Intended for healthcare professionals


An open letter to The BMJ editors on qualitative research

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 10 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i563
  1. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, UK,
  2. Ellen Annandale, professor, Sociology, University of York, UK,
  3. Richard Ashcroft, professor of bioethics, Queen Mary University London, UK,
  4. James Barlow, professor of technology and innovation management–healthcare, Imperial College Business School, UK,
  5. Nick Black, professor of health services research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK,
  6. Alan Bleakley, emeritus professor of medical education, University of Plymouth, UK,
  7. Ruth Boaden, professor of service operations management, Manchester Business School, UK ,
  8. Jeffrey Braithwaite, professor of health systems research, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Sydney, Australia,
  9. Nicky Britten, professor of applied healthcare research, University of Exeter Medical School, UK,
  10. Franco Carnevale, professor, Ingram School of Nursing, McGill University, Canada,
  11. Kath Checkland, professor of health policy and primary care, Centre for Primary Care, University of Manchester, UK,
  12. Julianne Cheek, professor, Faculty of Business, Languages and Social Sciences, Ostfold University College, Norway,
  13. Alex Clark, professsor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Canada,
  14. Simon Cohn, reader in anthropology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK,
  15. Jack Coulehan, professor emeritus, Department of Preventative Medicine, Stony Brook University, NY, USA,
  16. Benjamin Crabtree, professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers University, NJ, USA,
  17. Steven Cummins, professor of population health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK,
  18. Frank Davidoff, executive editor, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Cambridge, MA, USA,
  19. Huw Davies, professor of healthcare policy and management, University of St Andrews, UK,
  20. Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology, Nottingham Trent University, UK,
  21. Mary Dixon-Woods, professor of medical sociology, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, UK,
  22. Glyn Elwyn, professor, Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Dartmouth, NH, USA,
  23. Eivind Engebretsen, professor, Institute for Health and Society, University of Oslo, Norway,
  24. Ewan Ferlie, professor of public services management, Kings College London, UK,
  25. Naomi Fulop, professor of healthcare organisation and management, University College London, UK,
  26. John Gabbay, emeritus professor of public health, University of Southampton, UK,
  27. Marie-Pierre Gagnon, professor, Faculty of Nursing, Université Laval, Quebec, Canda,
  28. Dariusz Galasinski, professor of discourse and cultural studies, University of Wolverhampton, UK,
  29. Ruth Garside, senior lecturer in evidence synthesis, University of Exeter, UK,
  30. Lucy Gilson, professor of health policy and systems, University of Cape Town, South Africa,
  31. Peter Griffiths, professor of health services research, University of Southampton, UK,
  32. Penny Hawe, professor of public health, University of Sydney, Australia,
  33. Jan-Kees Helderman, associate professor of public administration, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands,
  34. Brian Hodges, professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada,
  35. David Hunter, director, Centre for Public Policy and Health, Durham University, UK,
  36. Margaret Kearney, professor, University of Rochester, NY, USA,
  37. Celia Kitzinger, codirector, Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre, University of York, UK,
  38. Jenny Kitzinger, codirector, Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre, University of Cardiff, UK,
  39. Ayelet Kuper, assistant professor, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada,
  40. Saville Kushner, professor of public education, University of Auckland, New Zealand,
  41. Andree Le May, emerita professor of nursing, University of Southampton, UK,
  42. France Legare, Canada research chair in implementation of shared decision making in primary care, University of Laval, Canada,
  43. Lorelei Lingard, professor, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, Canada,
  44. Louise Locock, director of applied research, Health Experiences Research Group, University of Oxford, UK,
  45. Jill Maben, professor of nursing, King’s College London, UK,
  46. Mary Ellen Macdonald, associate professor, Faculty of Dentistry, McGill University, Canada,
  47. Frances Mair, professor of primary care research, University of Glasgow, UK,
  48. Russell Mannion, professor of health systems, University of Birmingham, UK,
  49. Martin Marshall, professor of healthcare improvement, University College London, UK ,
  50. Carl May, professor of healthcare innovation, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, UK,
  51. Nicholas Mays, professor of health policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK ,
  52. Lorna McKee, professor of management, University of Aberdeen, UK,
  53. Marissa Miraldo, associate professor of health economics, Imperial College London, UK,
  54. David Morgan, professor, Department of Sociology, Portland State University, OR, USA,
  55. Janice Morse, professor, College of Nursing, University of Utah, UT, USA,
  56. Sarah Nettleton, professor of sociology, University of York, UK,
  57. Sandy Oliver, deputy director, EPPI-Centre, UCL Institute of Education, UK,
  58. Warrren Pearce, Institute for Science and Society, University of Nottingham, UK,
  59. Pierre Pluye, director, Methodological Developments, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Canada,
  60. Catherine Pope, professor of medical sociology, University of Southampton, UK,
  61. Glenn Robert, professor of healthcare quality and innovation, King’s College London, UK,
  62. Celia Roberts, emerita professor of linguistics, King’s College London, UK,
  63. Stefania Rodella, Regional Agency for Health and Social Care, Bologna, Italy,
  64. Jo Rycroft-Malone, professor of implementation, University of Bangor, UK,
  65. Margarete Sandelowski, professor, School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA,
  66. Paul Shekelle, director, Southern California Evidence-Based Practice Center, RAND Corporation, CA, USA,
  67. Fiona Stevenson, senior lecturer in medical sociology, University College London, UK,
  68. Sharon Straus, director, Division of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada,
  69. Deborah Swinglehurst, senior clinical lecturer in primary healthcare, Queen Mary University of London, UK,
  70. Sally Thorne, professor, University of British Columbia School of Nursing, Vancouver, Canada,
  71. Göran Tomson, senior professor in international health systems research, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm Sweden,
  72. Gerd Westert, professor of health services research and quality of care, Scientific Institute for Quality of Care, Nijmegen, Netherlands,
  73. Sue Wilkinson, honorary professor, Department of Sociology, University of York, UK,
  74. Brian Williams, dean of reseach enhancement, University of Stirling, UK,
  75. Terry Young, associate dean of health partnerships, Brunel University, UK,
  76. Sue Ziebland, director, Health Experiences Research Group, University of Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to: Trisha Greenhalgh trish.greenhalgh{at}
  • Accepted 30 December 2015

