Qualitative Research

Original Editors - Scott Buxton

Top Contributors - Scott Buxton, Mariam Hashem, Tony Lowe, Tarina van der Stockt and Kim Jackson

Definition

It can be hard to give just one clear definition of what qualitative research is because of its broad, in-depth nature and the breadth and variety of what it is trying to achieve.

Keith Punch defined Qualitative research as ''empirical research where data are not in the form of numbers''. Empirical means that data or research is based on something that is experienced or observed as opposed to being based on theory. Data could be in the form of videos, images, or artefacts[1].

Here are several other definitions that will provide different perspectives.

Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding the meaning people have constructed, that is, how people make sense of their world and the experiences they have in the world.[2] Qualitative research is research using methods such as participant observation or case studies which result in a narrative, descriptive account of a setting or practice. Sociologists using these methods typically reject positivism and adopt a form of interpretive sociology.[3]

Qualitative research is a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that makes the world visible. These practices transform the world. They turn the world into a series of representations, including field notes, interviews, conversations, photographs, recordings, and memos to the self. At this level, qualitative research involves an interpretive, naturalistic approach to the world. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them[4].


“Qualitative research involves any research that uses data that do not indicate ordinal values.[5]

Qualitative research aims to study things in their natural setting to make sense of a phenomenon in terms of meanings people bring to them. It doesn't involve any form of intervention or a method to manipulate the studied environment. Unlike Randomized Clinical Trials (RCT) where the study is meant to measure an intervention. For example, qualitative research can study experiences or people's perspectives in which case the study is conducted without any influence on the environment to get naturally occurring data within the natural setting. So as best we can, we won't influence the environment aiming to make sense of phenomena, an event, a case, an object, or experience[6][7].

For some qualitative research can be seen as a simple data collection method but for others can be a complex, deep and meaningful insight into the world.

Qualitative Research is[8]:

  • Inductive: it means starting with collecting data and then looking for patterns or drawing some kinds of theories from it. Whereas if we look at quantitative research, sometimes it uses a deductive approach where the theories are already established and being tested. In qualitative research, theories and patterns are formed from the collected data[7]
  • Iterative: an iterative process is a sequence of steps that could be repeated usually to improve something. This process is generally convergent meaning that a topic is approached from a broad point of view then gets limited and refined to get a closer look. Iteration can also mean incorporating a factor or an element in the research, not necessarily from the beginning, that could continue to the end of the study if found to be insightful which means that this method of research is flexible and adaptable[7].

Qualitative Research: Now and Then

The word qualitative stems back to around the 15th century from the Latin word ''qualitas'' which means quality, an attribute, or a property. So it would make sense that qualitative research looks at the properties, the qualities or attributes of something as opposed to quantities of something[7].

The first Now qualitative researcher remains unknown, however, looking back to the 19th and 20th centuries the cultural anthropologists influenced the research field by their observational studies of non-literate societies. Sigmund Freud's and Piaget, well known key figures in the field of psychology, relied on case studies on interviewing in their work and observation techniques.

Qualitative research prospered at the end of the 20th century, A nice study by Rene et al. in 2002[9] looked at the incidence of how many times qualitative research terms were used in research papers in the field of psychology within the 20th century. They found the term qualitative research almost didn't exist until the 1980s, This has changed dramatically in the 1990s when there was a huge sharp rise in its popularity and use.

The increased popularity could be credited to a number of reasons:

  • The Grounded theory, an influential approach in qualitative research, was introduced in the 1960s followed by newly published academic journals with a focus on qualitative research over the following two decades, This has created a platform for publishing and access to readers who can spread the word and contribute to the discussion and the debate about the findings[7].
  • As with quantitative research and statistical analysis software, there are some computer software programs that started to be developed for qualitative researchers to help manage their data. And more recently, programs developed to help with data interpretation and analysis.
  • It was debatable at one point that qualitative research might not be as compatible as the quantitative methods. the findings and contributions of qualitative research have now gained huge momentum which shifted the way of thinking and convinced researchers that both methods can complement one another, adding strength and value to the studied field[7].

