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Qual Saf Health Care 13:223-225 doi:10.1136/qshc.2003.008714
  • Developing research

The problem of appraising qualitative research

  1. M Dixon-Woods1,
  2. R L Shaw1,
  3. S Agarwal1,
  4. J A Smith2
  1. 1Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 6TP, UK
  2. 2Department of Psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 M Dixon-Woods
 Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, 22–28 Princess Road West, Leicester LE1 6TP, UK; md11le.ac.uk
  • Accepted 28 March 2004

Abstract

Qualitative research can make a valuable contribution to the study of quality and safety in health care. Sound ways of appraising qualitative research are needed, but currently there are many different proposals with few signs of an emerging consensus. One problem has been the tendency to treat qualitative research as a unified field. We distinguish universal features of quality from those specific to methodology and offer a set of minimally prescriptive prompts to assist with the assessment of generic features of qualitative research. In using these, account will need to be taken of the particular method of data collection and methodological approach being used. There may be a need for appraisal criteria suited to the different methods of qualitative data collection and to different methodological approaches. These more specific criteria would help to distinguish fatal flaws from more minor errors in the design, conduct, and reporting of qualitative research. There will be difficulties in doing this because some aspects of qualitative research, particularly those relating to quality of insight and interpretation, will remain difficult to appraise and will rely largely on subjective judgement.

Footnotes

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

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