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Finding Qualitative Research Articles: General Strategies

Introduction

Qualitative research is defined as research that derives data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focuses on the meanings and interpretations of the participants. (Holloway and Wheeler, 1995)

Qualitative research can be challenging to find as these methodologies are not always well-indexed in bibliographic databases. This help guide will provide some tips and information to guide you in your search for qualitative research articles through databases, such as PubMed and CINAHL.

For Any Database

Strategy 1: Use Subject Headings

Databases use controlled keywords (known as thesaurus or subject terms) to categorize each record stored. PubMed, for example, uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), a highly structured index of terminology. The subject headings vary for each database according to their indexing system.  The term "qualitative research" is indexed in PubMed as "Qualitative Research" or "Nursing Methodology Research", while in CINAHL the subject heading "Qualitative Studies" is complemented by more detailed terms, including "Phenomenological Research" and "Grounded Theory".

Strategy 2: Use Text Words

This strategy uses text or keywords that might specifically identify qualitative research and searches the titles, abstracts and keywords of records held in the databases. Some Text Words include: qualitative, ethnograph*, phenomenol*, ethnonurs*, grounded theor*, purposive sample, hermeneutic*, heuristic*, semiotics, lived experience*, narrative*, life experiences, cluster sample, action research, observational method, content analysis, thematic analysis, constant comparative method, field stud*, theoretical sample, discourse analysis, focus group*, ethnological research, ethnomethodolog*, interview*.

Strategy 3: Use Qualitative Research Filters

Qualitative Research Filters are pre-formulated search strategies that have been constructed by librarians to help you retrieve articles in databases that deal with qualitative research. You can use the filter and then combine the results with your subject.

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