Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of hsresearchLink to Publisher's site
Health Serv Res. 1999 December; 34(5 Pt 2): 1153–1188.
PMCID: PMC1089058

How will we know "good" qualitative research when we see it? Beginning the dialogue in health services research.


OBJECTIVE: To lay the foundation for an explicit review and dialogue concerning the criteria that should be used to evaluate qualitative health services research. Clear criteria are critical for the discipline because they provide a benchmark against which research can be assessed. DATA SOURCES: Existing literature in the social sciences and health services research, particularly in primary care and medicine. PRINCIPAL FINDING: Traditional criteria for evaluating qualitative research are rooted in the philosophical perspective (positivism) most closely associated with quantitative research and methods. As a result, qualitative research and methods may not be used as frequently as they can be and research results generated from qualitative studies may not be disseminated as widely as possible. However, alternative criteria for evaluating qualitative research have been proposed that reflect a different philosophical perspective (post-positivism). Moreover, these criteria are tailored to the unique purposes for which qualitative research is used and the research designs traditionally employed. While criteria based on these two different philosophical perspectives have much in common, some important differences exist. CONCLUSION: The field of health services research must engage in a collective, "qualitative" process to determine which criteria to adopt (positivist or post-positivist), or whether some combination of the two is most appropriate. Greater clarity about the criteria used to evaluate qualitative research will strengthen the discipline by fostering a more appropriate and improved use of qualitative methods, a greater willingness to fund and publish "good" qualitative research, and the development of more informed consumers of qualitative research results.

Full text

Full text is available as a scanned copy of the original print version. Get a printable copy (PDF file) of the complete article (3.8M), or click on a page image below to browse page by page. Links to PubMed are also available for Selected References.

Images in this article

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Barbour RS. The case for combining qualitative and quantitative approaches in health services research. J Health Serv Res Policy. 1999 Jan;4(1):39–43. [PubMed]
  • Berkwits M, Inui TS. Making use of qualitative research techniques. J Gen Intern Med. 1998 Mar;13(3):195–199. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Britten N. Qualitative interviews in medical research. BMJ. 1995 Jul 22;311(6999):251–253. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Britten N, Jones R, Murphy E, Stacy R. Qualitative research methods in general practice and primary care. Fam Pract. 1995 Mar;12(1):104–114. [PubMed]
  • Conrad P. Qualitative research on chronic illness: a commentary on method and conceptual development. Soc Sci Med. 1990;30(11):1257–1263. [PubMed]
  • Dingwall R, Murphy E, Watson P, Greatbatch D, Parker S. Catching goldfish: quality in qualitative research. J Health Serv Res Policy. 1998 Jul;3(3):167–172. [PubMed]
  • Elder NC, Miller WL. Reading and evaluating qualitative research studies. J Fam Pract. 1995 Sep;41(3):279–285. [PubMed]
  • Fitzpatrick R, Boulton M. Qualitative research in health care: I. The scope and validity of methods. J Eval Clin Pract. 1996 May;2(2):123–130. [PubMed]
  • Green J, Britten N. Qualitative research and evidence based medicine. BMJ. 1998 Apr 18;316(7139):1230–1232. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Gubrium JF. Qualitative research comes of age in gerontology. Gerontologist. 1992 Oct;32(5):581–582. [PubMed]
  • Inhorn MC. Medical anthropology and epidemiology: divergences or convergences? Soc Sci Med. 1995 Feb;40(3):285–290. [PubMed]
  • Inui TS, Frankel RM. Evaluating the quality of qualitative research: a proposal pro tem. J Gen Intern Med. 1991 Sep-Oct;6(5):485–486. [PubMed]
  • Jones J, Hunter D. Consensus methods for medical and health services research. BMJ. 1995 Aug 5;311(7001):376–380. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Jones R. Why do qualitative research? BMJ. 1995 Jul 1;311(6996):2–2. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Kahn DL. Ways of discussing validity in qualitative nursing research. West J Nurs Res. 1993 Feb;15(1):122–126. [PubMed]
  • Keen J, Packwood T. Case study evaluation. BMJ. 1995 Aug 12;311(7002):444–446. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Kitzinger J. Qualitative research. Introducing focus groups. BMJ. 1995 Jul 29;311(7000):299–302. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Kuzel AJ, Engel JD, Addison RB, Bogdewic SP. Desirable features of qualitative research. Fam Pract Res J. 1994 Dec;14(4):369–378. [PubMed]
  • Luft HS. Health services research as a scientific process: the metamorphosis of an empirical research project from grant proposal to final report. Health Serv Res. 1986 Oct;21(4):563–584. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Mays N, Pope C. Rigour and qualitative research. BMJ. 1995 Jul 8;311(6997):109–112. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Mechanic D. Medical sociology: some tensions among theory, method, and substance. J Health Soc Behav. 1989 Jun;30(2):147–162. [PubMed]
  • Miller WL, Crabtree BF. Qualitative analysis: how to begin making sense. Fam Pract Res J. 1994 Sep;14(3):289–297. [PubMed]
  • Morgan DL. Practical strategies for combining qualitative and quantitative methods: applications to health research. Qual Health Res. 1998 May;8(3):362–376. [PubMed]
  • Popay J, Rogers A, Williams G. Rationale and standards for the systematic review of qualitative literature in health services research. Qual Health Res. 1998 May;8(3):341–351. [PubMed]
  • Pope C, Mays N. Reaching the parts other methods cannot reach: an introduction to qualitative methods in health and health services research. BMJ. 1995 Jul 1;311(6996):42–45. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Poses RM, Isen AM. Qualitative research in medicine and health care: questions and controversy. J Gen Intern Med. 1998 Jan;13(1):32–38. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Reid AJ. What we want: qualitative research. Promising frontier for family medicine. Can Fam Physician. 1996 Mar;42:387–400. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Stange KC, Miller WL, Crabtree BF, O'Connor PJ, Zyzanski SJ. Multimethod research: approaches for integrating qualitative and quantitative methods. J Gen Intern Med. 1994 May;9(5):278–282. [PubMed]
  • Ventres WB, Frankel RM. Ethnography: a stepwise approach for primary care researchers. Fam Med. 1996 Jan;28(1):52–56. [PubMed]
  • Ward MM. Study design in qualitative research: a guide to assessing quality. J Gen Intern Med. 1993 Feb;8(2):107–109. [PubMed]

Articles from Health Services Research are provided here courtesy of Health Research & Educational Trust