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Critical Appraisal of Research Articles: Qualitative Studies

What is a Qualitative Study?

Qualitative research is defined as research that derives data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focuses on the meanings and interpretations of the participants. (Holloway and Wheeler, 1995).

Examples of Qualitative Research Methods

  • Passive observation
  • Participant observation
  • In-depth interviews
  • Focus group interviews

Questions to Ask

  1. Did the paper describe an important clinical problem addressed via a clearly formulated question?
  2. How were the setting and the subjects selected?
  3. What was the researcher's perspective, and has this been taken into account?
  4. What methods did the researcher use for collecting data and are these described in enough detail?
  5. What methods did the researcher use to analyze the data?
  6. Has the relationship between researchers and participants been adequately considered?
  7. Are the results credible, and if so, are they clinically important?
  8. What conclusions were drawn, and are they justified by the results?
  9. Are the findings of the study transferable to other clinical settings?

How to Find Qualitative Studies

1. Use thesaurus terms.  Qualitative research is indexed in PubMed as "Qualitative Research" or "Nursing Methodology Research", while in CINAHL, the subject heading "Qualitative Studies" is complemented by more detailed terms, including "Phenomenological Research" and "Grounded Theory".

2. Use text words.  For example: qualitative, ethnographic, lived experience, life experiences, observational method, content analysis, field study, theoretical sample, focus group, ethnological research, interview.

3. Use qualitative research filters.  See

Appraisal Checklists for Qualitative Studies