Plethora or paucity: A systematic search and bibliometric study of the application and design of qualitative methods in nursing research 2008-2010

Elaine Ball, Moira McLoughlin, Angela Darvill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Qualitative methodology has increased in application and acceptability in all research disciplines. In nursing, it is appropriate that a plethora of qualitative methods can be found as nurses pose real-world questions to clinical, cultural and ethical issues of patient care (Johnson, 2007; Long and Johnson, 2007), yet the methods nurses readily use in pursuit of answers remains under intense scrutiny. One of the problems with qualitative methodology for nursing research is its place in the hierarchy of evidence (HOE); another is its comparison to the positivist constructs of what constitutes good research and the measurement of qualitative research against this. In order to position and strengthen its evidence base, nursing may well seek to distance itself from a qualitative perspective and utilise methods at the top of the HOE; yet given the relation of qualitative methods to nursing this would constrain rather than broaden the profession in search of answers and an evidence base. The comparison between qualitative and quantitative can be both mutually exclusive and rhetorical, by shifting the comparison this study takes a more reflexive position and critically appraises qualitative methods against the standards set by qualitative researchers. By comparing the design and application of qualitative methods in nursing over a two year period, the study examined how qualitative stands up to independent rather than comparative scrutiny. For the methods, a four-step mixed methods approach newly constructed by the first author was used to define the scope of the research question and develop inclusion criteria. 2. Synthesis tables were constructed to organise data, 3. Bibliometrics configured data. 4. Studies selected for inclusion in the review were critically appraised using a critical interpretive synthesis (Dixon-Woods et al., 2006). The paper outlines the research process as well as findings. Results showed of the 240 papers analysed, 27% used ad hoc or no references to qualitative; methodological terms such as thematic analysis or constant comparative methods were used inconsistently; qualitative was a catch-all panacea rather than a methodology with well-argued terms or contextual definition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-303
Number of pages5
JournalNurse Education Today
Issue number3
Early online date5 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


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