Series: Practical guidance to qualitative research. Part 2: Context, research questions and designs

Eur J Gen Pract. 2017 Dec;23(1):274-279. doi: 10.1080/13814788.2017.1375090.


In the course of our supervisory work over the years, we have noticed that qualitative research tends to evoke a lot of questions and worries, so-called frequently asked questions (FAQs). This series of four articles intends to provide novice researchers with practical guidance for conducting high-quality qualitative research in primary care. By 'novice' we mean Master's students and junior researchers, as well as experienced quantitative researchers who are engaging in qualitative research for the first time. This series addresses their questions and provides researchers, readers, reviewers and editors with references to criteria and tools for judging the quality of qualitative research papers. This second article addresses FAQs about context, research questions and designs. Qualitative research takes into account the natural contexts in which individuals or groups function to provide an in-depth understanding of real-world problems. The research questions are generally broad and open to unexpected findings. The choice of a qualitative design primarily depends on the nature of the research problem, the research question(s) and the scientific knowledge one seeks. Ethnography, phenomenology and grounded theory are considered to represent the 'big three' qualitative approaches. Theory guides the researcher through the research process by providing a 'lens' to look at the phenomenon under study. Since qualitative researchers and the participants of their studies interact in a social process, researchers influence the research process. The first article described the key features of qualitative research, the third article will focus on sampling, data collection and analysis, while the last article focuses on trustworthiness and publishing.

Keywords: General practice/family medicine; general qualitative designs and methods.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural / methods
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Research Design*
  • Research Personnel / organization & administration