research was appropriate for this type of study or not? Qualitative methods are typically used for illuminating the actions, or subjective experiences, of participants or when looking to gain an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon.
Questions to ask when interpreting the research question:
- Is there a clear statement of the aims of the study?
- What are the goals of the study?
- What was the rationale for this research?
- How relevant is this?
- Is the research question clearly formulated? Is it important?
Sample size and participants
Check the following:
- Was the sample used appropriately for its research questions?
- What were the methods of the participants' selection and recruitment?
- Was the recruitment strategy relevant to the research question?
- Was the sampling strategy justified?
- Was the sampling purposive/ theoretical?
- Was it a convenience sample?
- Ths inclusion and exclusion criteria of the study
It is important to analyse whether the data collection methods were appropriate for the research objectives and settings? This involves an in-depth analysis of the methods and how did the methods influence the findings?
The study should justify the data collection method used to meet the criteria of the research question 
Data saturation is the point at which new information or themes stop to emerge. This is often under-reported by researchers in qualitative research.
Characteristics of proper data analysis:
- Transparency in the analysis and interpretations
- Uses a systematic approach
- Discusses contradicted data and divergent findings
- Multiple coding
- Credibility of results
- Justified conclusion
Reflexivity is a self-awareness of one’s role in the research process. It is when a researcher reflects on their own position within the research and they consider their own biases. COREQ is a checklist of the criteria for authors which contains a whole section dedicated to reflexivity.
It is unlikely that a researcher would remain completely neutral towards a topic with no opinion or viewpoint towards it at all. Reflexivity is sometimes confused with reflection. Hibbert et al  offer a useful distinction between the two terms, suggesting that reflection is like a mirror image that gives the opportunity to observe and examine our ways of doing. Reflexivity, on the other hand, involves thinking about our experiences and questioning our ways of doing.
Can the results of the study be transferred or applied to the practice?
Transferability refers to the extent that the findings of a particular qualitative study can be applied to other situations. This should be reflected in the large and variant sample size, depending on the research question.
Clarity and transparency of data analysis
By looking into the steps to ensure the study is clear of bias through looking into:
- The in-depth description and the type of analysis
- How the data were selected from the original sample?
- Is there enough data to support the findings? In qualitative research that might be in the form of quotes
The main findings should be discussed clearly in the discussion section with evidence both for and against their argument agreeing or contradicting previous literature.
Components of the ethical research relationship
- Acknowledgement of bias
- Rapport and managing distress
- Respect for autonomy
- Avoidance of exploitation (being aware of power relationships
- Denkin NK & Lincoln YS (Eds.) Handbook of qualitative research. London: Sage. 1994.
- Yates J, Leggett T. Qualitative research: An introduction. Radiologic technology. 2016 Nov 1;88(2):225-31.
- Aspers P, Corte U. What is qualitative in qualitative research. Qualitative Sociology. 2019 Jun 1;42(2):139-60.
- Algeo N. Interpreting a Qualitative Research Paper. Physioplus Course 2020
- Samsi K. Critical appraisal of qualitative research. Lecture, from King’s College London. 2012.
- Connelly LM. Trustworthiness in qualitative research. Medsurg Nursing. 2016 Nov 1;25(6):435-7.
- Lincoln, YS. & Guba, EG. Naturalistic Inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. (1985).
- Hannes 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. Available from URL http://cqrmg.cochrane.org/supplemental-handbook-guidance
- Hibbert P, Coupland C, MacIntosh R. Reflexivity: Recursion and relationality in organizational research processes. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal. 2010 May 11.
- Probyn J, Howarth M, Maz J. The ‘middle bit’: how to appraise qualitative research. British Journal of Cardiac Nursing. 2016 May 2;11(5):248-54.
- Introduction to critical appraisal. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8Y-yfi3vp4[last accessed 01/11/2020]