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How to appraise qualitative research
  1. Calvin Moorley1,
  2. Xabi Cathala2
  1. 1 Nursing Research and Diversity in Care, School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, London, UK
  2. 2 Institute of Vocational Learning, School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Calvin Moorley, Nursing Research and Diversity in Care, School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, London SE1 0AA, UK; Moorleyc{at}

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In order to make a decision about implementing evidence into practice, nurses need to be able to critically appraise research. Nurses also have a professional responsibility to maintain up-to-date practice.1 This paper provides a guide on how to critically appraise a qualitative research paper.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research concentrates on understanding phenomena and may focus on meanings, perceptions, concepts, thoughts, experiences or feelings.2 Qualitative research examines how or why a phenomenon occurs. It collects data in the form of words, texts and or images via interviews, observations, photographs or document reviews. Qualitative research does not use discrete variables like those used in quantitative approaches. In critically appraising qualitative research, steps need to be taken to ensure its rigour, credibility and trustworthiness (table 1).

View this table:
Table 1

Useful terms

Some of the qualitative approaches used in nursing research include grounded theory, phenomenology, ethnography, case study (can lend itself to mixed methods) and narrative analysis. The data collection methods used in qualitative research include in depth interviews, focus groups, observations and stories in the form of diaries or other documents.3


Title, keywords, authors and abstract

In a previous paper, we discussed how the title, keywords, authors’ positions and affiliations and abstract can influence the authenticity and readability of quantitative research papers,4 the same applies to qualitative research. However, other areas such as the purpose of the study and the research question, theoretical and conceptual frameworks, sampling and methodology also need consideration when appraising a qualitative paper.


Purpose and question

The topic under investigation in the study should be guided by a clear research question or a statement of the problem or purpose. An example of a statement can be seen in table 2. Unlike most quantitative studies, qualitative research does not seek to test a hypothesis. The research statement should be specific to the problem and should be reflected …

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  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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