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Data collection in qualitative research
  1. David Barrett1,
  2. Alison Twycross2
  1. 1Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, UK
  2. 2School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Barrett, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, UK; D.I.Barrett{at}

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Qualitative research methods allow us to better understand the experiences of patients and carers; they allow us to explore how decisions are made and provide us with a detailed insight into how interventions may alter care. To develop such insights, qualitative research requires data which are holistic, rich and nuanced, allowing themes and findings to emerge through careful analysis. This article provides an overview of the core approaches to data collection in qualitative research, exploring their strengths, weaknesses and challenges.


Collecting data through interviews with participants is a characteristic of many qualitative studies. Interviews give the most direct and straightforward approach to gathering detailed and rich data regarding a particular phenomenon. The type of interview used to collect data can be tailored to the research question, the characteristics of participants and the preferred approach of the researcher. Interviews are most often carried out face-to-face, though the use of telephone interviews to overcome geographical barriers to participant recruitment is becoming more prevalent.1

The key variation between interview types relates to the degree of structure. An open or unstructured interview will often be based on a single question, with the interviewer and interviewee then shaping the conversation in real time, rather than following a prewritten schedule. This can be particularly suited to methods in which participants are being encouraged to tell a story of their life or experiences, such as narrative enquiry. An example of the type of study in which these open, conversational interviews are well suited was an exploration of the impact of …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.