Before we progress to explaining what you need to do when writing about the design of your qualitative study, first of all carry out the task in the box below.


Click on the hyperlink below to see what study design was used for our example of a qualitative research proposal:





"The goal of qualitative research is the development of concepts which help us to understand social phenomena in natural (rather than experimental) settings, giving due emphasis to the meanings, experiences, and views of all participants."

                            Pope & Mays (1995)


Qualitative research consists of a number of differently developed methods that are best suited to address questions of particular interest. There are, however, some general themes of qualitative research design that apply across all approaches and methodologies.

Qualitative research is an umbrella term that covers a variety of styles of social research, drawing on a variety of disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology.

However, there are some common elements to these approaches that begin to give some sense to the term 'qualitative research'.

These are

A concern with meanings and the way people understand meanings.

Human activity is seen as a product of symbols and meanings that are used by members of the social group to make sense of things.

One of these symbols and meanings that can be analysed is 'text'.

A concern with patterns of behaviour.

The focus is on regularities in the activities of a social group, such as rituals, traditions, and relationships - and the way that these are expressed.

Qualitative data, whether words or images, are the product of a process of interpretation.

The data only become data to when they are used as such.

The data do not exist 'out there' waiting to be discovered, but are produced by the way that they are interpreted and used by researchers.

Qualitative research includes several different approaches to research, but all these different approaches have two things in common.

1. They focus on phenomena that occur in natural settings (the 'real world').

2. They involve studying those phenomena in all their complexities.



Qualitative researchers rarely try to simplify what they observe.

Rather, they recognise  that the issue that they are studying has many dimensions and layers, and so they try to portray the issue in its many different and varied forms.

Most qualitative researchers argue that an objective approach to studying human events (such as interpersonal relationships, or social structures, etc.) is neither desirable nor even possible. They believe that the researcher's ability to interpret and make sense of what he or she sees is absolutely critical for understanding any social phenomenon. They also believe that rather than there being just one universal 'truth', there are actually many 'truths' applicable to any one phenomenon.

Thus, the uniqueness of research that uses a qualitative methodology can be said to be the fact that this type of research does not focus primarily upon the identification and explanation of facts. Rather it focuses primarily upon people's interpretations of these facts, and helps to illuminate and make sense of them.

Qualitative researchers often stress the need for researchers to reveal the values, interests, and influences associated with their own subjective experiences.

This we call 'reflexivity'.

One interesting fact to note is that in order to demonstrate this reflexivity, qualitative researchers often use the first person active voice (either in the singular all the plural) - or indeed any person, rather than use the passive voice - which is the norm for quantitative researchers.

Differences between qualitative and quantitative research methodologies

There are many differences between these two methodologies, and if you click on this hyperlink 'differences', you will be able to look at some of the most important of them.

Validity & reliability

It is important that qualitative research can be seen to be both valid, rigorous, and reliable.

Types of qualitative research

As you now know, there are many different qualitative research methodologies/designs, but we will consider just three methods that are probably the most common qualitative research methodologies used by nurses.

These are known as:

The way forward

Now you should be able to start to write your research design depending upon your particular methodology, which in turn is dependent upon your research question. Remember that you have to include - and  discuss - in this section of your research proposal:

Having done that, now you can add it to your research proposal template

Hopefully, it is now starting to take shape and so once you have done that, we can move on to the next stage of writing a research proposal, namely the sample.

Reference: Pope C., Mays N. (1995) Qualitative Research:  Reaching the parts other methods cannot reach: an introduction to qualitative methods in health and health services research. British Medical Journal 311: 42-45

which research design     research design