Qualitative Descriptive Methods in Health Science Research

HERD. 2016 Jul;9(4):16-25. doi: 10.1177/1937586715614171. Epub 2016 Jan 19.


Objective: The purpose of this methodology paper is to describe an approach to qualitative design known as qualitative descriptive that is well suited to junior health sciences researchers because it can be used with a variety of theoretical approaches, sampling techniques, and data collection strategies.

Background: It is often difficult for junior qualitative researchers to pull together the tools and resources they need to embark on a high-quality qualitative research study and to manage the volumes of data they collect during qualitative studies. This paper seeks to pull together much needed resources and provide an overview of methods.

Methods: A step-by-step guide to planning a qualitative descriptive study and analyzing the data is provided, utilizing exemplars from the authors' research.

Results: This paper presents steps to conducting a qualitative descriptive study under the following headings: describing the qualitative descriptive approach, designing a qualitative descriptive study, steps to data analysis, and ensuring rigor of findings.

Conclusions: The qualitative descriptive approach results in a summary in everyday, factual language that facilitates understanding of a selected phenomenon across disciplines of health science researchers.

Keywords: qualitative analysis; qualitative descriptive; qualitative design; qualitative methodology; rigor.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Research Design*
  • Statistics as Topic / methods