Differences Between Qualitative and Quantitative

Although the two methods are often seen as antagonists, there is a growing recognition that the distinctions between the methods are unnecessary. They cannot be compared side by side but for the purposes of trying to understand some key characteristics of each of the types of research, we will look at qualitative and quantitative methods and how they might complement one another.

In terms of objectives, qualitative research is inductive and aims to explore new things, insights, generate theories, patterns, themes, and hypotheses. On the other hand, quantitative research is deductive so it investigates the validity of facts, estimates relationships, and predicts outcomes, It controls, describes, or confirms hypotheses. There's a lot more breadth to quantitative methods, whereas there's a lot more depth to qualitative[7].


Qualitative research is subjective, flexible, and naturalistic. Quantitative on the other hand is experimental and uses statistics.


In terms of design, qualitative research in its design can be flexible, adaptable, can evolve over time. and can also be emergent. Whereas quantitative research is a lot more structured, fixed and predetermined[7].

The sample size is another area where the two research methods differ. The sample tends to be smaller in qualitative research and the data saturation can be reached quicker. But in quantitative research, larger samples are needed to generalize the results and ensure the reliability of the intervention,

The researcher can be considered an actual instrument in qualitative research and their own biases and opinion can influence the data collection because they determine the questions, often open-ended or semi-structured, to guide interviews and set the tools to be utilized then observe the whole process and recognize the patterns. Whereas in quantitative research, outcome measures should be standardized for the statistical analysis so we use structured objective tools like questionnaires and lab tests[7].

The analysis utilized in qualitative research is iterative, A report or transcript can be read many times, a video can be watched several times to draw conclusions and highlight key terms. In quantitative research, the analysis depends on modeling and statistical testing.

Finally, data reporting in qualitative research is done by the language of the researchers and their interpretation which means that if the same study was repeated we might get different results. It can often be helpful to get an independent researcher to look into the findings and conclusions of the study to see if they would agree or provide different insights and this can eliminate subjectivity and ensures flexibility of the study. Quantitative research is more objective and can be generalized because the data is reported through statistical analysis, so it's numerical data and can be organized in tables or graphs or charts[7].

The table below summarizes the differences between qualitative and quantitative methods: 

Comparison of Quantitative and Qualitative Methods[10]
Quantitative Qualitative
Philosophical Foundation Deductive, reductionalist Inductive, holistic
Aim To test pre-set hypothesis To explore complex human issues
Study Plan Step-wise, predetermined Iterative, flexible
Position of researcher Aims to be detached and objective Integral part of the research process
Assessing quality of outcomes Direct tests of validity, reliability using statistics Indirect quality assurance methods of trustworthiness
Sample size Tends to be larger Tends to be smaller
Study setting Can be controlled Tends to be natural
Data Reporting • Reported via the language of the researcher.

• Textual data/non-numerical

• Reported via statistical analysis

• Numerical data

[11]

Which Method is Better?

When deciding between qualitative and quantitative research there are some factors to be considered to determine the best method. Each method has its own place. So, instead of questioning what is the best research method, the question should be what research methods might best fit the research question/s?

Generally, qualitative research is suitable when we try to understand phenomena or a phenomenon, looking at experiences, perspectives, opinions, or meaning. While quantitative research might look at prevalences, risk factors, effectiveness, correlations, causation, etc. For example, if a researcher is looking to explore the experiences of footballers in recovery post ACL injury, qualitative data or qualitative research might be the answer. If the investigation is on the incidence of ACL injuries in footballers in the UK, for example, quantitative methods are suitable for this type of research[7].

Despite the differences between the two research methods, they can also complement each other and they can be used together as mixed methods of research since both methods have a set of strengths and limitations. For example, a study by Algeo & Aitken in 2019[12] investigated the role of occupational therapists in critical care. The study used a survey to obtain numerical data such as the numbers of occupational therapists in each ward, hours of work, type of interventions, type of assessments they use, and the amount of non-clinical work they do, etc. This was followed by in-depth interviews with a subset of the therapists who participated in the surveys to get a better understanding of the challenges and the facilitators for the Occupational therapists' role in critical care. So, mixed methods can be a useful technique in research[7].

