Qualitative research: a consumer's guide

Educ Health (Abingdon). 2000;13(1):113-23. doi: 10.1080/135762800110664.


Qualitative research is best characterized as a family of approaches whose goal is understanding the lived experience of persons who share time, space and culture. Although they are often judged as a single entity, the approaches actually vary in their theoretical assumptions and canons of evidence. Four qualitative research domains that are currently used in studying education for health are reviewed here. They are ethnographic/field work approaches, use of interviews and surveys, audiovisual records, and the study of documents. Characteristics of each domain and brief examples are provided. In addition to introducing the four research domains, we offer some general guidelines on how to be a good consumer of qualitative research. We pose a series of questions about the importance of the research question, study design, and trustworthiness of qualitative research results. In addition, we focus on how research results are presented and discussed. We conclude with the observation that qualitative research approaches are only as good as the questions they set out to illuminate. In the arena of education for health a number of good and important questions remain unaddressed and would benefit by being studied using qualitative research approaches.