Evaluating and synthesizing qualitative research: the need to develop a distinctive approach

J Eval Clin Pract. 2003 May;9(2):179-86. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2753.2003.00371.x.


The growing popularity of qualitative research has led to calls for it to be incorporated into the evidence base. It is argued that, in seeking to respond to this challenge, it is important that we recognize the important differences between qualitative and quantitative research and that we take this into account in developing a distinctive approach. This paper outlines the distinctive contribution made by qualitative research with regard to the nature of the curiosity involved, the iterative research process and its treatment of data, analysis and findings. We caution against simply importing templates developed for systematic review of quantitative work, and make suggestions with regard to developing a new model for evaluating and synthesizing qualitative work. The proposed new model takes a critical look at some of the assumptions underpinning systematic review, such as the process of literature searching and selection of relevant material. Although there is potential for checklist items--such as purposive sampling, respondent validation, multiple coding, triangulation and grounded theory--to be used over-prescriptively in evaluating qualitative papers, it is argued that a more creative engagement with these concepts could yield a distinctive approach more appropriate for this type of work. Moreover, we speculate that some of the questions thereby raised might be usefully applied to consideration of established procedures for reviewing quantitative work.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research
  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval
  • Judgment
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Research Design