Basic Approaches 

Qualitative research can appear to be a complex topic which may push many prospective researchers towards the comforts of a quantitative approach, however, the outcomes of performing qualitative research can have equally important ramifications. After all patients are more than a disease or just 'another number' on a waiting list, they are people and are the reason many people are in the healthcare profession; their experience is vitally important. Ultimately qualitative research attempts to bridge between scientific findings and clinical practice with patient interaction. The table below gives a brief overview of the central identity and themes of qualitative research and data collection methods:

Research Approaches and Implications for Data Collection[13]n
Types of Approach Defining Features Data Collection Implications
Phenomenology
  • Focuses on individual experiences, beliefs and perceptions
  • Test used as a proxy for human experience
  • Questions and observations are aimed at drawing out individual experiences and perceptions
  • In focus groups, group exeriences and normative perceptions are typically sought out
  • In-depth interviews and focus groups are ideal methods for collecting phenomenological data.
Ethnography
  • Oriented toward studying shared meanings and practices
  • Emphasizes the emic perspective 
  • Can have a historical or contemporary focus 
  • Questions and observations are generally related to social and cultural processes and shared meanings within a given group
  • Traditionally associated with long-term fieldwork
  • Participation observation is well suited to ethnographic inquiry
Inductive Thematic Analysis
  • Draws on inductive analytic methods 
  • Involves identifying and coding emergent themes within data
  • Most common analytic approach used in qualitative inquiry
  • ITA requires free-flowing data


  • In-depth interviews and focus groups are the most common data collection techniques associated with ITA


  • Notes from participant observation activities can be analysed using ITA but interview/group data is better
Grounded Theory
  • Inductive data collection and analytic methods
  • Uses systematic and exhaustive comparison of text-segments to build thematic structure and theory from a body of text
  • Common analytic approach in qualitative studies
  • In-depth interviews and focus groups are the most common data collection techniques
  • Sample sizes for grounded theory are more limited than for ITA because analytic process is more intensive and time-consuming
  • ITA and grounded theory are not the same
Case Study
  • Analysis of one to several cases that are unique with respect to the research topic
  • Analysis primarily focused on exploring a unique quality
  • Case studies are selected based on a unique and sometimes rare quality
  • Questions and observations should focus on the unique feature
Discourse/Conversation Analysis
  • Study of naturally occurring discourse - can range from conversation, public events, documents.
  • These linguistically focused methods often use existing documentation 
  • Conversations between individuals that spontaneously emerge within-group interviews or focus groups may be studies
  • Participant observation is conductive to discourse analysis if narratives from public events can be recorded
Narrative Analysis
  • Narratives used as data source
  • Can be from several sources i.e interviews, literature, letters
  • If generating narratives, then questions need to be aimed at eliciting stories and the importance those stories hold for participants as well as the larger culture
Mixed Methods
  • Defined as integrating qualitative and quantitative research methods in a single study
  • Two most common methods are concurrent and sequential
  • Collection of qualitative data in a mixed-methods study can be informed from a wide range of theoretical perspectives and analytic approaches
  • Researches must specify upfront and in details how, when and why qualitative and quantitative data will be integrated.


Elements of Qualitative Research

Research Question

Creating a research question can be a difficult process and one which may not be perfect the first, second or even third time you try. Creating a succinct and thought-provoking question which is precise in its aim provides the researcher with explicit aims and targets to work towards. With a non-specific and vague question research can lose its focus and confuse readers and be of no benefit to the scientific community. To make the difficult task easier specific step-by-step have been created such as the following.

The Spider

The SPIDER[14] technique is specific to qualitative research. It is developed from the PICO method (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome which has been used for evidence-based practise and systematic reviews[15][16]. SPIDER is an acronym to aid the budding researcher to develop a concise and direct research question with clear aims and direction. The official definition is[14]:

The SPIDER tool may assist public health professionals in effectively searching for qualitative and mixed-methods research. The SPIDER tool can be used as a structure for the literature search strategy in synthesizing research evidence on the  experiences of individuals and communities on an issue, together with quantitative research on intervention effectiveness, to understand how a public health intervention may be received and accessed in your community.

The letters standing for:

  1. Sample
  2. Phenomena of Interest
  3. Design
  4. Evaluation
  5. Research Tool

The tool has been evaluated in two systematic reviews and by comparing the search results between PICO and SPIDER in terms of yield and relevance. The results were promising with a more manageable number of results yield by SPIDER however some discrepancies were seen in the search results. SPIDER missed two articles PICO discovered however SPIDER found one additional to PICO[14], clearly there are benefits to both. 

Ethics

As with quantitative research, there are ethical standards which need to be upheld when performing qualitative research. The starting point of ethical concerns are the 4 principles of Beauchamp and Childress[17]

  1. Autonomy; respecting the rights of the individual i.e allowing the right to withdraw, full disclosure on the aims and involvement of the research and anonymity, consent and confidentiality
  2. Beneficence; doing good from the results of the research
  3. Non-maleficence; not doing harm to the patients be it physical, psychological or emotional
  4. Justice; being equal, fair and responsible

Examples of non-ethical studies are the 'Little Albert Study'[18], the Milgram study about obedience[19], Harlow's monkey experiment[20] and the Zimbardo's prison experiment[21].

It is important to consider that asking a person about their thoughts and feelings about an experience may be traumatic or emotionally distressing and care needs to be taken when asking these questions. It may require a talking-therapy aftercare service to be in place to address these concerns. It is also important to remember that emotions or stress may arise after the research has finished. 

With qualitative research it is vital to consider confidentiality you could potentially have thousands of words typed from a conversation you have had with a participant, potentially containing sensitive information so password protecting document and keeping them under lock-and-key is essential[22].

Prior to conducting research ethical approval will need to be granted by a Local Research Ethical Committee (LREC). This may contain 8-12 individuals from a wide range of professions, ages and experience who are separate from, and not involved in, the study in question. Universities and research centres will have their own research committees. If a study involves any of the following ethical approval will be needed[23].

  1. The collection of personal information
  2. Video or audio recording
  3. Observation of individuals or groups
  4. Collections of tissue of any kind
  5. Deception
  6. invasive procedures
  7. Children
  8. Anyone not able to provide consent
  9. Any procedure which may cause distress (including inadvertently)
  10. Any other ethical issue

Sampling

Sampling in qualitative research is integrally different from quantitative research sampling. This is explained in the following subheadings.

Size

Quantitative research is focused on generalizability and so large numbers of participants are required. This may be 1000's of participants to 100,000's.

However, in qualitative research all that is needed is enough participants to answer the research question. More participants may be recruited half-way through the study or until common themes or answers reoccur (Data Saturation), this may only take 20 participants. Another consideration is the sheer amount of time and effort required to thoroughly analysis and manage qualitative data, so this factor may be limited to the scope of the study[10].

Sampling Strategies

A convenience sample is the least rigorous technique in qualitative research, essentially it is involving the most accessible subjects. Although being the least rigorous it is the most cost-effective financially and in terms of effort and time demands. It may lack credibility so a more thoughtful and thorough method is needed[10]

Judgement/Purposeful sampling is the most common sampling technique. The researcher seeks out participants who will answer the research question the most effectively.  It may be beneficial to include a narrow or broad sample based on intellect, geographical location, gender, age, experience or beliefs. Participants may also be able to suggest other participants who have had similar experiences which further the sample size, this is known as snowball sampling[10].

Theoretical Sampling necessitates building interpretative theories from the emerging data and selecting a new sample to elaborate on the new theories may be needed. This sample is ever-changing until the research questions are answered[10].

Data Collection Methods

There are several different ways of collecting qualitative research data.

The below subheadings contain the most common methods and will provide an overview of each:

1. In-depth Interviews[24]

There are a number of different interview methods. 

