Answered By: Sarah Hazelmyer
Last Updated: Apr 18, 2019     Views: 14

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research focuses on descriptive characteristics to explain the "why" rather than the "what" behind social phenomena.  Qualitative research forsakes measurements and numbers (a hallmark of quantitative research) and favors understanding and words.

 Adapted from Nursing Research--What is Qualitative Research? compiled by University of Utah's College of Nursing.

Where can I find qualitative research?

Qualitative research can be found in numerous databases.  Start at the advanced search page in each of the following databases:

  • CINAHL & Medline-- look for Clinical Queries section and scroll until you find Qualitative Studies.  Three choices are presented:
    • High Sensitivity (broadest category/broad search)
    • High Specificity (narrowest category/specific search)
    • Best Balance (somewhere in between)
  • PsycINFO -- look in Methodology section and scroll until you find Qualitative
  • PubMed - Use subject headings  "Qualitative Research" or "Nursing Methodology Research"

Need to see the searching in action?  Watch one of these videos to see how to search for qualitative research in CINAHL and PsycINFO.(The videos do not contain audio.)


Keyword Searching Strategies

No matter the database, try searching for keywords that might specifically identify qualitative research, including:

qualitative or ethnograph* or phenomenol* or ethnonurs* or "grounded theor*" or "purposive sample" or hermeneutic* or heuristic*or semiotics or "lived experience*" or narrative* or "life experiences" or "cluster sample" or  "action research" or "observational method" or "content analysis" or "thematic analysis" or "constant comparative method" or "field stud*" or "theoretical sample" or "discourse analysis" or  "focus group*" or "ethnological research" or  ethnomethodolog* or interview*

Helpful Resources

Getting help at EKU

Finding relevant qualitative research can be difficult and it can be time consuming.  Once you conduct a search, you will need to review your search results and look at individual articles and their record pages to determine if they are truly qualitative research articles.  And that's a determination that only you can make. If you still need help, please Chat with a librarian online or consider reaching out to Karen Gilbert, library liaison to Health Sciences, for research help.  Karen can be reached through email at