Qualitative Research Questions: Gain Powerful Insights + 25 Examples

We review the basics of qualitative research questions, including their key components, how to craft them effectively, & 25 example questions.

Einstein was many things—a physicist, a philosopher, and, undoubtedly, a mastermind. He also had an incredible way with words. His quote, "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted," is particularly poignant when it comes to research. 

Some inquiries call for a quantitative approach, for counting and measuring data in order to arrive at general conclusions. Other investigations, like qualitative research, rely on deep exploration and understanding of individual cases in order to develop a greater understanding of the whole. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.

Qualitative research questions focus on the "how" and "why" of things, rather than the "what". They ask about people's experiences and perceptions , and can be used to explore a wide range of topics.

The following article will discuss the basics of qualitative research questions, including their key components, and how to craft them effectively. You'll also find 25 examples of effective qualitative research questions you can use as inspiration for your own studies.

Let’s get started!

What are qualitative research questions, and when are they used?

When researchers set out to conduct a study on a certain topic, their research is chiefly directed by an overarching question . This question provides focus for the study and helps determine what kind of data will be collected.

By starting with a question, we gain parameters and objectives for our line of research. What are we studying? For what purpose? How will we know when we’ve achieved our goals?

Of course, some of these questions can be described as quantitative in nature. When a research question is quantitative, it usually seeks to measure or calculate something in a systematic way.

For example:

  • How many people in our town use the library?
  • What is the average income of families in our city?
  • How much does the average person weigh?

Other research questions, however—and the ones we will be focusing on in this article—are qualitative in nature. Qualitative research questions are open-ended and seek to explore a given topic in-depth.

According to the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry , “Qualitative research aims to address questions concerned with developing an understanding of the meaning and experience dimensions of humans’ lives and social worlds.”

This type of research can be used to gain a better understanding of people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences by “addressing questions beyond ‘what works’, towards ‘what works for whom when, how and why, and focusing on intervention improvement rather than accreditation,” states one paper in Neurological Research and Practice .

Qualitative questions often produce rich data that can help researchers develop hypotheses for further quantitative study.

  • What are people’s thoughts on the new library?
  • How does it feel to be a first-generation student at our school?
  • How do people feel about the changes taking place in our town?

As stated by a paper in Human Reproduction , “...‘qualitative’ methods are used to answer questions about experience, meaning, and perspective, most often from the standpoint of the participant. These data are usually not amenable to counting or measuring.”

Both quantitative and qualitative questions have their uses; in fact, they often complement each other. A well-designed research study will include a mix of both types of questions in order to gain a fuller understanding of the topic at hand.

If you would like to recruit unlimited participants for qualitative research for free and only pay for the interview you conduct, try using Respondent  today. 

Crafting qualitative research questions for powerful insights

Now that we have a basic understanding of what qualitative research questions are and when they are used, let’s take a look at how you can begin crafting your own.

According to a study in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, there is a certain process researchers should follow when crafting their questions, which we’ll explore in more depth.

1. Beginning the process 

Start with a point of interest or curiosity, and pose a draft question or ‘self-question’. What do you want to know about the topic at hand? What is your specific curiosity? You may find it helpful to begin by writing several questions.

For example, if you’re interested in understanding how your customer base feels about a recent change to your product, you might ask: 

  • What made you decide to try the new product?
  • How do you feel about the change?
  • What do you think of the new design/functionality?
  • What benefits do you see in the change?

2. Create one overarching, guiding question 

At this point, narrow down the draft questions into one specific question. “Sometimes, these broader research questions are not stated as questions, but rather as goals for the study.”

As an example of this, you might narrow down these three questions: 

into the following question: 

  • What are our customers’ thoughts on the recent change to our product?

3. Theoretical framing 

As you read the relevant literature and apply theory to your research, the question should be altered to achieve better outcomes. Experts agree that pursuing a qualitative line of inquiry should open up the possibility for questioning your original theories and altering the conceptual framework with which the research began.

If we continue with the current example, it’s possible you may uncover new data that informs your research and changes your question. For instance, you may discover that customers’ feelings about the change are not just a reaction to the change itself, but also to how it was implemented. In this case, your question would need to reflect this new information: 

  • How did customers react to the process of the change, as well as the change itself?

4. Ethical considerations 

A study in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education stresses that ethics are “a central issue when a researcher proposes to study the lives of others, especially marginalized populations.” Consider how your question or inquiry will affect the people it relates to—their lives and their safety. Shape your question to avoid physical, emotional, or mental upset for the focus group.

In analyzing your question from this perspective, if you feel that it may cause harm, you should consider changing the question or ending your research project. Perhaps you’ve discovered that your question encourages harmful or invasive questioning, in which case you should reformulate it.

5. Writing the question 

The actual process of writing the question comes only after considering the above points. The purpose of crafting your research questions is to delve into what your study is specifically about” Remember that qualitative research questions are not trying to find the cause of an effect, but rather to explore the effect itself.

Your questions should be clear, concise, and understandable to those outside of your field. In addition, they should generate rich data. The questions you choose will also depend on the type of research you are conducting: 

  • If you’re doing a phenomenological study, your questions might be open-ended, in order to allow participants to share their experiences in their own words.
  • If you’re doing a grounded-theory study, your questions might be focused on generating a list of categories or themes.
  • If you’re doing ethnography, your questions might be about understanding the culture you’re studying.

Whenyou have well-written questions, it is much easier to develop your research design and collect data that accurately reflects your inquiry.

In writing your questions, it may help you to refer to this simple flowchart process for constructing questions:

qualitative research questions for education

Download Free E-Book 

25 examples of expertly crafted qualitative research questions

It's easy enough to cover the theory of writing a qualitative research question, but sometimes it's best if you can see the process in practice. In this section, we'll list 25 examples of B2B and B2C-related qualitative questions.

Let's begin with five questions. We'll show you the question, explain why it's considered qualitative, and then give you an example of how it can be used in research.

1. What is the customer's perception of our company's brand?

Qualitative research questions are often open-ended and invite respondents to share their thoughts and feelings on a subject. This question is qualitative because it seeks customer feedback on the company's brand. 

This question can be used in research to understand how customers feel about the company's branding, what they like and don't like about it, and whether they would recommend it to others.

2. Why do customers buy our product?

This question is also qualitative because it seeks to understand the customer's motivations for purchasing a product. It can be used in research to identify the reasons  customers buy a certain product, what needs or desires the product fulfills for them, and how they feel about the purchase after using the product.

3. How do our customers interact with our products?

Again, this question is qualitative because it seeks to understand customer behavior. In this case, it can be used in research to see how customers use the product, how they interact with it, and what emotions or thoughts the product evokes in them.

4. What are our customers' biggest frustrations with our products?

By seeking to understand customer frustrations, this question is qualitative and can provide valuable insights. It can be used in research to help identify areas in which the company needs to make improvements with its products.

5. How do our customers feel about our customer service?

Rather than asking why customers like or dislike something, this question asks how they feel. This qualitative question can provide insights into customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a company. 

This type of question can be used in research to understand what customers think of the company's customer service and whether they feel it meets their needs.

20 more examples to refer to when writing your question

Now that you’re aware of what makes certain questions qualitative, let's move into 20 more examples of qualitative research questions:

  • How do your customers react when updates are made to your app interface?
  • How do customers feel when they complete their purchase through your ecommerce site?
  • What are your customers' main frustrations with your service?
  • How do people feel about the quality of your products compared to those of your competitors?
  • What motivates customers to refer their friends and family members to your product or service?
  • What are the main benefits your customers receive from using your product or service?
  • How do people feel when they finish a purchase on your website?
  • What are the main motivations behind customer loyalty to your brand?
  • How does your app make people feel emotionally?
  • For younger generations using your app, how does it make them feel about themselves?
  • What reputation do people associate with your brand?
  • How inclusive do people find your app?
  • In what ways are your customers' experiences unique to them?
  • What are the main areas of improvement your customers would like to see in your product or service?
  • How do people feel about their interactions with your tech team?
  • What are the top five reasons people use your online marketplace?
  • How does using your app make people feel in terms of connectedness?
  • What emotions do people experience when they're using your product or service?
  • Aside from the features of your product, what else about it attracts customers?
  • How does your company culture make people feel?

As you can see, these kinds of questions are completely open-ended. In a way, they allow the research and discoveries made along the way to direct the research. The questions are merely a starting point from which to explore.

This video offers tips on how to write good qualitative research questions, produced by Qualitative Research Expert, Kimberly Baker.

Wrap-up: crafting your own qualitative research questions.

Over the course of this article, we've explored what qualitative research questions are, why they matter, and how they should be written. Hopefully you now have a clear understanding of how to craft your own.

Remember, qualitative research questions should always be designed to explore a certain experience or phenomena in-depth, in order to generate powerful insights. As you write your questions, be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Are you being inclusive of all relevant perspectives?
  • Are your questions specific enough to generate clear answers?
  • Will your questions allow for an in-depth exploration of the topic at hand?
  • Do the questions reflect your research goals and objectives?

If you can answer "yes" to all of the questions above, and you've followed the tips for writing qualitative research questions we shared in this article, then you're well on your way to crafting powerful queries that will yield valuable insights.

Download Free E-Book

Respondent_100+Questions_Banners_1200x644 (1)

Asking the right questions in the right way is the key to research success. That’s true for not just the discussion guide but for every step of a research project. Following are 100+ questions that will take you from defining your research objective through  screening and participant discussions.

Fill out the form below to access free e-book! 

Recommend Resources:

  • How to Recruit Participants for Qualitative Research
  • The Best UX Research Tools of 2022
  • 10 Smart Tips for Conducting Better User Interviews
  • 50 Powerful Questions You Should Ask In Your Next User Interview
  • How To Find Participants For User Research: 13 Ways To Make It Happen
  • UX Diary Study: 5 Essential Tips For Conducing Better Studies
  • User Testing Recruitment: 10 Smart Tips To Find Participants Fast
  • Qualitative Research Questions: Gain Powerful Insights + 25
  • How To Successfully Recruit Participants for A Study (2022 Edition)
  • How To Properly Recruit Focus Group Participants (2022 Edition)
  • The Best Unmoderated Usability Testing Tools of 2022

50 Powerful User Interview Questions You Should Consider Asking

We researched the best user interview questions you can use for your qualitative research studies. Use these 50 sample questions for your next...

How To ​​Unleash Your Extra Income Potential With Respondent

The number one question we get from new participants is “how can I get invited to participate in more projects.” In this article, we’ll discuss a few...

Understanding Why High-Quality Research Needs High-Quality Participants

Why are high-quality participants essential to your research? Read here to find out who they are, why you need them, and how to find them.

Root out friction in every digital experience, super-charge conversion rates, and optimize digital self-service

Uncover insights from any interaction, deliver AI-powered agent coaching, and reduce cost to serve

Increase revenue and loyalty with real-time insights and recommendations delivered to teams on the ground

Know how your people feel and empower managers to improve employee engagement, productivity, and retention

Take action in the moments that matter most along the employee journey and drive bottom line growth

Whatever they’re are saying, wherever they’re saying it, know exactly what’s going on with your people

Get faster, richer insights with qual and quant tools that make powerful market research available to everyone

Run concept tests, pricing studies, prototyping + more with fast, powerful studies designed by UX research experts

Track your brand performance 24/7 and act quickly to respond to opportunities and challenges in your market

Explore the platform powering Experience Management

  • Free Account
  • Product Demos
  • For Digital
  • For Customer Care
  • For Human Resources
  • For Researchers
  • Financial Services
  • All Industries

Popular Use Cases

  • Customer Experience
  • Employee Experience
  • Net Promoter Score
  • Voice of Customer
  • Customer Success Hub
  • Product Documentation
  • Training & Certification
  • XM Institute
  • Popular Resources
  • Customer Stories
  • Artificial Intelligence

Market Research

  • Partnerships
  • Marketplace

The annual gathering of the experience leaders at the world’s iconic brands building breakthrough business results, live in Salt Lake City.

