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Identifying the best research design to fit the question. Part 2: qualitative designs
  1. Jenny Ploeg, RN, MScN
  1. School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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Qualitative research methods have become increasingly important as ways of developing nursing knowledge for evidence-based nursing practice. Qualitative research answers a wide variety of questions related to nursing's concern with human responses to actual or potential health problems. The purpose of qualitative research is to describe, explore, and explain phenomena being studied.1 Qualitative research questions often take the form of what is this? or what is happening here? and are more concerned with the process rather than the outcome.2 This editorial provides an overview of qualitative research, describes 3 common types of qualitative research, and gives examples of their use in nursing.

Sampling, data collection, and data analysis

Sampling refers to the process used to select a portion of the population for study. Qualitative research is generally based on non-probability and purposive sampling rather than probability or random approaches.3 Sampling decisions are made for the explicit purpose of obtaining the richest possible source of information to answer the research questions. Purposive sampling decisions influence not only the selection of participants but also settings, incidents, events, and activities for data collection. Some of the sampling strategies used in qualitative research are maximum variation sampling, stratified purposeful sampling, and snowball sampling.3 Qualitative research usually involves smaller sample sizes than quantitative research.4 Sampling in qualitative research is flexible and often continues until no new themes emerge from the data, a point called data saturation.

Many data collection techniques are used in qualitative research, but the most common are interviewing and participant observation.5 Unstructured interviews are used when the researcher knows little about the topic, whereas semi-structured interviews are used when the researcher has an idea of the questions to ask about a topic. Participant observation is used to observe research participants in as natural a setting as possible. The types of participant …

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