What Does A Qualitative Research Paper Look Like

You can find qualitative articles by searching in the Library databases using methodology terms as keywords. Possible keywords include the type of study, data analysis type, or terminology used to describe the results.


     Example keywords for qualitative studies

  • Case study
  • Constant comparison
  • Content analysis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Ethnographic
  • Focus group
  • Grounded theory
  • Interview
  • Narrative
  • Phenomenological
  • Qualitative


The following search uses Thoreau, our multi-database search tool, to find examples of qualitative research studies. However, you can use any article or dissertation database for your search.

1.  On the Library homepage, type your general term in the main search box:


2.  Sign in with your myWalden username and password when prompted. 

3.  Type more methodology terms in the first search box. Use as many alternative terms as are relevant to your search. Use the remaining search box(es) to narrow your search to a specific topic of interest. 

4.  Click on the Search button.

Here is an example of the search set up: 

First search box:

qualitative OR ethnograph* OR phenomen*

Second search box:

post-traumatic stress disorder


Here is an example image of the search setup using "select a field optional"


Many articles and dissertations will use methodology terms in the abstract or title. To make sure that you have an example of a qualitative study, be sure to look at the methodology section in the full text. This will provide detailed information about the methodology used.


Search Tips:

  • Connecting the alternative terms with OR tells the database to search for any of these terms.
  • Using the asterisk (*) truncates the search. The database will search for the part of the word you typed before the asterisk, along with any possible endings for the word. Using ethnograph* tells the database to search for ethnography, ethnographic, etc.
  • Some methodologies are rarely used for some research topics. You may need to broaden your search topic to find a study that uses your methodology.
  • To find more results, change the Select a Field (optional) drop-down menu to TX All Text. This is especially helpful when searching for a very specific type of study design.
  • Placing words in quotation marks tells the database to search for the words as a complete phrase, instead of as individual words. For example: 


First search box:

"grounded theory"


Here is an image of the search set up with "grounded theory" searching the field: TX All Text.



Watch a video showing how to search for a qualitative article in the Library databases:

Video: Find Qualitative Articles

(1 min 58 sec) Transcript


More Information:

Do you have other methodology search questions?  Ask a Librarian!

There is no one qualitative method, but rather a number of research approaches which fall under the umbrella of ‘qualitative methods’. The various social science disciplines tend to have different conventions on best practice in qualitative research. However SS&M has prepared the following general guidance for the writing and assessment of papers which present qualitative data (either alone or in combination with quantitative methods). General principles of good practice for all research will also apply.

Fitness for purpose

Are the methods of the research appropriate to the nature of the question(s) being asked, i.e.

  • Does the research seek to understand social processes or social structures &/or to illuminate subjective experiences or meanings?
  • Are the settings, groups or individuals being examined of a type which cannot be pre-selected, or the possible outcomes not specified (or hypothesised) in advance?

Methodology and methods

  • All papers must include a dedicated methods section which specifies, as appropriate, the sample recruitment strategy, sample size, and analytical strategy.

Principles of selection

Qualitative research is often based on or includes non-probability sampling. The unit(s) of research may include one or a combination of people, events, institutions, samples of natural behaviour, conversations, written and visual material, etc.

  • The selection of these should be theoretically justified e.g. it should be made clear how respondents were selected
  • There should be a rationale for the sources of the data (e.g respondents/participants, settings, documents)
  • Consideration should be given to whether the sources of data (e.g people, organisations, documents) were unusual in some important way
  • Any limitations of the data should be discussed (such as non response, refusal to take part)

The research process

In most papers there should be consideration of

  • The access process
  • How data were collected and recorded
  • Who collected the data
  • When the data were collected
  • How the research was explained to respondents/participants

Research ethics

  • Details of formal ethical approval (i.e. IRB, Research Ethics Committee) should be stated in the main body of the paper. If authors were not required to obtain ethical approval (as is the case in some countries) or unable to obtain attain ethical approval (as sometimes occurs in resource-poor settings) they should explain this. Please anonymise this information as appropriate in the manuscript, and give the information when asked during submission.
  • Procedures for securing informed consent should be provided

Any ethical concerns that arose during the research should be discussed.


The process of analysis should be made as transparent as possible (notwithstanding the conceptual and theoretical creativity that typically characterises qualitative research). For example

  • How was the analysis conducted
    • How were themes, concepts and categories generated from the data
    • Whether analysis was computer assisted (and, if so, how)
    • Who was involved in the analysis and in what manner
  • Assurance of analytic rigour. For example
    • Steps taken to guard against selectivity in the use of data
    • Triangulation
    • Inter-rater reliability
    • Member and expert checking
    • The researcher’s own position should clearly be stated. For example, have they examined their own role, possible bias, and influence on the research (reflexivity)?

Presentation of findings

Consideration of context

The research should be clearly contextualised. For example

  • Relevant information about the settings and respondents/participants should be supplied
  • The phenomena under study should be integrated into their social context (rather than being abstracted or de-contextualised)
  • Any particular/unique influences should be identified and discussed

Presentation of data:

  • Quotations, field notes, and other data where appropriate should be identified in a way which enables the reader to judge the range of evidence being used
  • Distinctions between the data and their interpretation should be clear
  • The iteration between data and explanations of the data (theory generation) should be clear
  • Sufficient original evidence should be presented to satisfy the reader of the relationship between the evidence and the conclusions (validity)
  • There should be adequate consideration of cases or evidence which might refute the conclusions

Amended February 2010

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