  • English/AU & NZ
  • Español/Europa
  • Español/América Latina
  • Português Brasileiro
  • REQUEST DEMO
  • Experience Management
  • Qualitative Research Questions

Try Qualtrics for free

How to write qualitative research questions.

11 min read Here’s how to write effective qualitative research questions for your projects, and why getting it right matters so much.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is a blanket term covering a wide range of research methods and theoretical framing approaches. The unifying factor in all these types of qualitative study is that they deal with data that cannot be counted. Typically this means things like people’s stories, feelings, opinions and emotions , and the meanings they ascribe to their experiences.

Qualitative study is one of two main categories of research, the other being quantitative research. Quantitative research deals with numerical data – that which can be counted and quantified, and which is mostly concerned with trends and patterns in large-scale datasets.

What are research questions?

Research questions are questions you are trying to answer with your research. To put it another way, your research question is the reason for your study, and the beginning point for your research design. There is normally only one research question per study, although if your project is very complex, you may have multiple research questions that are closely linked to one central question.

A good qualitative research question sums up your research objective. It’s a way of expressing the central question of your research, identifying your particular topic and the central issue you are examining.

Research questions are quite different from survey questions, questions used in focus groups or interview questions. A long list of questions is used in these types of study, as opposed to one central question. Additionally, interview or survey questions are asked of participants, whereas research questions are only for the researcher to maintain a clear understanding of the research design.

Research questions are used in both qualitative and quantitative research , although what makes a good research question might vary between the two.

In fact, the type of research questions you are asking can help you decide whether you need to take a quantitative or qualitative approach to your research project.

Discover the fundamentals of qualitative research

Quantitative vs. qualitative research questions

Writing research questions is very important in both qualitative and quantitative research, but the research questions that perform best in the two types of studies are quite different.

Quantitative research questions

Quantitative research questions usually relate to quantities, similarities and differences.

It might reflect the researchers’ interest in determining whether relationships between variables exist, and if so whether they are statistically significant. Or it may focus on establishing differences between things through comparison, and using statistical analysis to determine whether those differences are meaningful or due to chance.

  • How much? This kind of research question is one of the simplest. It focuses on quantifying something. For example:

How many Yoruba speakers are there in the state of Maine?

  • What is the connection?

This type of quantitative research question examines how one variable affects another.

For example:

How does a low level of sunlight affect the mood scores (1-10) of Antarctic explorers during winter?

  • What is the difference? Quantitative research questions in this category identify two categories and measure the difference between them using numerical data.

Do white cats stay cooler than tabby cats in hot weather?

If your research question fits into one of the above categories, you’re probably going to be doing a quantitative study.

Qualitative research questions

Qualitative research questions focus on exploring phenomena, meanings and experiences.

Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research isn’t about finding causal relationships between variables. So although qualitative research questions might touch on topics that involve one variable influencing another, or looking at the difference between things, finding and quantifying those relationships isn’t the primary objective.

In fact, you as a qualitative researcher might end up studying a very similar topic to your colleague who is doing a quantitative study, but your areas of focus will be quite different. Your research methods will also be different – they might include focus groups, ethnography studies, and other kinds of qualitative study.

A few example qualitative research questions:

  • What is it like being an Antarctic explorer during winter?
  • What are the experiences of Yoruba speakers in the USA?
  • How do white cat owners describe their pets?

Qualitative research question types

qualitative research questions for education

Marshall and Rossman (1989) identified 4 qualitative research question types, each with its own typical research strategy and methods.

  • Exploratory questions

Exploratory questions are used when relatively little is known about the research topic. The process researchers follow when pursuing exploratory questions might involve interviewing participants, holding focus groups, or diving deep with a case study.

  • Explanatory questions

With explanatory questions, the research topic is approached with a view to understanding the causes that lie behind phenomena. However, unlike a quantitative project, the focus of explanatory questions is on qualitative analysis of multiple interconnected factors that have influenced a particular group or area, rather than a provable causal link between dependent and independent variables.

  • Descriptive questions

As the name suggests, descriptive questions aim to document and record what is happening. In answering descriptive questions , researchers might interact directly with participants with surveys or interviews, as well as using observational studies and ethnography studies that collect data on how participants interact with their wider environment.

  • Predictive questions

Predictive questions start from the phenomena of interest and investigate what ramifications it might have in the future. Answering predictive questions may involve looking back as well as forward, with content analysis, questionnaires and studies of non-verbal communication (kinesics).

Why are good qualitative research questions important?

We know research questions are very important. But what makes them so essential? (And is that question a qualitative or quantitative one?)

Getting your qualitative research questions right has a number of benefits.

  • It defines your qualitative research project Qualitative research questions definitively nail down the research population, the thing you’re examining, and what the nature of your answer will be.This means you can explain your research project to other people both inside and outside your business or organization. That could be critical when it comes to securing funding for your project, recruiting participants and members of your research team, and ultimately for publishing your results. It can also help you assess right the ethical considerations for your population of study.
  • It maintains focus Good qualitative research questions help researchers to stick to the area of focus as they carry out their research. Keeping the research question in mind will help them steer away from tangents during their research or while they are carrying out qualitative research interviews. This holds true whatever the qualitative methods are, whether it’s a focus group, survey, thematic analysis or other type of inquiry.That doesn’t mean the research project can’t morph and change during its execution – sometimes this is acceptable and even welcome – but having a research question helps demarcate the starting point for the research. It can be referred back to if the scope and focus of the project does change.
  • It helps make sure your outcomes are achievable

Because qualitative research questions help determine the kind of results you’re going to get, it helps make sure those results are achievable. By formulating good qualitative research questions in advance, you can make sure the things you want to know and the way you’re going to investigate them are grounded in practical reality. Otherwise, you may be at risk of taking on a research project that can’t be satisfactorily completed.

Developing good qualitative research questions

All researchers use research questions to define their parameters, keep their study on track and maintain focus on the research topic. This is especially important with qualitative questions, where there may be exploratory or inductive methods in use that introduce researchers to new and interesting areas of inquiry. Here are some tips for writing good qualitative research questions.

1. Keep it specific

Broader research questions are difficult to act on. They may also be open to interpretation, or leave some parameters undefined.

Strong example: How do Baby Boomers in the USA feel about their gender identity?

Weak example: Do people feel different about gender now?

2. Be original

Look for research questions that haven’t been widely addressed by others already.

Strong example: What are the effects of video calling on women’s experiences of work?

Weak example: Are women given less respect than men at work?

3. Make it research-worthy

Don’t ask a question that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or with a quick Google search.

Strong example: What do people like and dislike about living in a highly multi-lingual country?

Weak example: What languages are spoken in India?

4. Focus your question

Don’t roll multiple topics or questions into one. Qualitative data may involve multiple topics, but your qualitative questions should be focused.

Strong example: What is the experience of disabled children and their families when using social services?

Weak example: How can we improve social services for children affected by poverty and disability?

4. Focus on your own discipline, not someone else’s

Avoid asking questions that are for the politicians, police or others to address.

Strong example: What does it feel like to be the victim of a hate crime?

Weak example: How can hate crimes be prevented?

5. Ask something researchable

Big questions, questions about hypothetical events or questions that would require vastly more resources than you have access to are not useful starting points for qualitative studies. Qualitative words or subjective ideas that lack definition are also not helpful.

Strong example: How do perceptions of physical beauty vary between today’s youth and their parents’ generation?

Weak example: Which country has the most beautiful people in it?

Related resources

Qualitative research design 12 min read, primary vs secondary research 14 min read, business research methods 12 min read, qualitative research interviews 11 min read, market intelligence 10 min read, marketing insights 11 min read, ethnographic research 11 min read, request demo.

Ready to learn more about Qualtrics?

Academic Success Center

Research Writing and Analysis

  • NVivo Group and Study Sessions
  • SPSS This link opens in a new window
  • Statistical Analysis Group sessions
  • Using Qualtrics
  • Dissertation and Data Analysis Group Sessions
  • Defense Schedule - Commons Calendar This link opens in a new window
  • Research Process Flow Chart
  • Research Alignment Chapter 1 This link opens in a new window
  • Step 1: Seek Out Evidence
  • Step 2: Explain
  • Step 3: The Big Picture
  • Step 4: Own It
  • Step 5: Illustrate
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Literature Review This link opens in a new window
  • Systematic Reviews & Meta-Analyses
  • How to Synthesize and Analyze
  • Synthesis and Analysis Practice
  • Synthesis and Analysis Group Sessions
  • Problem Statement
  • Purpose Statement
  • Conceptual Framework
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Locating Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks This link opens in a new window
  • Quantitative Research Questions

Qualitative Research Questions

  • Trustworthiness of Qualitative Data
  • Analysis and Coding Example- Qualitative Data
  • Thematic Data Analysis in Qualitative Design
  • Dissertation to Journal Article This link opens in a new window
  • International Journal of Online Graduate Education (IJOGE) This link opens in a new window
  • Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning (JRIT&L) This link opens in a new window

Question Mark in Red circle

What’s in a Qualitative Research Question?

Qualitative research questions are driven by the need for the study. Ideally, research questions are formulated as a result of the problem and purpose, which leads to the identification of the methodology. When a qualitative methodology is chosen, research questions should be exploratory and focused on the actual phenomenon under study.

From the Dissertation Center, Chapter 1: Research Question Overview , there are several considerations when forming a qualitative research question. Qualitative research questions should

Below is an example of a qualitative phenomenological design. Note the use of the term “lived experience” in the central research question. This aligns with phenomenological design.

RQ1: “ What are the lived experiences of followers of mid-level managers in the financial services sector regarding their well-being on the job?”

If the researcher wants to focus on aspects of the theory used to support the study or dive deeper into aspects of the central RQ, sub-questions might be used. The following sub-questions could be formulated to seek further insight:

RQ1a.   “How do followers perceive the quality and adequacy of the leader-follower exchanges between themselves and their novice leaders?”

RQ1b.  “Under what conditions do leader-member exchanges affect a follower’s own level of well-being?”

Qualitative research questions also display the desire to explore or describe phenomena. Qualitative research seeks the lived experience, the personal experiences, the understandings, the meanings, and the stories associated with the concepts present in our studies.

We want to ensure our research questions are answerable and that we are not making assumptions about our sample. View the questions below:

How do healthcare providers perceive income inequality when providing care to poor patients?

In Example A, we see that there is no specificity of location or geographic areas. This could lead to findings that are varied, and the researcher may not find a clear pattern. Additionally, the question implies the focus is on “income inequality” when the actual focus is on the provision of care. The term “poor patients” can also be offensive, and most providers will not want to seem insensitive and may perceive income inequality as a challenge (of course!).

How do primary care nurses in outreach clinics describe providing quality care to residents of low-income urban neighborhoods?

In Example B, we see that there is greater specificity in the type of care provider. There is also a shift in language so that the focus is on how the individuals describe what they think about, experience, and navigate providing quality care.

Other Qualitative Research Question Examples

Vague : What are the strategies used by healthcare personnel to assist injured patients?