2. Semi-structured Interviews

3. Group Interviews

Group interviews have been around since the early 20th century and can be seen in a study performed by Bogardus in 1926[25]. The method is used in a wide range of study types from mass communication, health, spirituality and education[26]. Sometimes it can be difficult to choose between one-to-one interviews and group interviews, as seen above they are both versatile and have many uses however group interviews can take the data to the next level. Blummer explains this[27]:

A small number of individuals, brought together as a discussion or resource group, is more valuable many times over than any representative sample. Such a group, discussing collectively their sphere of life and probing into it as they meet one another's disagreements, will do more to lift the veils covering the sphere of life than any other device I know of.

This is true, a group interview is seen as more 'naturalistic' than its more structured cousin and lots of data may be uncovered. The group environment may encourage others to take part as it may feel more natural than a 1:1 interview setting. A reflective thought may be provoked in some individuals further enhancing the data. These are all justifiable methodological considerations for choosing a group interview, Frey & Fontana explain these considerations like this[28]:

  • Exploratory - Here group interviews are often being used in the initial stages of a research project when the researcher is unfamiliar or new to the social context
  • Pretest - Group interviews can be used to test questionnaire items, with respondents being asked to comment on readability, comprehension, wording etc. These are often very structured group interviews aiming to meet very specific outcomes.
  • Triangulation - Frequently group interviews are used to offer additional data, lending methodological rigour to, for example, one-to-one interviews or questionnaire data.
  • Phenomenological - When applied with this purpose in mind, group interviews are not used to generate provisional data. Rather, the data collected may be the only source of information, potentially providing details insight about specific phenomena and experiences.

There are a number of different types of group interview that are suitable for different research questions or methodological approach, these include brainstorming, nominal group techniques and focus groups[28]. These could each have their own page on Physiopedia and maybe one day they will, however, for now, further research will be needed by the reader. 

The flow of the discussion depends on the type of researched question and participants. Participants' response to the interview as a whole could be discussed as a whole, noting any overarching nonverbal behaviours before moving on to individual questions[29].

In a sub-section about sampling was discussed, now different considerations need to be considered with group interviews. If there are too many participants then it may be difficult to control the discussion, too small and the discussion will not be insightful enough, therefore 6-10 participants are advised[30],

4. Observations

Another way to gather information is by observing people or events in their natural environment. It is important to understand the implications of watching people and ethics may play its part depending on whether the observations are overt (subjects know they are being observed) or covert (it is done without knowledge or consent). The three main types of observation are:

  • Participant Observation - In this type of observation, the researcher is part of the group and becomes an active participant in the research process. In order for this to be successful and produce accurate data, it is important that the researcher is accepted by the group being observed.
  • Direct Observation - The researcher is not a direct part of the group but is present in the process and needs to be present in such a way that they do not interfere with the process, eliminating any bias. The use of equipment such as cameras, video or audio can assist in gathering information.
  • Indirect Observation - Requires observing and processing behavioural data as the result of an interaction or process.

5. Action Research

Action research is a reflective process that requires an individual to work with a team to not only find solutions to problems but also to improve the way the team works to solve problems.

6. Reports and Other Methods

There are many other alternatives to the above-mentioned methods of data collection. These may include juries, on-line interviews over an instant messaging service, survey/questionnaire online or a physical hard copy or it may include email. A lot of these online methods can be called 'Remote Interviewing'[26].

Data Analysis

With all of the data, words and recording you would have amassed after doing an interview the analysis can seem like the most challenging part of performing the research. You may have 10,000 words from each individual interview, or 50,000 from a group interview to try and decipher ideas from. There are a number of different ways of analysing the data, there can be a thematic, descriptive or in-depth approach, as well as others. However thematic analysis is usually sufficient[31]

Before you get to the stage of finding new ideas and answers from your collected data you need to decide what you are going to do with it, are you going to fully or partially transcribe it? Once you find your preferred method of transcribing it is important to be consistent throughout your work. You can go down the route of typing out verbal information only with whole words or you can go for all of the verbal and non-verbal information including body language and pauses/timings as well[32]. The more information you can gather, the more patterns emerge giving you a rich and thick description which is integral to and the focal point of qualitative research. 

