Qualitative studies reporting guide - 2016 


Volume 42-9, September 1, 2016: Scientific writing

Editorial policy

A reporting guide for qualitative studies



Suggested citation

A reporting guide for qualitative studies. Can Comm Dis Rep 2016;42:177-8. https://doi.org/10.14745/ccdr.v42i09a02

Qualitative studies provide insight into complex phenomena. Unlike measurement-based studies which typically quantify what happens under experimental conditions, qualitative studies often help explain behaviors or perceptions under actual circumstances. Qualitative studies in the field of communicable diseases can be used to provide insight into why people choose high-risk behaviours and to identify the factors that influence their decisions. For example, a qualitative study may address why healthcare practitioners do not practice adequate hand hygiene and whether patients might help by reminding them to do so. The results can be surprising. For example, a recent study identified that inpatients in one hospital who were most dissatisfied with the care they received were also the least likely to ask healthcare professionals if they had washed their handsFootnote 1. Furthermore, the study identified that the decision not to pose this question was linked to patient awareness that staff satisfaction was low.

Qualitative research analyzes data from direct field observations, in-depth, open-ended interviews and written documents. Inductive analyses yield patterns and themes that generate hypotheses and offer a basis for future research. Although qualitative studies do not create generalizable evidence, well-reported studies provide enough information for readers to assess the applicability or transferability of findings to their own contextFootnote 2.

There are a variety of checklists about how to report qualitative studiesFootnote 3,Footnote 4,Footnote 5,Footnote 6. The Canada Communicable Disease Report (CCDR) has developed a 24-item checklist that synthesizes these including the COREQ checklist noted on the EQUATOR NetworkFootnote 6. The CCDR checklist identifies the importance of describing how data was gathered and summarized, what trends were determined, exploring corroborative findings, offering alternative explanations and identifying possible next steps or further areas of inquiry (Table 1).

Reports of qualitative studies are usually around 2,500 words in length—excluding the abstract, tables and references. As with all submissions, check CCDR's Information for authors, published at the beginning of each volume in January of each year for general manuscript preparation and submission requirementsFootnote 7.

Table 1: Checklist for qualitative studies
Reporting item No. Description
Title 1 Compose a title that includes the term "qualitative", the population, condition, place and time.
Abstract 2 Use a structured abstract format with the following section headings: Background, Objective, Methods, Findings and Conclusion.
Issue identification 3 Identify the topic of the study and why it is important.
Review of literature 4 Provide a summary of the literature relating to the topic and what gaps there may be.
Rationale for study 5 Identify the rationale for the study. The rationale for the use of qualitative methods can be noted here or in the methods section.
Objective 6 Clearly articulate the objective of the study.
Ethics approval 7 Note here or in the methods section whether ethics board review was indicated, and if it was, where review and approval was obtained.
Setting 8 Describe the setting of the study and the relationship of the researcher to study participants (if any).
Approach 9 Identify the qualitative methods (e.g., interviews, participant observation) used in the study, any theoretical underpinnings if appropriate (e.g., grounded theory) and the rationale for their use.
Populations 10 Describe the groups from which people were invited to participate in the study.
Sampling 11 Identify the sampling strategies for the study (e.g., theoretical sampling, snowball technique).
Data collection 12 Describe how data collection tools were developed (e.g., pilot testing of interview guides) and how the data were recorded (e.g., audio, audiovisual or field notes).
Analysis 13 Identify how the data were managed and analyzed, including any software system used, and how information was assessed for credibility and transferability (e.g., member checking, inter-observer reliability and triangulation).
Synthesis 14 Describe how the findings were synthesized (e.g., What were the principles and choices informing the recognition of patterns and formation of categories? How were major and minor themes developed?).
Sample 15 Identify the total sample size and non-participation rate.
Population, time and place 16 Present the findings in context, i.e., with enough background and contextual detail to give a sense of the population, time and place (e.g., through appropriate use of quotes).
Analysis 17 Present an analysis that is credible and compelling (i.e., themes flow logically from the findings; relations between data and theoretical models and perspectives are described; interpretations are insightful).
Comparisons 18 Explore corroborative findings (e.g., triangulation) and consider contradictory or diverse opinions (e.g., negative cases).
Synthesis 19 Present findings in such a way that they clearly address the research question(s).
Summary or key findings 20 Summarize key findings and indicate how the findings are relevant to the objective of the study.
Strengths and weaknesses 21 Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the study and consider alternative explanations for the findings when appropriate.
Transferability 22 Explore the implications of the study considering the applicability or transferability of the findings.
Next steps 23 Propose next steps or further areas of inquiry.
Conclusion 24 Ensure the conclusion integrates the data and analysis and addresses the objective of the study.
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