Practical strategies for qualitative inquiry in a virtual world

J Adv Nurs. 2021 Oct;77(10):4035-4044. doi: 10.1111/jan.15000. Epub 2021 Aug 4.


Aim: The aim of this article is to provide practical strategies for maintaining methodological rigour in executing a virtual qualitative study. Strategies are based on evidence from existing research about virtual qualitative methods and on the strategies used by the authors to convert a planned in-person qualitative, grounded theory study to an entirely virtual grounded theory study during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study began in-person in September 2019 and was converted to virtual in March 2020. Virtual data collection was completed in September 2020.

Design: This article provides a case exemplar of virtual adaptations made to a study underway when the pandemic rendered all in-person research impractical and potentially dangerous.

Data sources: The strategies discussed are based on our own experiences and the supporting theoretical assumptions of qualitative research, specifically grounded theory methods.

Implications for nursing: Nursing scholars conducting qualitative inquiry may find these strategies helpful in continuing research activities during periods of limited access to the phenomena or persons of interest. Furthermore, these strategies allow nursing scholars to conduct rigorous, in-depth research without geographical limitations, providing greater possibilities for international collaborations and cross-institution research.

Conclusion: Despite novel challenges, methodological adaptations that are carefully planned and purposeful allow qualitative and non-qualitative scholars to continue research activities in a fully virtual manner.

Impact: This case exemplar and discussion provide practical strategies for qualitative scholars to consider while planning new studies or converting an in-person study to a virtual one. Despite the in-person nature of in-depth qualitative inquiry, a historic pandemic and a changing research environment require qualitative researchers to adapt to virtual methods while still conducting high quality, methodologically rigorous research. Qualitative scholars can use the strategies presented here to continue rigorous qualitative inquiry despite limited access to phenomena or persons.

Keywords: data collection; emerging adults; grounded theory; nursing; qualitative research; research design; research subject recruitment; research techniques; virtual methods; young adults.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • Qualitative Research
  • SARS-CoV-2