Try this : What is the experience of emergency room personnel in treating patients with a self-inflicted household injury?

The first question is general and vague. While in the same topic area, the second question is more precise and gives the reader a specific target population and a focus on the phenomenon they would have experienced. This question could be in line with a phenomenological study as we are seeking their experience or a case study as the ER personnel are a bounded entity.

Unclear : How do students experience progressing to college?

Try this : How do first-generation community members describe the aspects of their culture that promote aspiration to postsecondary education?

The first question does not have a focus on what progress is or what students are the focus. The second question provides a specific target population and provides the description to be provided by the participants. This question could be in line with a descriptive study.

  • << Previous: Quantitative Research Questions
  • Next: Trustworthiness of Qualitative Data >>
  • Last Updated: Jul 9, 2024 3:24 PM
  • URL: https://resources.nu.edu/researchtools

NCU Library Home

Logo for Open Educational Resources

Chapter 4. Finding a Research Question and Approaches to Qualitative Research

We’ve discussed the research design process in general and ways of knowing favored by qualitative researchers.  In chapter 2, I asked you to think about what interests you in terms of a focus of study, including your motivations and research purpose.  It might be helpful to start this chapter with those short paragraphs you wrote about motivations and purpose in front of you.  We are now going to try to develop those interests into actual research questions (first part of this chapter) and then choose among various “traditions of inquiry” that will be best suited to answering those questions.  You’ve already been introduced to some of this (in chapter 1), but we will go further here.

Null

Developing a Research Question

Research questions are different from general questions people have about the social world.  They are narrowly tailored to fit a very specific issue, complete with context and time boundaries.  Because we are engaged in empirical science and thus use “data” to answer our questions, the questions we ask must be answerable by data.  A question is not the same as stating a problem.  The point of the entire research project is to answer a particular question or set of questions.  The question(s) should be interesting, relevant, practical, and ethical.  Let’s say I am generally interested in the problem of student loan debt.  That’s a good place to start, but we can’t simply ask,

General question: Is student loan debt really a problem today?

How could we possibly answer that question? What data could we use? Isn’t this really an axiological (values-based) question? There are no clues in the question as to what data would be appropriate here to help us get started. Students often begin with these large unanswerable questions. They are not research questions. Instead, we could ask,

Poor research question: How many people have debt?

This is still not a very good research question. Why not? It is answerable, although we would probably want to clarify the context. We could add some context to improve it so that the question now reads,

Mediocre research question: How many people in the US have debt today? And does this amount vary by age and location?

Now we have added some context, so we have a better idea of where to look and who to look at. But this is still a pretty poor or mediocre research question. Why is that? Let’s say we did answer it. What would we really know? Maybe we would find out that student loan debt has increased over time and that young people today have more of it. We probably already know this. We don’t really want to go through a lot of trouble answering a question whose answer we already have. In fact, part of the reason we are even asking this question is that we know (or think) it is a problem. Instead of asking what you already know, ask a question to which you really do not know the answer. I can’t stress this enough, so I will say it again: Ask a question to which you do not already know the answer . The point of research is not to prove or make a point but to find out something unknown. What about student loan debt is still a mystery to you? Reviewing the literature could help (see chapter 9). By reviewing the literature, you can get a good sense of what is still mysterious or unknown about student loan debt, and you won’t be reinventing the wheel when you conduct your research. Let’s say you review the literature, and you are struck by the fact that we still don’t understand the true impact of debt on how people are living their lives. A possible research question might be,

Fair research question: What impact does student debt have on the lives of debtors?

Good start, but we still need some context to help guide the project. It is not nearly specific enough.

Better research question: What impact does student debt have on young adults (ages twenty-five to thirty-five) living in the US today?

Now we’ve added context, but we can still do a little bit better in narrowing our research question so that it is both clear and doable; in other words, we want to frame it in a way that provides a very clear research program:

Optimal research question: How do young adults (ages twenty-five to thirty-five) living in the US today who have taken on $30,000 or more in student debt describe the impact of their debt on their lives in terms of finding/choosing a job, buying a house, getting married, and other major life events?

Now you have a research question that can be answered and a clear plan of how to answer it. You will talk to young adults living in the US today who have high debt loads and ask them to describe the impacts of debt on their lives. That is all now in the research question. Note how different this very specific question is from where we started with the “problem” of student debt.

Take some time practicing turning the following general questions into research questions:

  • What can be done about the excessive use of force by police officers?
  • Why haven’t societies taken firmer steps to address climate change?
  • How do communities react to / deal with the opioid epidemic?
  • Who has been the most adversely affected by COVID?
  • When did political polarization get so bad?

Hint: Step back from each of the questions and try to articulate a possible underlying motivation, then formulate a research question that is specific and answerable.

It is important to take the time to come up with a research question, even if this research question changes a bit as you conduct your research (yes, research questions can change!). If you don’t have a clear question to start your research, you are likely to get very confused when designing your study because you will not be able to make coherent decisions about things like samples, sites, methods of data collection, and so on. Your research question is your anchor: “If we don’t have a question, we risk the possibility of going out into the field thinking we know what we’ll find and looking only for proof of what we expect to be there. That’s not empirical research (it’s not systematic)” ( Rubin 2021:37 ).

Researcher Note

How do you come up with ideas for what to study?

I study what surprises me. Usually, I come across a statistic that suggests something is common that I thought was rare. I tend to think it’s rare because the theories I read suggest it should be, and there’s not a lot of work in that area that helps me understand how the statistic came to be. So, for example, I learned that it’s common for Americans to marry partners who grew up in a different class than them and that about half of White kids born into the upper-middle class are downwardly mobile. I was so shocked by these facts that they naturally led to research questions. How do people come to marry someone who grew up in a different class? How do White kids born near the top of the class structure fall?

—Jessi Streib, author of The Power of the Past and Privilege Lost

What if you have literally no idea what the research question should be? How do you find a research question? Even if you have an interest in a topic before you get started, you see the problem now: topics and issues are not research questions! A research question doesn’t easily emerge; it takes a lot of time to hone one, as the practice above should demonstrate. In some research designs, the research question doesn’t even get clearly articulated until the end of data collection . More on that later. But you must start somewhere, of course. Start with your chosen discipline. This might seem obvious, but it is often overlooked. There is a reason it is called a discipline. We tend to think of “sociology,” “public health,” and “physics” as so many clusters of courses that are linked together by subject matter, but they are also disciplines in the sense that the study of each focuses the mind in a particular way and for particular ends. For example, in my own field, sociology, there is a loosely shared commitment to social justice and a general “sociological imagination” that enables its practitioners to connect personal experiences to society at large and to historical forces. It is helpful to think of issues and questions that are germane to your discipline. Within that overall field, there may be a particular course or unit of study you found most interesting. Within that course or unit of study, there may be an issue that intrigued you. And finally, within that issue, there may be an aspect or topic that you want to know more about.

When I was pursuing my dissertation research, I was asked often, “Why did you choose to study intimate partner violence among Native American women?” This question is necessary, and each time I answered, it helped shape me into a better researcher. I was interested in intimate partner violence because I am a survivor. I didn’t have intentions to work with a particular population or demographic—that came from my own deep introspection on my role as a researcher. I always questioned my positionality: What privileges do I hold as an academic? How has public health extracted information from institutionally marginalized populations? How can I build bridges between communities using my position, knowledge, and power? Public health as a field would not exist without the contributions of Indigenous people. So I started hanging out with them at community events, making friends, and engaging in self-education. Through these organic relationships built with Native women in the community, I saw that intimate partner violence was a huge issue. This led me to partner with Indigenous organizations to pursue a better understanding of how Native survivors of intimate partner violence seek support.

—Susanna Y. Park, PhD, mixed-methods researcher in public health and author of “How Native Women Seek Support as Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: A Mixed-Methods Study”

One of the most exciting and satisfying things about doing academic research is that whatever you end up researching can become part of the body of knowledge that we have collectively created. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are doing this all on your own from scratch. Without even being aware of it, no matter if you are a first-year undergraduate student or a fourth-year graduate student, you have been trained to think certain questions are interesting. The very fact that you are majoring in a particular field or have signed up for years of graduate study in a program testifies to some level of commitment to a discipline. What we are looking for, ideally, is that your research builds on in some way (as extension, as critique, as lateral move) previous research and so adds to what we, collectively, understand about the social world. It is helpful to keep this in mind, as it may inspire you and also help guide you through the process. The point is, you are not meant to be doing something no one has ever thought of before, even if you are trying to find something that does not exactly duplicate previous research: “You may be trying to be too clever—aiming to come up with a topic unique in the history of the universe, something that will have people swooning with admiration at your originality and intellectual precociousness. Don’t do it. It’s safer…to settle on an ordinary, middle-of-the-road topic that will lend itself to a nicely organized process of project management. That’s the clever way of proceeding.… You can always let your cleverness shine through during the stages of design, analysis, and write-up. Don’t make things more difficult for yourself than you need to do” ( Davies 2007:20 ).

Rubin ( 2021 ) suggests four possible ways to develop a research question (there are many more, of course, but this can get you started). One way is to start with a theory that interests you and then select a topic where you can apply that theory. For example, you took a class on gender and society and learned about the “glass ceiling.” You could develop a study that tests that theory in a setting that has not yet been explored—maybe leadership at the Oregon Country Fair. The second way is to start with a topic that interests you and then go back to the books to find a theory that might explain it. This is arguably more difficult but often much more satisfying. Ask your professors for help—they might have ideas of theories or concepts that could be relevant or at least give you an idea of what books to read. The third way is to be very clever and select a question that already combines the topic and the theory. Rubin gives as one example sentencing disparities in criminology—this is both a topic and a theory or set of theories. You then just have to figure out particulars like setting and sample. I don’t know if I find this third way terribly helpful, but it might help you think through the possibilities. The fourth way involves identifying a puzzle or a problem, which can be either theoretical (something in the literature just doesn’t seem to make sense and you want to tackle addressing it) or empirical (something happened or is happening, and no one really understands why—think, for example, of mass school shootings).

Once you think you have an issue or topic that is worth exploring, you will need to (eventually) turn that into a good research question. A good research question is specific, clear, and feasible .

Specific . How specific a research question needs to be is somewhat related to the disciplinary conventions and whether the study is conceived inductively or deductively. In deductive research, one begins with a specific research question developed from the literature. You then collect data to test the theory or hypotheses accompanying your research question. In inductive research, however, one begins with data collection and analysis and builds theory from there. So naturally, the research question is a bit vaguer. In general, the more closely aligned to the natural sciences (and thus the deductive approach), the more a very tight and specific research question (along with specific, focused hypotheses) is required. This includes disciplines like psychology, geography, public health, environmental science, and marine resources management. The more one moves toward the humanities pole (and the inductive approach), the more looseness is permitted, as there is a general belief that we go into the field to find what is there, not necessarily what we imagine we are looking for (see figure 4.2). Disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and gender and sexuality studies and some subdisciplines of public policy/public administration are closer to the humanities pole in this sense.

Natural Sciences are more likely to use the scientific method and be on the Quantitative side of the continuum. Humanities are more likely to use Interpretive methods and are on the Qualitative side of the continuum.

Regardless of discipline and approach, however, it is a good idea for beginning researchers to create a research question as specific as possible, as this will serve as your guide throughout the process. You can tweak it later if needed, but start with something specific enough that you know what it is you are doing and why. It is more difficult to deal with ambiguity when you are starting out than later in your career, when you have a better handle on what you are doing. Being under a time constraint means the more specific the question, the better. Questions should always specify contexts, geographical locations, and time frames. Go back to your practice research questions and make sure that these are included.