Some conventions of transcribing are as follows[32]:

  • (?) talk too obscure to transcribe.
  • Hhhhh audible out-breath
  • .hhh in-breath
  • [ overlapping talk begins
  • ] overlapping talk ends
  • (.) silence, less than half a second
  • (..) silence, less than one second
  • (2.8) silence measured in 10ths of a second
lengthening of a sound
  • Becau- cut off, interruption of a sound
  • he says. Emphasis
  • = no silence at all between sounds
  • LOUD sounds
  •  ? rising intonation
  • (left hand on neck) body conduct
  • [notes, comments]
  • Non-verbal cues can be written as (stretches arms wide) 
  • tone of voice may also be (ironic tone)

 

Over the past decade or so, as qualitative research has gained support transcribing has become a prominent area of discussion, particularly in relation to the quality of transcription and errors which can arise[26]. Inaccurate transcription can have a very detrimental effect on a research piece. If information is lost or misrepresented then the credibility of the work disappears. King & Horroks explain that, although not an exhaustive list, there are 3 main threats to good quality transcription; recording quality, missing context and tidying up transcribed information.

Recording quality is something which should be a relatively simple area basic improvement can be made. Making sure the recorder is of high quality, microphones being suitable places, voice is clear and loud and the pace of speech is at a measured pace. Remember you can always if something is deemed important, ask the participant to repeat is clearer and louder. It is also good practice to record salient information at the start f the recording such as time, date and who the participant is so it is easily identifiable[26]

Missing context is something that is a little more troublesome to overcome. Essentially this is an area which will become a problem if you are using simple verbatim transcription techniques. If you are just typing up what is being said and not the facial expression or tone of speech then information can be misconstrued. If for example you were talking to someone about their new job and they said "its great, great, I love it" you would assume they were having a great time. However, if you included (sarcastic tone) and (facial grimace) then a completely different message is construed. It is therefore important to include these when necessary. 

Tidying up transcripts is something easy to accidentally do. Spoken English is very different from the written form. It is always messier, broken and the pace looks odd when written down. It is always tempting to correct mistakes when transcribing the information however it is not the job of a transcript to do this. Perhaps phrases such as (inaudible - perhaps "time of day") or (unclear, a name) would be more accurate and suitable for transcription purposes. Technical terms are also challenging and abbreviations should be avoided. Ensure the participants avoid them, or if they do, be sure to ask what they mean. If they are unavoidable a glossary of terms would be appropriate. 

Thematic Analysis - The Stages

Thematic analysis reviews all of the data to identify common ideas which reoccur and identify these as themes that summarise the collected views of participants. Based on the work of King & Horrocks[26].

Stage 1 - Descriptive Coding

The idea of this stage is to begin to identify the parts of the transcripts which will most likely help to answer your research question. It is always a good idea to read through the transcript several times to familiarise yourself with the work so as not to lose context when referring back in the future and to understand the whole meaning. Next highlight anything you feel will help you understand the views, opinions and beliefs of the participants and add comments next to them to explore the findings further. A colour scheme or numbering may be beneficial to connect ideas together and make it easier to find them.  Double spacing the transcripts may help de-clutter the page and allow room for notes or using an annotation software package. Once you have lots of comments and highlighted text, you may find codes emerging from the comments. Make sure they are close to the data and avoid speculation. Try not to incorporate every single piece of text or comment but only the salient points and use short phrases or abbreviations for your themes such as:(A-Level Chemistry) or (Self-confidence building). You can merge comments and codes if they are reoccurring or if they overlap considerably. This process is then repeated with the next transcript, adding the interview extracts, comments and themes to your already collected data. When moving from transcript to transcript you may have to return and edit your earlier themes or comments because of new emerging data. This is good practice and demonstrates free-flowing idea development and adaptation.

Stage 2 - Interpretive Coding 

The goal of stage 2 is to take the common codes found from stage 1 and focus on your interpretation of them. You can achieve this by grouping together the codes that share a similar concept or meaning and create a single code which captures it. Try not to make the new codes too blinkered by applying/putting them in to match a particular theory or framework but make sure they are broad and diverse enough to encapsulate what the participants are trying to say. If you are a psychologist you would at this stage be fitting the codes into areas of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or psychological thinking by for example recognising troubling thoughts or ideas. The idea is to move on from descriptive findings to what they appear to mean just below the surface. This too should be a process which will need to be repeated again and again until you have reached the point at which new ideas are not emerging.

