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Applying the findings of qualitative research to practice is far from straightforward. This difficulty is often overlooked in the literature on the role of qualitative research in evidence-based practice. In this EBN notebook, we argue that current attempts to provide guidance for clinicians do not accurately capture the specific and unique contribution of qualitative approaches. We will clarify the type of clinical questions for which qualitative research may provide appropriate answers and consider what the application of qualitative research findings to practice might mean. This analysis will result in guidance on the application of qualitative research findings to practice.
Qualitative research is one of many forms of research that may be useful to practitioners,1–,5 and the integration of qualitative research into practice has been described as one of the major challenges in evidence-based health care.6,7 It is not entirely clear what the challenges are, as there are many and varied claims made about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research. The terms qualitative and quantitative emerged from attempts to establish clear ground between different philosophical positions about the nature of reality (philosophically termed ontology) and how we can come to know it (philosophically termed epistemology) rather than any practical grouping of research designs and types.8,9 There are far fewer differences between qualitative and quantitative research than is often claimed.8,10 Both are processes of systematic inquiry rooted firmly in the tradition of empiricism (ie, knowledge should be based on observation of the world).11 In both qualitative and quantitative research, data provide the basis for reasoning. In quantitative approaches, data take the form of numbers, whereas in qualitative approaches, data usually take the form of text (ie, observation is transformed into text for the purpose of analysis). In qualitative approaches, reasoning is …