Clear . A clear research question doesn’t only need to be intelligible to any reader (which, of course, it should); it needs to clarify any meanings of particular words or concepts (e.g., What is excessive force?). Check all your concepts to see if there are ways you can clarify them further—for example, note that we shifted from impact of debt to impact of high debt load and specified this as beginning at $30,000. Ideally, we would use the literature to help us clarify what a high debt load is or how to define “excessive” force.

Feasible . In order to know if your question is feasible, you are going to have to think a little bit about your entire research design. For example, a question that asks about the real-time impact of COVID restrictions on learning outcomes would require a time machine. You could tweak the question to ask instead about the long-term impacts of COVID restrictions, as measured two years after their end. Or let’s say you are interested in assessing the damage of opioid abuse on small-town communities across the United States. Is it feasible to cover the entire US? You might need a team of researchers to do this if you are planning on on-the-ground observations. Perhaps a case study of one particular community might be best. Then your research question needs to be changed accordingly.

Here are some things to consider in terms of feasibility:

  • Is the question too general for what you actually intend to do or examine? (Are you specifying the world when you only have time to explore a sliver of that world?)
  • Is the question suitable for the time you have available? (You will need different research questions for a study that can be completed in a term than one where you have one to two years, as in a master’s program, or even three to eight years, as in a doctoral program.)
  • Is the focus specific enough that you know where and how to begin?
  • What are the costs involved in doing this study, including time? Will you need to travel somewhere, and if so, how will you pay for it?
  • Will there be problems with “access”? (More on this in later chapters, but for now, consider how you might actually find people to interview or places to observe and whether gatekeepers exist who might keep you out.)
  • Will you need to submit an application proposal for your university’s IRB (institutional review board)? If you are doing any research with live human subjects, you probably need to factor in the time and potential hassle of an IRB review (see chapter 8). If you are under severe time constraints, you might need to consider developing a research question that can be addressed with secondary sources, online content, or historical archives (see chapters 16 and 17).

In addition to these practicalities, you will also want to consider the research question in terms of what is best for you now. Are you engaged in research because you are required to be—jumping a hurdle for a course or for your degree? If so, you really do want to think about your project as training and develop a question that will allow you to practice whatever data collection and analysis techniques you want to develop. For example, if you are a grad student in a public health program who is interested in eventually doing work that requires conducting interviews with patients, develop a research question and research design that is interview based. Focus on the practicality (and practice) of the study more than the theoretical impact or academic contribution, in other words. On the other hand, if you are a PhD candidate who is seeking an academic position in the future, your research question should be pitched in a way to build theoretical knowledge as well (the phrasing is typically “original contribution to scholarship”).

The more time you have to devote to the study and the larger the project, the more important it is to reflect on your own motivations and goals when crafting a research question (remember chapter 2?). By “your own motivations and goals,” I mean what interests you about the social world and what impact you want your research to have, both academically and practically speaking. Many students have secret (or not-so-secret) plans to make the world a better place by helping address climate change, pointing out pressure points to fight inequities, or bringing awareness to an overlooked area of concern. My own work in graduate school was motivated by the last of these three—the not-so-secret goal of my research was to raise awareness about obstacles to success for first-generation and working-class college students. This underlying goal motivated me to complete my dissertation in a timely manner and then to further continue work in this area and see my research get published. I cared enough about the topic that I was not ready to put it away. I am still not ready to put it away. I encourage you to find topics that you can’t put away, ever. That will keep you going whenever things get difficult in the research process, as they inevitably will.

On the other hand, if you are an undergraduate and you really have very little time, some of the best advice I have heard is to find a study you really like and adapt it to a new context. Perhaps you read a study about how students select majors and how this differs by class ( Hurst 2019 ). You can try to replicate the study on a small scale among your classmates. Use the same research question, but revise for your context. You can probably even find the exact questions I  used and ask them in the new sample. Then when you get to the analysis and write-up, you have a comparison study to guide you, and you can say interesting things about the new context and whether the original findings were confirmed (similar) or not. You can even propose reasons why you might have found differences between one and the other.

Another way of thinking about research questions is to explicitly tie them to the type of purpose of your study. Of course, this means being very clear about what your ultimate purpose is! Marshall and Rossman ( 2016 ) break down the purpose of a study into four categories: exploratory, explanatory, descriptive, and emancipatory ( 78 ). Exploratory purpose types include wanting to investigate little-understood phenomena, or identifying or discovering important new categories of meaning, or generating hypotheses for further research. For these, research questions might be fairly loose: What is going on here? How are people interacting on this site? What do people talk about when you ask them about the state of the world? You are almost (but never entirely) starting from scratch. Be careful though—just because a topic is new to you does not mean it is really new. Someone else (or many other someones) may already have done this exploratory research. Part of your job is to find this out (more on this in “What Is a ‘Literature Review’?” in chapter 9). Descriptive purposes (documenting and describing a phenomenon) are similar to exploratory purposes but with a much clearer goal (description). A good research question for a descriptive study would specify the actions, events, beliefs, attitudes, structures, and/or processes that will be described.

Most researchers find that their topic has already been explored and described, so they move to trying to explain a relationship or phenomenon. For these, you will want research questions that capture the relationships of interest. For example, how does gender influence one’s understanding of police brutality (because we already know from the literature that it does, so now we are interested in understanding how and why)? Or what is the relationship between education and climate change denialism? If you find that prior research has already provided a lot of evidence about those relationships as well as explanations for how they work, and you want to move the needle past explanation into action, you might find yourself trying to conduct an emancipatory study. You want to be even more clear in acknowledging past research if you find yourself here. Then create a research question that will allow you to “create opportunities and the will to engage in social action” ( Marshall and Rossman 2016:78 ). Research questions might ask, “How do participants problematize their circumstances and take positive social action?” If we know that some students have come together to fight against student debt, how are they doing this, and with what success? Your purpose would be to help evaluate possibilities for social change and to use your research to make recommendations for more successful emancipatory actions.

Recap: Be specific. Be clear. Be practical. And do what you love.

Choosing an Approach or Tradition

Qualitative researchers may be defined as those who are working with data that is not in numerical form, but there are actually multiple traditions or approaches that fall under this broad category. I find it useful to know a little bit about the history and development of qualitative research to better understand the differences in these approaches. The following chart provides an overview of the six phases of development identified by Denzin and Lincoln ( 2005 ):

Table 4.1. Six Phases of Development

Year/Period Phase Focus
Pre-1945 Traditional Influence of positivism; anthropologists and ethnographers strive for objectivity when reporting observations in the field
1945-1970 Modernist Emphasis of methodological rigor and procedural formalism as a way of gaining acceptance
1970-1986 Blurred genres Large number of alternative approaches emerge, all competing with and contesting positivist and formalist approaches; e.g., structuralism, symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, constructionism
1980s-1990s Crisis of representation Attention turns to issues of power and privilege and the necessity of reflexivity around race, class, gender positions and identities; traditional notions of validity and neutrality were undermined
1990s-2000 Triple crisis Moving beyond issues of representation, questions raised about evaluation of qualitative research and the writing/presentation of it as well; more political and participatory forms emerge; qualitative research to advance social justice advocated
2000s... Postexperimental Boundaries expanded to include creative nonfiction, autobiographical ethnography, poetic representation, and other creative approaches

There are other ways one could present the history as well. Feminist theory and methodologies came to the fore in the 1970s and 1980s and had a lot to do with the internal critique of more positivist approaches. Feminists were quite aware that standpoint matters—that the identity of the researcher plays a role in the research, and they were ardent supporters of dismantling unjust power systems and using qualitative methods to help advance this mission. You might note, too, that many of the internal disputes were basically epistemological disputes about how we know what we know and whether one’s social location/position delimits that knowledge. Today, we are in a bountiful world of qualitative research, one that embraces multiple forms of knowing and knowledge. This is good, but it means that you, the student, have more choice when it comes to situating your study and framing your research question, and some will expect you to signal the choices you have made in any research protocols you write or publications and presentations.

Creswell’s ( 1998 ) definition of qualitative research includes the notion of distinct traditions of inquiry: “Qualitative research is an inquiry process of understanding based on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem. The research builds complex,   holistic pictures, analyzes words, reports detailed views of informants , and conducted the study in a natural setting” (15; emphases added). I usually caution my students against taking shelter under one of these approaches, as, practically speaking, there is a lot of mixing of traditions among researchers. And yet it is useful to know something about the various histories and approaches, particularly as you are first starting out. Each tradition tends to favor a particular epistemological perspective (see chapter 3), a way of reasoning (see “ Advanced: Inductive versus Deductive Reasoning ”), and a data-collection technique.

There are anywhere from ten to twenty “traditions of inquiry,” depending on how one draws the boundaries. In my accounting, there are twelve, but three approaches tend to dominate the field.

Ethnography

Ethnography was developed from the discipline of anthropology, as the study of (other) culture(s). From a relatively positivist/objective approach to writing down the “truth” of what is observed during the colonial era (where this “truth” was then often used to help colonial administrators maintain order and exploit people and extract resources more effectively), ethnography was adopted by all kinds of social science researchers to get a better understanding of how groups of people (various subcultures and cultures) live their lives. Today, ethnographers are more likely to be seeking to dismantle power relations than to support them. They often study groups of people that are overlooked and marginalized, and sometimes they do the obverse by demonstrating how truly strange the familiar practices of the dominant group are. Ethnography is also central to organizational studies (e.g., How does this institution actually work?) and studies of education (e.g., What is it like to be a student during the COVID era?).

Ethnographers use methods of participant observation and intensive fieldwork in their studies, often living or working among the group under study for months at a time (and, in some cases, years). I’ve called this “deep ethnography,” and it is the subject of chapter 14. The data ethnographers analyze are copious “field notes” written while in the field, often supplemented by in-depth interviews and many more casual conversations. The final product of ethnographers is a “thick” description of the culture. This makes reading ethnographies enjoyable, as the goal is to write in such a way that the reader feels immersed in the culture.

There are variations on the ethnography, such as the autoethnography , where the researcher uses a systematic and rigorous study of themselves to better understand the culture in which they find themselves. Autoethnography is a relatively new approach, even though it is derived from one of the oldest approaches. One can say that it takes to heart the feminist directive to “make the personal political,” to underscore the connections between personal experiences and larger social and political structures. Introspection becomes the primary data source.

Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory holds a special place in qualitative research for a few reasons, not least of which is that nonqualitative researchers often mistakenly believe that Grounded Theory is the only qualitative research methodology . Sometimes, it is easier for students to explain what they are doing as “Grounded Theory” because it sounds “more scientific” than the alternative descriptions of qualitative research. This is definitely part of its appeal. Grounded Theory is the name given to the systematic inductive approach first developed by Glaser and Strauss in 1967, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research . Too few people actually read Glaser and Strauss’s book. It is both groundbreaking and fairly unremarkable at the same time. As a historical intervention into research methods generally, it is both a sharp critique of positivist methods in the social sciences (theory testing) and a rejection of purely descriptive accounts-building qualitative research. Glaser and Strauss argued for an approach whose goal was to construct (middle-level) theories from recursive data analysis of nonnumerical data (interviews and observations). They advocated a “constant comparative method” in which coding and analysis take place simultaneously and recursively. The demands are fairly strenuous. If done correctly, the result is the development of a new theory about the social world.