Stage 3 - Defining Overarching Themes At the final stage the goal is to create overarching themes that characterise the key concepts found. These should be built on the interpretive ideas formed and should delve deeper and be more abstract. They can include theories or applied concepts that underlie the reason you chose the research question in the first place, as long as you can support the ideas/concepts in the analysis. Try and restrict the number of themes to 2-5, otherwise your findings will become diluted and lack clarity. It may be useful to create a diagram or tree showing how you came to your conclusions, this is also good practice for an audit trail and for readers to discover when your ideas came from.

Results and Write up

The end product of qualitative research will achieve the same as a quantitative piece, it may just look different. The presentation may be different as well, with a lack of tables and graphs seeming foreign to some. Instead, quotes, themes and new ideas emerge as a result of the analysis instead of percentages or numbers however qualitative data can be converted to numerical with the use of tallies or frequency of specific phrases being the focus.

The most common and arguably simplistic way to report on thematic analytical findings is to discuss each theme, in turn, referring to examples, quotes and characterising them to the reader. It is not necessary to include each quote in the report, only those which most strongly illustrate and describe the findings and answer your research question[26]

Critiquing Qualitative Research

Critiquing research is integral to providing the best possible interventions in healthcare. Qualitative research has its own terminology and requirements to be seen as a rigorous and credible piece of work. The table below is an introduction to some of these concepts.

Criteria for Evaluating Qualitative Research. Lincoln & Guba 1985[33]
Criteria Definition Assumptions Strategies
Credibility Authentic representations of experience
  • Multiple realities
  • Causes not distinguishable from effects
  • Empathetic researcher
  • Researher as an instrument
  • Emphasis of the research endeavour
  • Purposeful sampling
  • Disciplined subjectivity/bracketing
  • Prolonged engagement
  • Persistent observation
  • Triangulation
  • Peer debriefing
  • Negative case analysis
  • Referential adequacy
  • Member checking
Transferability Fit within contexts outside the study situation
  • Time and context-bound experiences
  • Not responsibility of 'sending' researcher
  • Provision of information for 'receiving' researcher
  • Purposeful sampling
  • Thick and rich description
Dependability Minimization of idiosyncrasies in interpretation, variability tracked to identifiable sources
  • Researcher as instrument
  • Consistency in interpretation
  • Multiple realities
  • Idiosyncrasy of behaviour and context
  • Low-inference descriptors, mechanically recorded data
  • Multiple researchers
  • Participant researchers
  • Peer examination
  • Triangulation
  • Inquiry audit
Confirmability Extent to which biases, motivations, interests or perspectives of the inquirer influence interpretations
  • Biases, motivations, interests or perspectives of inquirer can influence interpretation
  • Focus on investigator and interpretations
  • Audit trail products
  • Thich description of the audit process
  • Autobiography
  • Journal/notebook

Incorporating Qualitative Research into Clinical Practice

Most qualitative research in healthcare can be generative. An example of how we can use qualitative research findings is by looking at the quality of practice and getting insights, not only from our patients but also from other healthcare providers by looking at the experiences of their clinical practice, We can learn about things like what's important to patients and carers in their healthcare or in their treatment plan? What could be changed? What could be made better? What are the barriers to change?[7]

It can also help us understand some of the challenges that we face in our clinical practice. Such as when patients don't adhere to their home exercise program, Also we can learn from the analysis of some recurring themes or patterns of a particular cohort of people, The research can observe and analyze these patterns to get in-depth information on why they happen?

Another example: when a new intervention is developed there are different steps and stages to develop and evaluate its application and effectiveness. These procedures follow a framework with a huge amount of groundwork that goes into the initial steps of developing and piloting and testing an intervention. Qualitative research could be conducted at the beginning to look at things such as people's thoughts on the intervention, the components they might think would go well into the intervention, the outcomes that are most important to them to be tested, or to be targeted through this intervention. Following the development of an intervention and during the testing process, we could look at the acceptability of the intervention and its effectiveness.

