Qualitative Research

Qualitative research aims to answer questions about individual beliefs, opinions and experiences. The data collected within qualitative research is in text form and is used to grasp emotions and attitudes – essential to person-centred nursing and healthcare in general.

Qualitative research designs

  • Ethnography – where researchers seek to understand a group experience, focusing on behaviours and norms within the selected group. Often used to study social relationships between humans. A key feature of ethnography is the long-term study of participants, with the researcher both observing and participating within the group.
  • Grounded Theory – where there is no available theory for the topic, the researcher attempts to create one. Grounded theory is used to generate new theories around practice and understanding within healthcare, making it one of the most popular forms of research methodologies used by nurse researchers.
  • Phenomenology – aims to understand the lived experience of individuals. Can be described in two ways: descriptive phenomenology (credited to Edmund Husserl) or interpretative phenomenology (credited to Husserl’s student, Martin Heidegger). There are slight differences between the two, you can read more about those here.
  • Case study – based on in-depth studies of an individual or group. Case study research is seen as highly flexible and often uses multiple methods of data collection.

Types of data collection within qualitative research

  • Interviews – can be structured, semi-structured or unstructured.
  • Focus groups
  • Observation
  • Diaries

Strengths and limitations of qualitative research 


  • Ability to explore the cultural and social aspects of living with an illness or disability.
  • Rich, detailed data is collected and analysed.
  • The structure of qualitative research data collection can be flexible, allowing the researcher to follow any tangents that arise within the study if needed.
  • Smaller sample sizes are used, possibly maintaining low financial input and being completed quickly in some cases.
  • Allows for greater understanding of patient care experiences.


  • People’s opinions and experiences are hard to replicate as they can differ over time and in different situations – due to this, findings are subjective and context bound, making them hard to transfer to other settings.
  • Lacks rigour and credibility due to focusing on individual beliefs and experiences.
  • Can be time consuming due to the amount of data collected and analysed.
  • Researcher/interviewer influence on the participant.
  • Results do not have any statistical representation.

Terminology associated with qualitative research

  • Credibility – representation of the truth.
  • Transferability – would the findings apply to another individual within the same context?
  • Dependability – if the research was conducted again, would you achieve the same results?
  • Confirmability – results are able to be traced back to the data collected.
  • Reflexivity – the questioning of one’s attitudes, values and prejudices and to appreciate how these could affect the outcome of the research.
  • Rigour – overall quality of the study ie strength of the research design, how well it fits the original aim etc.



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