So why do I call this “fairly unremarkable”? To some extent, all qualitative research already does what Glaser and Strauss ( 1967 ) recommend, albeit without denoting the processes quite so specifically. As will be seen throughout the rest of this textbook, all qualitative research employs some “constant comparisons” through recursive data analyses. Where Grounded Theory sets itself apart from a significant number of qualitative research projects, however, is in its dedication to inductively building theory. Personally, I think it is important to understand that Glaser and Strauss were rejecting deductive theory testing in sociology when they first wrote their book. They were part of a rising cohort who rejected the positivist mathematical approaches that were taking over sociology journals in the 1950s and 1960s. Here are some of the comments and points they make against this kind of work:

Accurate description and verification are not so crucial when one’s purpose is to generate theory. ( 28 ; further arguing that sampling strategies are different when one is not trying to test a theory or generalize results)

Illuminating perspectives are too often suppressed when the main emphasis is verifying theory. ( 40 )

Testing for statistical significance can obscure from theoretical relevance. ( 201 )

Instead, they argued, sociologists should be building theories about the social world. They are not physicists who spend time testing and refining theories. And they are not journalists who report descriptions. What makes sociologists better than journalists and other professionals is that they develop theory from their work “In their driving efforts to get the facts [research sociologists] tend to forget that the distinctive offering of sociology to our society is sociological theory, not research description” ( 30–31 ).

Grounded Theory’s inductive approach can be off-putting to students who have a general research question in mind and a working hypothesis. The true Grounded Theory approach is often used in exploratory studies where there are no extant theories. After all, the promise of this approach is theory generation, not theory testing. Flying totally free at the start can be terrifying. It can also be a little disingenuous, as there are very few things under the sun that have not been considered before. Barbour ( 2008:197 ) laments that this approach is sometimes used because the researcher is too lazy to read the relevant literature.

To summarize, Glaser and Strauss justified the qualitative research project in a way that gave it standing among the social sciences, especially vis-à-vis quantitative researchers. By distinguishing the constant comparative method from journalism, Glaser and Strauss enabled qualitative research to gain legitimacy.

So what is it exactly, and how does one do it? The following stages provide a succinct and basic overview, differentiating the portions that are similar to/in accordance with qualitative research methods generally and those that are distinct from the Grounded Theory approach:

Step 1. Select a case, sample, and setting (similar—unless you begin with a theory to test!).

Step 2. Begin data collection (similar).

Step 3. Engage data analysis (similar in general but specificity of details somewhat unique to Grounded Theory): (1) emergent coding (initial followed by focused), (2) axial (a priori) coding , (3) theoretical coding , (4) creation of theoretical categories; analysis ends when “theoretical saturation ” has been achieved.

Grounded Theory’s prescriptive (i.e., it has a set of rules) framework can appeal to beginning students, but it is unnecessary to adopt the entire approach in order to make use of some of its suggestions. And if one does not exactly follow the Grounded Theory rulebook, it can mislead others if you tend to call what you are doing Grounded Theory when you are not:

Grounded theory continues to be a misunderstood method, although many researchers purport to use it. Qualitative researchers often claim to conduct grounded theory studies without fully understanding or adopting its distinctive guidelines. They may employ one or two of the strategies or mistake qualitative analysis for grounded theory. Conversely, other researchers employ grounded theory methods in reductionist, mechanistic ways. Neither approach embodies the flexible yet systematic mode of inquiry, directed but open-ended analysis, and imaginative theorizing from empirical data that grounded theory methods can foster. Subsequently, the potential of grounded theory methods for generating middle-range theory has not been fully realized ( Charmaz 2014 ).

Phenomenology

Where Grounded Theory sets itself apart for its inductive systematic approach to data analysis, phenomenologies are distinct for their focus on what is studied—in this case, the meanings of “lived experiences” of a group of persons sharing a particular event or circumstance. There are phenomenologies of being working class ( Charlesworth 2000 ), of the tourist experience ( Cohen 1979 ), of Whiteness ( Ahmed 2007 ). The phenomenon of interest may also be an emotion or circumstance. One can study the phenomenon of “White rage,” for example, or the phenomenon of arranged marriage.

The roots of phenomenology lie in philosophy (Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre) but have been adapted by sociologists in particular. Phenomenologists explore “how human beings make sense of experience and transform experience into consciousness, both individually and as shared meaning” ( Patton 2002:104 ).

One of the most important aspects of conducting a good phenomenological study is getting the sample exactly right so that each person can speak to the phenomenon in question. Because the researcher is interested in the meanings of an experience, in-depth interviews are the preferred method of data collection. Observations are not nearly as helpful here because people may do a great number of things without meaning to or without being conscious of their implications. This is important to note because phenomenologists are studying not “the reality” of what happens at all but an articulated understanding of a lived experience. When reading a phenomenological study, it is important to keep this straight—too often I have heard students critique a study because the interviewer didn’t actually see how people’s behavior might conflict with what they say (which is, at heart, an epistemological issue!).

In addition to the “big three,” there are many other approaches; some are variations, and some are distinct approaches in their own right. Case studies focus explicitly on context and dynamic interactions over time and can be accomplished with quantitative or qualitative methods or a mixture of both (for this reason, I am not considering it as one of the big three qualitative methods, even though it is a very common approach). Whatever methods are used, a contextualized deep understanding of the case (or cases) is central.

Critical inquiry is a loose collection of techniques held together by a core argument that understanding issues of power should be the focus of much social science research or, to put this another way, that it is impossible to understand society (its people and institutions) without paying attention to the ways that power relations and power dynamics inform and deform those people and institutions. This attention to power dynamics includes how research is conducted too. All research fundamentally involves issues of power. For this reason, many critical inquiry traditions include a place for collaboration between researcher and researched. Examples include (1) critical narrative analysis, which seeks to describe the meaning of experience for marginalized or oppressed persons or groups through storytelling; (2) participatory action research, which requires collaboration between the researcher and the research subjects or community of interest; and (3) critical race analysis, a methodological application of Critical Race Theory (CRT), which posits that racial oppression is endemic (if not always throughout time and place, at least now and here).

Do you follow a particular tradition of inquiry? Why?

Shawn Wilson’s book, Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods , is my holy grail. It really flipped my understanding of research and relationships. Rather than thinking linearly and approaching research in a more canonical sense, Wilson shook my world view by drawing me into a pattern of inquiry that emphasized transparency and relational accountability. The Indigenous research paradigm is applicable in all research settings, and I follow it because it pushes me to constantly evaluate my position as a knowledge seeker and knowledge sharer.

Autoethnography takes the researcher as the subject. This is one approach that is difficult to explain to more quantitatively minded researchers, as it seems to violate many of the norms of “scientific research” as understood by them. First, the sample size is quite small—the n is 1, the researcher. Two, the researcher is not a neutral observer—indeed, the subjectivity of the researcher is the main strength of this approach. Autoethnographies can be extremely powerful for their depth of understanding and reflexivity, but they need to be conducted in their own version of rigor to stand up to scrutiny by skeptics. If you are skeptical, read one of the excellent published examples out there—I bet you will be impressed with what you take away. As they say, the proof is in the pudding on this approach.

Advanced: Inductive versus Deductive Reasoning

There has been a great deal of ink shed in the discussion of inductive versus deductive approaches, not all of it very instructive. Although there is a huge conceptual difference between them, in practical terms, most researchers cycle between the two, even within the same research project. The simplest way to explain the difference between the two is that we are using deductive reasoning when we test an existing theory (move from general to particular), and we are using inductive reasoning when we are generating theory (move from particular to general). Figure 4.2 provides a schematic of the deductive approach. From the literature, we select a theory about the impact of student loan debt: student loan debt will delay homeownership among young adults. We then formulate a hypothesis based on this theory: adults in their thirties with high debt loads will be less likely to own homes than their peers who do not have high debt loads. We then collect data to test the hypothesis and analyze the results. We find that homeownership is substantially lower among persons of color and those who were the first in their families to graduate from college. Notably, high debt loads did not affect homeownership among White adults whose parents held college degrees. We thus refine the theory to match the new findings: student debt loads delay homeownership among some young adults, thereby increasing inequalities in this generation. We have now contributed new knowledge to our collective corpus.

qualitative research questions for education

The inductive approach is contrasted in figure 4.3. Here, we did not begin with a preexisting theory or previous literature but instead began with an observation. Perhaps we were conducting interviews with young adults who held high amounts of debt and stumbled across this observation, struck by how many were renting apartments or small houses. We then noted a pattern—not all the young adults we were talking to were renting; race and class seemed to play a role here. We would then probably expand our study in a way to be able to further test this developing theory, ensuring that we were not seeing anomalous patterns. Once we were confident about our observations and analyses, we would then develop a theory, coming to the same place as our deductive approach, but in reverse.

qualitative research questions for education

A third form of reasoning, abductive (sometimes referred to as probabilistic reasoning) was developed in the late nineteenth century by American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. I have included some articles for further reading for those interested.

Among social scientists, the deductive approach is often relaxed so that a research question is set based on the existing literature rather than creating a hypothesis or set of hypotheses to test. Some journals still require researchers to articulate hypotheses, however. If you have in mind a publication, it is probably a good idea to take a look at how most articles are organized and whether specific hypotheses statements are included.

Table 4.2. Twelve Approaches. Adapted from Patton 2002:132-133.

Approach Home discipline /Data Collection Techniques
Ethnography Anthropology Fieldwork/Observations + supplemental interviews
Grounded theory Sociology Fieldwork/Observations + Interviews
Phenomenology Philosophy In-depth interviews
Constructivism Sociology Focus Groups; Interviews
Heuristic inquiry Psychology Self-reflections and fieldnotes + interviews
Ethnomethodology Sociology In-depth interviews + Fieldwork, including social experiments
Symbolic interaction Social psychology Focus Groups + Interviews
Semiotics Linguistics Textual analyses + interviews/focus groups
Hermeneutics Theology Textual analyses
Narrative analysis Literary criticism Interviews, Oral Histories, Textual Analyses, Historical Artefacts, Content Analyses
Ecological psychology Ecology Observation
Orientational/Standpoint approaches (critical theory, feminist theory) Law; Sociology PAR, Interviews, Focus Groups

Further Readings

The following readings have been examples of various approaches or traditions of inquiry:

Ahmed, Sara. 2007. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8(2):149–168.

Charlesworth, Simon. 2000. A Phenomenology of Working-Class Experience . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.*

Clandinin, D. Jean, and F. Michael Connelly. 2000. Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cohen, E. 1979. “A Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences.” Sociology 13(2):179–201.

Cooke, Bill, and Uma Kothari, eds. 2001. Participation: The New Tyranny? London: Zed Books. A critique of participatory action.

Corbin, Juliet, and Anselm Strauss. 2008. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory . 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Crabtree, B. F., and W. L. Miller, eds. 1999. Doing Qualitative Research: Multiple Strategies . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Creswell, John W. 1997. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm Strauss. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research . New York: Aldine.

Gobo, Giampetro, and Andrea Molle. 2008. Doing Ethnography . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Hancock, Dawson B., and Bob Algozzine. 2016. Doing Case Study Research: A Practical Guide for Beginning Research . 3rd ed. New York: Teachers College Press.

Harding, Sandra. 1987. Feminism and Methodology . Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Husserl, Edmund. (1913) 2017. Ideas: Introduction to Pure Phenomenology . Eastford, CT: Martino Fine Books.

Rose, Gillian. 2012. Visual Methodologies . 3rd ed. London: SAGE.

Van der Riet, M. 2009. “Participatory Research and the Philosophy of Social Science: Beyond the Moral Imperative.” Qualitative Inquiry 14(4):546–565.