Qualitative research can also look at the dropping rates of participants when conducting quantitative research. Reasons they decided not to continue with the experiment could show insights into its effectiveness. This is called qualitative process evaluation, getting people to give their thoughts retrospectively on that intervention. We could ask questions like was the intervention too long? Was it too short? What did you find as the barriers to completing that intervention? So we can use qualitative to plan quantitative research or look back and analyze it[7].

Glossary

Phenomenology - Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, it is being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions[34].

Ethnography - this term traditionally refers to a practice in which researchers spend long periods living within a culture in order to study it. The term has been adopted within qualitative market research to describe occasions where researchers spend time - hours, days or weeks - observing and/or interacting with participants in areas of their everyday lives. This contrasts with interview-based research in which interaction with respondents is limited to a conventional interview or group discussion format, is more limited in time, and often takes place outside the participant's own environment[35]

Inductive Theme Analysis - Thematic analysis is used in qualitative research and focuses on examining themes within data.[3] This method emphasizes organization and rich description of the data set. Thematic analysis goes beyond simply counting phrases or words in a text and moves on to identifying implicit and explicit ideas within the data[36]

Grounded Theory - All research is "grounded" in data, but few studies produce a "grounded theory." Grounded Theory is an inductive methodology. Although many calls Grounded Theory a qualitative method, it is not. It is a general method. It is the systematic generation of theory from systematic research. It is a set of rigorous research procedures leading to the emergence of conceptual categories. These concepts/categories are related to each other as a theoretical explanation of the action(s) that continually resolves the main concern of the participants in a substantive area. Grounded Theory can be used with either qualitative or quantitative data[37].

Discourse Analysis - Discourse analysis (DA), or discourse studies, is a general term for a number of approaches to analyze written, vocal, or sign language use or any significant semiotic event[38].

Narrative Analysis: Also known as narrative inquiry. Narrative analysis is an approach whereby the researcher interprets texts or visual data in which a story is formed. It is assumed that the stories are used as a mechanism for the storyteller to organise and make sense of their lives and experiences. Narrative inquiry is a genre in research that captures personal dimensions of experience over time, taking into account the relationship between the individual experience and that of the cultural context[39]. In this way, narratives (experiences or stories) have a triangular relationship between the person/society, time and place. Stories need to be interpreted and retold by the researcher while respecting the connection between these three dimensions. Narrative inquiry requires trust and openness between the researcher and the participant, the value of signs, symbols and metaphors, and mutual and sincere collaboration[40][7].

Holistic - Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole[41]

Qualitative - Qualitative Research is primarily exploratory research. It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. It provides insights into the problem or helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential quantitative research. Qualitative Research is also used to uncover trends in thought and opinions, and dive deeper into the problem. Qualitative data collection methods vary using unstructured or semi-structured techniques. Some common methods include focus groups (group discussions), individual interviews, and participation/observations. The sample size is typically small, and respondents are selected to fulfil a given quota[42].

Quantitative - Quantitative Research is used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into useable statistics. It is used to quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviors, and other defined variables – and generalize results from a larger sample population. Quantitative Research uses measurable data to formulate facts and uncover patterns in research. Quantitative data collection methods are much more structured than Qualitative data collection methods. Quantitative data collection methods include various forms of surveys – online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys and kiosk surveys, face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations[42].

Triangulation - In the social sciences, triangulation is often used to indicate that two (or more) methods are used in a study in order to check the results. "The concept of triangulation is borrowed from navigational and land surveying techniques that determine a single point in space with the convergence of measurements taken from two other distinct points." The idea is that one can be more confident with a result if different methods lead to the same result.[43]

Credibility - Confidence in the 'truth' of the findings. Is it what the participants actually said or has the meaning been lost.[33]

Transferability - Showing that the findings have applicability in other contexts. The qualitative form of generalizability[33].

Dependability - Showing that the findings are consistent and could be repeated if the same questions or environment were identical[33].

Confirmability - A degree of neutrality or the extent to which the findings of a study are shaped by the respondents and not researcher bias, motivation, or interest[33]

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