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Appraising qualitative health research—towards a differentiated approach
  1. Veronika Williams1,
  2. Anne-Marie Boylan2,
  3. Nicola Newhouse2,
  4. David Nunan2
  1. 1 School of Nursing, Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Veronika Williams, School of Nursing, Nipissing University, North Bay, ON P1B 8L, Canada; veronikw{at}

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Qualitative health research provides important evidence for healthcare practice and is the most suitable approach for exploring healthcare perspectives and experiences. Appraisal of health research is an essential part of practising evidence-based healthcare (EBHC). This applies to all types of research, be it quantitative or qualitative. Within EBHC education there has arguably been more attention paid to developing differentiated critical appraisal tools for different methodologies. Numerous frameworks and tools to aid the appraisal of specific research designs have been developed and published, usually in the form of checklists in which ‘quality’ is summarised numerically or narratively.1 Perhaps unsurprisingly, the appraisal of qualitative health research has mirrored this useful but arguably reductive approach by adopting checklists or broad framework approaches.

There is one key and important difference, however; appraisal tools for quantitative research have been developed to accommodate the different study designs within the quantitative domain. These address differing methodological aspects and provide guidance on how to appraise these, why they matter and how to interpret relevant bias. This is not the case for approaches to qualitative health research appraisal. A recent systematic review2 identified over 100 qualitative appraisal tools and frameworks, yet the authors found that these existing approaches continue to treat qualitative health research as one unified study design (‘qualitative’). Other scholars echo this assessment that such approaches neglect to take account of the differences in various theoretical or methodological approaches within the paradigm3–5 and often use the terms ‘methodology’ and ‘method’ interchangeably.6

Just like its quantitative counterpart, qualitative health research encompasses different study designs and methodologies, each differing in their theoretical underpinnings, purpose, design and the data they produce. Appraisal therefore needs to account for the important differences between these methodological approaches.6 While there are some extant approaches to the appraisal of specific …

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  • Contributors VW, A-MB and DN conceived the presented idea. VW wrote the first draft of the paper. All coauthors contributed to the final draft of the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.