Van Manen, Max. 1990. Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy . Albany: State University of New York.

Wortham, Stanton. 2001. Narratives in Action: A Strategy for Research and Analysis . New York: Teachers College Press.

Inductive, Deductive, and Abductive Reasoning and Nomothetic Science in General

Aliseda, Atocha. 2003. “Mathematical Reasoning vs. Abductive Reasoning: A Structural Approach.” Synthese 134(1/2):25–44.

Bonk, Thomas. 1997. “Newtonian Gravity, Quantum Discontinuity and the Determination of Theory by Evidence.” Synthese 112(1):53–73. A (natural) scientific discussion of inductive reasoning.

Bonnell, Victoria E. 1980. “The Uses of Theory, Concepts and Comparison in Historical Sociology.” C omparative Studies in Society and History 22(2):156–173.

Crane, Mark, and Michael C. Newman. 1996. “Scientific Method in Environmental Toxicology.” Environmental Reviews 4(2):112–122.

Huang, Philip C. C., and Yuan Gao. 2015. “Should Social Science and Jurisprudence Imitate Natural Science?” Modern China 41(2):131–167.

Mingers, J. 2012. “Abduction: The Missing Link between Deduction and Induction. A Comment on Ormerod’s ‘Rational Inference: Deductive, Inductive and Probabilistic Thinking.’” Journal of the Operational Research Society 63(6):860–861.

Ormerod, Richard J. 2010. “Rational Inference: Deductive, Inductive and Probabilistic Thinking.” Journal of the Operational Research Society 61(8):1207–1223.

Perry, Charner P. 1927. “Inductive vs. Deductive Method in Social Science Research.” Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 8(1):66–74.

Plutynski, Anya. 2011. “Four Problems of Abduction: A Brief History.” HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 1(2):227–248.

Thompson, Bruce, and Gloria M. Borrello. 1992. “Different Views of Love: Deductive and Inductive Lines of Inquiry.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 1(5):154–156.

Tracy, Sarah J. 2012. “The Toxic and Mythical Combination of a Deductive Writing Logic for Inductive Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Communication Research 1(1):109–141.

A place or collection containing records, documents, or other materials of historical interest; most universities have an archive of material related to the university’s history, as well as other “special collections” that may be of interest to members of the community.

A person who introduces the researcher to a field site’s culture and population.  Also referred to as guides.  Used in ethnography .

A form of research and a methodological tradition of inquiry in which the researcher uses self-reflection and writing to explore personal experiences and connect this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings.  “Autoethnography is a research method that uses a researcher's personal experience to describe and critique cultural beliefs, practices, and experiences” ( Adams, Jones, and Ellis 2015 ).

The philosophical framework in which research is conducted; the approach to “research” (what practices this entails, etc.).  Inevitably, one’s epistemological perspective will also guide one’s methodological choices, as in the case of a constructivist who employs a Grounded Theory approach to observations and interviews, or an objectivist who surveys key figures in an organization to find out how that organization is run.  One of the key methodological distinctions in social science research is that between quantitative and qualitative research.

The process of labeling and organizing qualitative data to identify different themes and the relationships between them; a way of simplifying data to allow better management and retrieval of key themes and illustrative passages.  See coding frame and  codebook.

A later stage coding process used in Grounded Theory in which data is reassembled around a category, or axis.

A later stage-coding process used in Grounded Theory in which key words or key phrases capture the emergent theory.

The point at which you can conclude data collection because every person you are interviewing, the interaction you are observing, or content you are analyzing merely confirms what you have already noted.  Achieving saturation is often used as the justification for the final sample size.

A methodological tradition of inquiry that focuses on the meanings held by individuals and/or groups about a particular phenomenon (e.g., a “phenomenology of whiteness” or a “phenomenology of first-generation college students”).  Sometimes this is referred to as understanding “the lived experience” of a particular group or culture.  Interviews form the primary tool of data collection for phenomenological studies.  Derived from the German philosophy of phenomenology (Husserl 1913; 2017).

The number of individuals (or units) included in your sample

A form of reasoning which employs a “top-down” approach to drawing conclusions: it begins with a premise or hypothesis and seeks to verify it (or disconfirm it) with newly collected data.  Inferences are made based on widely accepted facts or premises.  Deduction is idea-first, followed by observations and a conclusion.  This form of reasoning is often used in quantitative research and less often in qualitative research.  Compare to inductive reasoning .  See also abductive reasoning .

A form of reasoning that employs a “bottom-up” approach to drawing conclusions: it begins with the collection of data relevant to a particular question and then seeks to build an argument or theory based on an analysis of that data.  Induction is observation first, followed by an idea that could explain what has been observed.  This form of reasoning is often used in qualitative research and seldom used in qualitative research.  Compare to deductive reasoning .  See also abductive reasoning .

An “interpretivist” form of reasoning in which “most likely” conclusions are drawn, based on inference.  This approach is often used by qualitative researchers who stress the recursive nature of qualitative data analysis.  Compare with deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning .

A form of social science research that generally follows the scientific method as established in the natural sciences.  In contrast to idiographic research , the nomothetic researcher looks for general patterns and “laws” of human behavior and social relationships.  Once discovered, these patterns and laws will be expected to be widely applicable.  Quantitative social science research is nomothetic because it seeks to generalize findings from samples to larger populations.  Most qualitative social science research is also nomothetic, although generalizability is here understood to be theoretical in nature rather than statistical .  Some qualitative researchers, however, espouse the idiographic research paradigm instead.

Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods Copyright © 2023 by Allison Hurst is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

The Council on Undergraduate Research

Venturing into Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide to Getting Started

Scholarship and Practice of Undergraduate Research Journal

  • Journal Home
  • Submissions

In this commentary, we offer an introduction to qualitative research. Our goal is to provide guidance so that others can avoid common missteps and benefit from our lessons learned. We explain what qualitative data and research are, the value of qualitative research, and features that make qualitative research excellent, as well as how qualitative data can be collected and used to study undergraduate research. Our advice and recommendations are targeted at researchers who, like us, were first trained in fields with tendencies to overlook or underestimate qualitative research and its contributions. We share examples from our own and others’ research related to undergraduate research settings. We provide a table of resources researchers may find useful as they continue to learn about and conduct qualitative studies.

Introduction

We both started our scholarly journeys as biologists. As we trained, we both grew interested in researching undergraduate education and we transitioned to doing education research. We quickly came to realize that our training in experimental approaches and quantitative methods was woefully insufficient to study the diversity of ways students think, believe, value, feel, behave, and change in a variety of learning environments and educational systems.

For instance, there are established ways to quantify some educational variables, but not others. In addition, there may be phenomena at play that we haven’t thought of or that might be counterintuitive, which could lead us to quantify things that end up being irrelevant or meaningless. Herein lies the power of qualitative research. Qualitative research generates new knowledge by enabling rich, multifaceted descriptions of phenomena of interest, known as constructs (i.e., latent, unobservable variables), and producing possible explanations of how phenomena are occurring (i.e., mechanisms or relationships between constructs in different contexts and situations with different individuals and groups).

In this essay, we aim to offer an approachable explanation of qualitative research, including the types of questions that qualitative research is suited to address, the characteristics of robust qualitative research, and guidance on how to get started. We use examples from our own and others’ research to illustrate our explanations, and we cite references where readers can learn more. We expect Scholarship and Practice of Undergraduate Research (SPUR) readers from disciplines with a tradition of qualitative research might question why we would write this piece and what makes us qualified to do so. There are many scholars with much more qualitative research expertise than we have. Yet, we think we can offer a unique perspective to SPUR readers who are new to qualitative research or coming from disciplines where qualitative research is unfamiliar or undervalued. We have both designed, conducted, and published qualitative research in the context of undergraduate education and research experiences. We draw upon this experience in the recommendations we offer here.

Doing qualitative research involves acknowledging your “positionality,” or how your own background, lived experiences, and philosophical understandings of research influence how you approach and interpret the work (e.g., Hampton, Reeping, and Ozkan 2021; Holmes and Darwin 2020). Our positionalities have influenced our approach to this article and qualitative research generally. I (MAP) first learned about qualitative research from my undergraduate academic adviser. She invited me to help her implement and evaluate a capstone course in which groups of microbiology undergraduates engaged in a semester-long research project to address problems faced by community organizations (Watson, Willford, and Pfeifer 2018). At the time, I wasn’t aware of the long-standing history of qualitative research or its different forms and approaches. I just knew that reading quote data helped me understand human experiences in a way that survey numbers did not. Since my introduction to qualitative research, I’ve been fortunate to receive formal training. I consider my most valuable lessons about qualitative research to be through the practical experience of doing qualitative research and being mentored by qualitative researchers.

When I (ELD) first learned about qualitative research, I thought it meant words – perhaps collected through surveys, focus groups, interviews, or class recordings. I thought qualitative research would be easy – it was just words after all, and I had been using words almost my whole life. I assumed if I collected some words and summarized what I thought they meant (think word cloud), I would be doing qualitative research. As we will elaborate here, this is a limited view of what qualitative research is and what qualitative research can accomplish. When I began presenting qualitative research, I found it helpful to draw analogies to qualitative studies in natural science and medical disciplines. For instance, in the field of biology, the invention of technologies (e.g., lenses, microscopes) allowed for detailed observation and rich descriptions of cells (i.e., qualitative research) that led to the development of cell theory, the establishment of the field of cell biology, and quantitative research on cell structure, function, and dysfunction. In my own field of neuroscience, Henry Moliason, known as HM, was the focus of qualitative case study because he lost the ability to form new long-term memories due to a surgical treatment for severe epilepsy. Rich (i.e., comprehensive and detailed) description of Mr. Moliason’s memory impairment was the basis for hippocampal function being proposed as the main mechanism through which memories are formed. These examples of “non-numbery” research that produce influential descriptions and testable mechanisms helped me recognize the potential value and impact of qualitative research.

Types of Qualitative Research Questions

Qualitative research is useful for addressing two main types of questions: descriptive and mechanistic. Descriptive questions ask what is happening, for whom, and in what circumstances. Mechanistic questions ask how a phenomenon of interest happening. Here we explain each type of question and highlight some example studies conducted in the context of undergraduate research.

Descriptive Questions

Descriptive research seeks to elucidate details that enhance our overall understanding of a particular phenomenon—it answers questions about what a phenomenon is, including its defining features (i.e., dimensions) and what makes it distinct from other phenomena (Loeb et al. 2017). Descriptive research can also reveal who experiences the phenomenon, as well as when and where a phenomenon occurs (Loeb et al. 2017). Details like these serve as a starting point for future research, policy development, and enhanced practice. For instance, Hunter, Laursen, and Seymour (2007) carried out a qualitative study that identified and described the benefits of undergraduate research from the perspectives of both students and faculty. This work prompted calls for expansion of undergraduate research nationally and led to numerous quantitative studies (Gentile, Brenner, and Stephens 2017). Among these were quantitative studies from our group on the influences of research mentors on undergraduate researchers (Aikens et al. 2016, 2017; Joshi, Aikens, and Dolan 2019). Although these studies were framed to identify beneficial outcomes, we observed that undergraduates who had less favorable experiences with mentors were opting not to participate in our studies. Given this observation and the dearth of research on negative experiences in undergraduate research, we carried out a descriptive qualitative study of the dimensions (i.e., the what) of negative mentoring—that is, problematic or ineffective mentoring—in undergraduate life science research (Limeri et al. 2019). This study revealed that negative mentoring in undergraduate research included the absence of support from mentors and actively harmful mentor behaviors. These results served as the basis for practical guidance on how to curtail negative mentoring and its effects and for ongoing quantitative research. We use this study as the basis for the extended examples highlighted in Table 1.

