Study Appraisal: Qualitative Studies
The aim of this chapter is to provide an overview of qualitative research and its appraisal.
After completing this chapter readers will be aware of the range of qualitative research and be aware of the questions that need to be addressed in appraising qualitative research.
Qualitative research looks at people’s experiences, attitudes and beliefs or their perceptions of a situation. In healthcare it has been used to help generate new theories, understand patients’ and clinicians’ behaviour, to develop appropriate interventions, evaluate healthcare policy or systems of care and to enhance and help explain quantitative data.
Qualitative research can be used to address such issues as what it is like to live with a certain condition (e.g trigeminal neuralgia) or what it is like to have a diagnosis of oral cancer.
Qualitative methods include techniques such as interviews, focus groups, observation and a wide range of approaches. They could include the following:
Phenomenology. This looks at how people see their world.
Grounded theory. This method emanates from sociology and aims to generate theory from data using a range of techniques noted above.
Ethnography. This approach is developed from anthropology and looks at behaviour within a culture
Critical theory. Here the approach is to specifically increase people’s understanding of their situation and through this they initiate change.
In general, qualitative research attempts to understand human action through a collection of individual accounts of subjective experiences. It adopts an “inductive approach” where knowledge is generated rather than tested, as in the quantitative approach where a hypothetico-deductive approach is taken, seeking to explain behaviour through the verification and falsification of hypotheses.
Black(1994) argued for the value of qualitative research in healthcare research and later Sackett and Wennberg (1997) emphasised that it was the research question itself that should be the determining factor in research design.
It is clear that high-quality qualitative and quantitative research is necessary to improve the effectiveness of healthcare delivery. Consequently there is a need for appraisal of qualitative literature as there is in the quantitative literature. Popay et al. (1998) provide a useful framework but they argue that there is no absolute list or criteria, and Mays and Pope (2000) highlight the fact that there are no easy solutions to limit the likelihood that there will be errors in qualitative research.
However, some guidance can be given in what to look for when appraising qualitative research, and key elements to consider in good qualitative research are: