Practice Qualitative Research

Critically appraising qualitative research

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1035 (Published 07 August 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1035
  1. Ayelet Kuper, assistant professor1,
  2. Lorelei Lingard, associate professor2,
  3. Wendy Levinson, Sir John and Lady Eaton professor and chair3
  1. 1Department of Medicine, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and Wilson Centre for Research in Education, University of Toronto, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Room HG 08, Toronto, ON, Canada M4N 3M5
  2. 2Department of Paediatrics and Wilson Centre for Research in Education, University of Toronto and SickKids Learning Institute; BMO Financial Group Professor in Health Professions Education Research, University Health Network, 200 Elizabeth Street, Eaton South 1-565, Toronto
  3. 3Department of Medicine, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
  1. Correspondence to: A Kuper ayelet94{at}post.harvard.edu

    Six key questions will help readers to assess qualitative research

    Summary points

    • Appraising qualitative research is different from appraising quantitative research

    • Qualitative research papers should show appropriate sampling, data collection, and data analysis

    • Transferability of qualitative research depends on context and may be enhanced by using theory

    • Ethics in qualitative research goes beyond review boards’ requirements to involve complex issues of confidentiality, reflexivity, and power

    Over the past decade, readers of medical journals have gained skills in critically appraising studies to determine whether the results can be trusted and applied to their own practice settings. Criteria have been designed to assess studies that use quantitative methods, and these are now in common use.

    In this article we offer guidance for readers on how to assess a study that uses qualitative research methods by providing six key questions to ask when reading qualitative research (box 1). However, the thorough assessment of qualitative research is an interpretive act and requires informed reflective thought rather than the simple application of a scoring system.

    Box 1 Key questions to ask when reading qualitative research studies

    • Was the sample used in the study appropriate to its research question?

    • Were the data collected appropriately?

    • Were the data analysed appropriately?

    • Can I transfer the results of this study to my own setting?

    • Does the study adequately address potential ethical issues, including reflexivity?

    • Overall: is what the researchers did clear?

    Was the sample used in the study appropriate to its research question?

    One of the critical decisions in a qualitative study is whom or what to include in the sample—whom to interview, whom to observe, what texts to analyse. An understanding that qualitative research is based in experience and in the construction of meaning, combined with the specific research question, should guide the sampling process. For example, a study of the experience of survivors of domestic violence that examined their reasons for not seeking help from healthcare providers might focus on interviewing a …

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