Descriptive research is also suited to investigating the experiences of groups that are marginalized or minoritized in higher education. These studies offer insights into student experiences that may be otherwise overlooked or masked in larger quantitative studies (Vaccaro et al. 2015). For example, descriptive qualitative research shed light on how Black women in undergraduate and graduate STEM programs recognized and responded to structural racism, sexism, and race-gender bias. This research identified how high-achieving Black STEM students experienced racial battle fatigue and offered program-level suggestions for how to better support Black students (McGee and Bentley 2017). Descriptive qualitative research of deaf students involved in undergraduate research revealed that lack of awareness of Deaf culture of research mentors as well as lack of communication hindered students’ research experiences (Majocha et al. 2018). This research led to recommendations for research programs, research mentors, and students themselves. Another descriptive qualitative study showed how Latine students’ science identity changed over time when involved in an undergraduate research program (Vasquez-Salgado et al. 2023). Specifically, Vasguez-Salgado and colleagues identified patterns in students’ science identity through three waves of data collection spanning 18 months. Students’ identities showed consistent or fast achievement of feeling like a scientist, gradual achievement of feeling like a scientist, achievement adjustment of feeling like a scientist at one point and less so later in the program, or never feeling like a scientist. Together, these and other studies have generated knowledge that raises questions for future research and informs our collective efforts to make undergraduate research more accessible and inclusive.

Mechanistic Questions

Mechanistic qualitative research aims to address questions of how or why a phenomenon occurs. In the context of undergraduate research, an investigator may seek to understand how or why a particular practice or program design affects students. Recently, we conducted a mechanistic qualitative study that aimed, in part, to understand how early career researchers (undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, and graduate students) conceptualized their science identity (Pfeifer et al. 2023). Previous research theorized that someone is more likely to identify as a scientist if they are interested in science, believe they are competent in and can perform science, and feel recognized by others for their scientific aptitude or accomplishments (Carlone and Johnson 2007; Hazari et al. 2010; Potvin and Hazari 2013). However, this theory is somewhat limited in that it does not fully explain how context affects science identity or how science identity evolves, especially as researchers advance in their scientific training (Hazari et al. 2020; Kim and Sinatra 2018). To address this, we integrated science identity theory with research on professional identity development to design our study (Pratt, Rockmann, and Kaufmann 2006). We analyzed data from two national samples, including open-ended survey responses from 548 undergraduates engaged in research training and interview data from 30 early career researchers in the natural sciences. We found that they conceptualized science identity as a continuum that encompassed being a science student, being a science researcher, and being a career researcher. How students saw their science identity depended on how they viewed the purpose of their daily research, the level of intellectual responsibility they have for their research, and the extent of their autonomy in their research. We consider these findings to be hypotheses that can be tested quantitatively to better understand science identity dynamics in research training contexts. By asking this mechanistic question about science identity, we sought to add to and refine existing theory.

qualitative research questions for education

Key Attributes of Qualitative Research

For any type of research to be meaningful, it must possess some degree of rigor—what qualitative researchers call trustworthiness (Morse et al. 2002; Yilmaz 2013). Qualitative research is more trustworthy if it is characterized by credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability (Creswell and Poth 2016; Lincoln and Guba 1985). For instance, like accuracy and precision in quantitative research, do qualitative findings reflect what is being studied and are the interpretations true to the data (credibility)? Similar to reproducibility in quantitative research, how can qualitative research findings be applied to similar contexts (transferability)? Like validity in quantitative research, to what degree are the framing, methods, and findings of qualitative research appropriate given the aims (dependability)? Similar to the idea of replicability in quantitative research, if the same analytic tools were applied to the same data set could similar findings be reached by someone outside the original research team (confirmability)? The exact dimensions of trustworthiness, how trustworthiness manifests in the research process, the best ways to achieve trustworthiness, and how to talk about trustworthiness in research products are the subject of ongoing and often-spirited debate (e.g., Gioia et al. 2022; Mays and Pope 2020; Morse et al. 2002; Ritchie et al. 2013; Tracy 2010; Welch 2018; Yadav 2022). Central to these dialogues is the fact that qualitative research is composed of different philosophical approaches that emerged and evolved from diverse social science fields (Creswell and Poth 2016; Ritchie et al. 2013). Identifying universally agreed-upon criteria and the means to achieve these criteria is complex.

In our own work, we have found Tracy’s (2010) eight criteria for excellent qualitative research particularly useful. These criteria have helped us design studies, make decisions during the course of research, and articulate in our papers how our research seeks to achieve trustworthiness (e.g., Pfeifer, Cordero, and Stanton 2023). The full list of criteria is: worthy topic, rich rigor, sincerity, credibility, resonance, significant contribution, ethical conduct, and meaningful coherence (Tracy 2010). These criteria borrow from and build on the presented concepts of credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. In our view, these criteria are presented and described in a way that makes sense to us and fits our approach to research. Here we highlight two criteria that may be particularly relevant if you are new to qualitative research.

Worthy Topics

As scholars familiar with undergraduate research and scholarly inquiry, SPUR readers are well-positioned to design studies that address research questions that are significant and timely in the context of undergraduate research. The first step in doing qualitative research (or any research) is to figure out what you want to study. You’ll want to select a topic that you find interesting, relevant, or otherwise compelling so you are motivated to spend time and effort investigating it. One way to find a topic is to notice what is happening in your environment and your work. What are you observing about undergraduate research? Something about students who participate (or not)? Something about colleagues who work with undergraduate researchers (or not)? Something about the design, implementation, or outcomes of the research experience? Something about the programmatic or institutional context? For a topic to be worthy of research, it should be interesting to you and to others. Consider sharing your observations with a few critical friends (i.e., trusted colleagues who will give you honest feedback) about whether they find your observations interesting or worth your time and energy to explore.

Like other human research, qualitative studies must adhere to basic ethical principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects 1978). Respect for persons means treating all people as autonomous and protecting individuals with diminished autonomy (e.g., students whom we teach and assess). Beneficence involves treating people in an ethical manner, including respecting their decisions, protecting them from harm, and securing their well-being. Justice refers to the balance between benefiting from research and bearing its burdens; in other words, people should be able to benefit from research and should not be expected to bear the burden of research if they cannot benefit. Although it is beyond the scope of this essay to provide guidance on how to adhere to these principles, it is important to recognize that qualitative methods like interviewing can be highly personal and sometimes powerful experiences for both participants (and researchers). Investigators should carefully consider how their participants may be affected by data collection. For example, you may interview or survey participants about a personally difficult or painful experience. Do you then bear responsibility for helping them find support to navigate these difficulties? What if a participant reveals to you a serious mental health issue or physical safety concern? These situations occurred during our negative mentoring studies. We provided information to participants about where they could seek counseling or support for specific issues that can occur with mentors, such as harassment and discrimination.

Certainly not all qualitative data collection brings up these issues, but it can and does happen more frequently than you might expect. Your institutional review board (IRB), collaborators, and critical friends can be helpful resources when planning for and navigating tough scenarios like this. If working with an IRB is new to you, we recommend finding colleagues at your institution who have conducted IRB-reviewed research and asking them for guidance and examples. Some IRBs offer training for individuals new to developing human research protocols, and there are likely to be templates for everything from recruitment letters to consent forms to study information. We have found the process of developing IRB protocols helps refine research questions and study plans. Furthermore, IRB review is needed before you collect data that will be used for your study; IRBs rarely if ever allow for retrospective review and approval. In our experience, these studies are likely to be determined as exempt from IRB review because they involve minimal risk and use standard educational research procedures. However, the IRB is still responsible for making this determination and is a valuable partner for helping investigators navigate sensitive or complex situations that occur in human research.

Getting Started with Qualitative Research

Now that you have a sense of the purposes of qualitative research and what features help to ensure its quality, you are probably wondering how to do it. We want to emphasize that there are entire programs of study, whole courses, and lengthy texts that aim to teach qualitative research. We cannot come close to describing what can be learned from these more substantial resources. With this is mind, we share our own process of carrying out qualitative research as an example that others might find helpful to follow. We outline this “how to” as a series of steps, but qualitative research (like all research) is iterative and dynamic (University of California Museum of Paleontology 2022). Feel free to read through the steps in a linear fashion but then move in non-linear ways through the various steps. Extended discussion of each of these steps with examples from our research on negative mentoring is provided in Table 1 along with an abridged list of our go-to references.

Observe, Search, and Read

For a topic to be worthy of qualitative research (or any research), it should also have the potential to address a knowledge gap. After we identify a “worthy topic,” we try to find as much information about that topic as possible (Dolan 2013). We read, then we keep reading, and then we read some more. This may seem obvious, but we find that investing time reading literature can save us a lot of time designing, conducting, and writing up a study on a phenomenon that is already well known or understood by others and just not (yet) by us. To help us in our searching, we will sometimes reach out to colleagues in related fields to describe the phenomenon we are interested in studying and see if they have terms that they use to describe the phenomenon or theories they think are related. Theory informs our research questions, study designs, analytic approaches, and interpretation and reporting of findings, and enables alignment among all of these elements of research (e.g., Grant and Osanloo 2014; Luft et al. 2022; Spangler and Williams 2019). Theory also serves as a touchstone for connecting our findings to larger bodies of knowledge and communicating these connections in a way that promotes collective understanding of whatever we are investigating.

Formulate a Question

Once you have selected a topic and identified a knowledge gap, consider research questions that, if answered, would address the knowledge gap. Recall that qualitative research is suited to questions that require a descriptive (what) or mechanistic (how) answer.

Decide on a Study Design

Just like quantitative research, qualitative research has characteristic approaches, designs, and methodologies, each of which has affordances and constraints (Creswell and Poth 2016; Merriam 2014; Miles, Huberman, and Saldana 2014). Creswell and Poth provide a valuable resource for learning more about different types of qualitative research study designs, including which designs are suited to address which kinds of research questions. Given the labor intensiveness of qualitative data collection and analysis, it is critical to think carefully about how to recruit and select study participants. What this looks like and who might be appropriate study participants will depend on many factors, including the knowledge gap, research question, study design, and methods. Questions that can be helpful to ask are: Who do I need to study to answer my research question? What should the study participants have in common? In what ways should study participants vary to provide rich, complex, and varied insight into what I am studying? To whom do I want to generalize my findings, keeping in mind the qualitative nature of the work?

Based on the answers to these questions, you may opt for purposeful sampling in which you collect data only from participants who meet the characteristics you decide upon given the aims of your study. In this case, you will likely send a screening survey to potential participants to determine what their characteristics of interest are, which will help you decide if you will invite them for further data collection or not. A purposeful sample contrasts with a convenience sample where essentially any person who agrees to participate in the study will be selected for further data collection.