Seventy six senior academics from 11 countries invite The BMJ’s editors to reconsider their policy of rejecting qualitative research on the grounds of low priority. They challenge the journal to develop a proactive, scholarly, and pluralist approach to research that aligns with its stated mission

We are concerned that The BMJ seems to have developed a policy of rejecting qualitative research on the grounds that such studies are “low priority,” “unlikely to be highly cited,” “lacking practical value,” or “not of interest to our readers” (box). Here, we argue that The BMJ should develop and publish a formal policy on qualitative and mixed method research and that this should include appropriate and explicit criteria for judging the relevance of submissions. We acknowledge that (as with all methods) some qualitative research is poor quality, badly written, inaccessible, or irrelevant to the journal’s readership. We also acknowledge that many of The BMJ’s readers (not to mention its reviewers and editors) may not have been formally trained to read, conduct, or evaluate qualitative studies. We see these caveats as opportunities not threats.

Excerpt from rejection letter tweeted by McGill Qualitative Health Research Group (@MQHRG), 30 September 2015

Thank you for sending us your paper. We read it with interest but I am sorry to say that qualitative studies are an extremely low priority for The BMJ. Our research shows that they are not as widely accessed, downloaded, or cited as other research.

We receive over 8000 submissions a year and accept less than 4%. We do therefore have to make hard decisions on just how interesting an article will be to our general clinical readers, how much it adds, and how much practical value it will be.

The BMJ’s mission is method agnostic

The BMJ says its mission is to lead the debate on health and to engage, inform, and stimulate all doctors, researchers, and other health professionals in ways that enable …

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