Collect and Analyze Data Systematically

Qualitative data can be collected in a variety of ways, including surveys, interviews, and focus groups, as well as audio and video recordings of learning experiences such as class sessions. To decide which method(s) to use for data collection, it is helpful to consider what you aim to learn from study participants. Surveys tend to be easier to distribute to a larger sample, but may elicit shorter or shallower responses, which are challenging to interpret because there is less information (i.e., words) and no opportunity to clarify with participants. Focus groups can be effective for quickly gathering input from a group of participants. However, social dynamics may result in one or a few people dominating the discussion, or “group think,” when people agree with one another rather than providing their own unique perspectives. Interviews with individuals can be a rich and varied data source because each participant has time and space to offer their own distinct perspective. Interviews also allow for follow-up questions that are difficult through survey methods. Yet, conducting interviews skillfully—avoiding leading questions and ensuring that the line of questioning yields the desired data—takes a lot of thought and practice. Kvale (1996) offers detailed guidance on how to design and carry out research interviews. Observing an expert interviewer and having them observe and give feedback as you interview can help improve your skills. Audio and video recordings of learning experiences like class sessions or group work can provide a plethora of information (e.g., verbal and nonverbal exchanges among students or between students and instructors) in a more natural setting than surveys or interviews. Yet deciding what information will serve as data to answer your research question, or how that large body of data will be systematically analyzed, can be cumbersome.

Regardless of the data collection method, you’ll need to decide how much data to collect. There is no one right sample size. A good rule of thumb is collecting data until you reach “saturation,” which is the notion that the same ideas are coming up repeatedly and that no new ideas are emerging during data collection. This means that your data collection and analysis are likely to overlap in time, with some data collection then some analysis and then more data collection.

Analytic methods in qualitative research vary widely in their interpretive complexity. As natural scientists, we favor sticking close to the data and analyzing using a method called qualitative content analysis. Content analysis involves taking quotes or segments of text and capturing their meaning with short words or phrases called codes. The process of developing codes and systematically applying them to a dataset is called coding. Coding is highly iterative and time-consuming because it typically requires multiple, careful passes through the dataset to ensure all codes have been evenly applied to all data. In a recent study, we spent 10 to 15 person-hours to code a single interview, and about 400 person-hours to complete coding for a 30-participant study. The time involved in coding depends on what is being studied, the type of coding, and who is coding the data. Saldaña (2016) provides excellent guidance on the coding process, including various ways of making sense of codes by grouping them into themes. Content analysis is just one approach to qualitative data analysis. We encourage you to learn more about different forms of qualitative approaches and choose what works best for you, including your skill level, research goals, and data (e.g., Creswell and Poth 2016; Starks and Brown Trinidad 2007).

Interpret and Write Results

There are many ways to effectively write up results, often called findings, from qualitative research. Because qualitative research involves extensive interpretation, it can sometimes be easier to integrate the results and discussion of a qualitative paper. Integration allows the interpretation (discussion) to be directly supported by the evidence in the form of quotations (results). The conclusions of the paper should avoid repeating the results and instead comment on the implications and applications of the findings: why they matter and what to do as a result. Because qualitative data are quotations rather than numbers, qualitative papers tend to be longer than papers presenting quantitative studies. That said, qualitative papers should still aim to be succinct. For instance, depending on the approach and methods, quotations can be lightly edited to remove extra words or filler language (e.g., um, uh) that is a natural part of language but otherwise irrelevant to the findings. Presenting only the most pertinent part of a quotation not only facilitates succinctness, but helps readers attend to the specific evidence that supports the claims being made. Another strategy to shorten qualitative papers is to present some findings in supplemental materials.

Final Recommendations

In closing our article, we offer some advice that we wish we knew when we began conducting qualitative research. We hope that these recommendations will help you think through issues that are likely emerge as you delve deeper into qualitative analysis, both as a producer and a consumer of qualitative research.

Consensus Coding in Qualitative Analysis

In qualitative analysis, we work to ensure that the analysis yields trustworthy findings by coding to consensus, meaning that the analytic team reaches 100 percent agreement on the application of each code to the data. Any disagreement between coders is discussed until a resolution is resolved. In some cases, these discussions may result in a code description being redefined. Redefinition of a code requires that all data previously coded using the original code be reanalyzed to ensure fit with the revised definition. As you might imagine, coding to consensus can be time-consuming. Yet, in our experience, the time invested in coding to consensus is well spent because the analysis yields deeper insights about the data and phenomenon being investigated. We also see coding to consensus as a great way to take advantage of the diverse viewpoints that team members bring to our research. By coding to consensus, we consider multiple interpretations of the data throughout the analysis process. We are well-positioned to develop theory (as appropriate for our study design) as a team because we all have engaged in meaningful conversations about our findings throughout analysis.

Some qualitative research relies on a calculated measure of intercoder reliability (ICR) instead of coding to consensus. ICR values indicate how often a set of coders agree on the application of a code in the dataset. This quantification of coding is tempting because we love numbers, yet it can also be problematic (O’Connor and Joffe 2020). For instance, aiming for high ICR can create situations when coders are pressured to agree with each other rather than bringing their own unique perspective to the coding process (e.g., Belur et al. 2018; Morse 1997). Quantifying qualitative work also can imply a false precision in the analysis. In some research, ICR is calculated partway through the analysis to determine whether an “acceptable” level of agreement has been reached, at which point the remainder of the data are coded by just one researcher. This approach of using ICR as a cut-off runs counter to what many argue is the value of qualitative research: generating new theoretical understandings informed by multiple perspectives.

Using Numbers in Qualitative Analysis

Although numbers certainly have a place in qualitative analysis (Sandelowski 2001), we encourage researchers to move beyond word clouds or frequency counts of codes and themes in their results for two reasons. First, a code or theme that is infrequently observed in the data set can still be important to the phenomenon being studied. As an analogy, consider making qualitative observations of living cells under a typical light microscope. We would most frequently see a relatively stationary cell that is punctuated by a relatively rare cell division or mitosis. If we only reported stationary observations in findings, we would overlook describing mitosis, one of the most dynamic and fundamental processes that cells display. Second, given limited sample sizes, it may be that a unique and important code or theme is reported by only one participant in the data set. In fact, rare observations can serve as “a-ha moments” that lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon under investigation. These rare observations also may inspire new studies about topics that were not initially anticipated; this speaks to the value of qualitative research.

Closing Thoughts

We encourage readers to continue to learn about qualitative research as there is much that could not be addressed in a single article. For instance, we did not introduce how philosophical stances, like how someone views the nature of truth or what counts as evidence, influence the research process. (Creswell and Poth 2016). For now, we will close with one final piece of advice. We both became better qualitative researchers by working with mentors and collaborators who have this expertise. We encourage you to find colleagues in your networks or at your institutions who may be interested in being a collaborator, mentor, or critical friend. The complexity of students and their experiences lend themselves to qualitative approaches. We hope this article might serve as an impetus for you to learn more about qualitative research and even start your own investigations.

Data Availability Statement

The data included in this commentary have been published in an open-access journal under a Creative Commons license. Citations are included in the text.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under award number OCE-2019589. This is the National Science Foundation’s Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet (C-Comp) publication #026. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We thank Patricia Mabrouk for inviting us to contribute this commentary. We thank members of the Biology Education Research Group at the University of Georgia and Daniel Dries, Joseph Provost, and Verónica Segarra for their thoughtful feedback on manuscript drafts.

Agee, Jane. 2009. “Developing Qualitative Research Questions: A Reflective Process.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 22: 431–447. doi: 10.1080/09518390902736512

Aikens, Melissa L., Melissa M. Robertson, Sona Sadselia, Keiana Watkins, Mara Evans, Christopher R. Runyon, Lillian T. Eby, and Erin L. Dolan. 2017. “Race and Gender Differences in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Structures and Research Outcomes.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 16(2): ar34. doi:10.1187/cbe.16-07-0211

Aikens, Melissa L., Sona Sadselia, Keiana Watkins, Mara Evans, Lillian T. Eby, and Erin L. Dolan. 2016. “A Social Capital Perspective on the Mentoring of Undergraduate Life Science Researchers: An Empirical Study of Undergraduate–Postgraduate–Faculty Triads.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 15(2): ar16. doi: 10.1187/cbe.15-10-0208

Anfara, Vincent A., Kathleen M. Brown, and Terri L. Mangione. 2002. “Qualitative Analysis on Stage: Making the Research Process More Public.” Educational Researcher 31(7): 28–38. doi:10.3102/0013189X031007028

Belur, Jyoti, Lisa Tompson, Amy Thornton, and Miranda Simon. 2018. “Interrater Reliability in Systematic Review Methodology: Exploring Variation in Coder Decision-Making.” Sociological Methods & Research 50: 837–865. doi:10.1177/0049124118799372

Carlone, Heidi B., and Angela Johnson. 2007. “Understanding the Science Experiences of Successful Women of Color: Science Identity as an Analytic Lens.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 44: 1187–1218. doi: 10.1002/tea.20237

Castillo-Montoya, Milagros. 2016. “Preparing for Interview Research: The Interview Protocol Refinement Framework.” Qualitative Report 21: 811–831. doi: 10.46743/2160-3715/2016.2337

Charmaz, Kathy. 2006. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis . London: Sage.

Creswell, John W., and Cheryl N. Poth. 2016. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Approaches . Sage.

Dolan, Erin L. 2013. “Biology Education Scholarship.” IBiology. https://www.ibiology.org/career-exploration/biology-educationscholarship

Gentile, Jim, Kerry Brenner, and Amy Stephens, eds. 2017. Undergraduate Research Experiences for STEM Students: Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities . Washington, DC: National Academies Press. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24622/undergraduate-research-experiences-for-stem-students-successes-challenges-and-opportunities

Gioia, Denny, Kevin Corley, Kathleen Eisenhardt, Martha Feldman, Ann Langley, Jane Lê, Karen Golden-Biddle, et al. 2022. “A Curated Debate: On Using ‘Templates’ in Qualitative Research.” Journal of Management Inquiry 31: 231–52. doi:10.1177/10564926221098955

Goldberg, Abbie E., and Katherine R. Allen. 2015. “Communicating Qualitative Research: Some Practical Guideposts for Scholars.” Journal of Marriage and Family 77 (1): 3–22. doi:10.1111/jomf.12153

Grant, Cynthia, and Azadeh Osanloo. 2014. “Understanding, Selecting, and Integrating a Theoretical Framework in Dissertation Research: Creating the Blueprint for Your ‘House.’” Administrative Issues Journal 4(2): 4. https://dc.swosu.edu/aij/vol4/iss2/4

Hampton, Cynthia, David Reeping, and Desen Sevi Ozkan. 2021. “Positionality Statements in Engineering Education Research: A Look at the Hand That Guides the Methodological Tools.” Studies in Engineering Education 1(2): 126–141. doi: 10.21061/see.13

Hazari, Zahra, Deepa Chari, Geoff Potvin, and Eric Brewe. 2020. “The Context Dependence of Physics Identity: Examining the Role of Performance/Competence, Recognition, Interest, and Sense of Belonging for Lower and Upper Female Physics Undergraduates.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 57:1583–1607. doi: 10.1002/tea.21644

Hazari, Zahra, Gerhard Sonnert, Philip M. Sadler, and Marie-Claire Shanahan. 2010. “Connecting High School Physics Experiences, Outcome Expectations, Physics Identity, and Physics Career Choice: A Gender Study.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 47: 978–1003. doi: 10.1002/tea.20363

Holmes, Andrew, and Gary Darwin. 2020. “Researcher Positionality: A Consideration of Its Influence and Place in Qualitative Research; A New Researcher Guide.” Shanlax International Journal of Education 8(4): 1–10. doi: 10.34293/education.v8i4.3232

Hunter, Anne-Barrie, Sandra L. Laursen, and Elaine Seymour. 2007. “Becoming a Scientist: The Role of Undergraduate Research in Students’ Cognitive, Personal, and Professional Development.” Science Education 91: 36–74. doi: 10.1002/sce.20173

Joshi, Megha, Melissa L. Aikens, and Erin L. Dolan. 2019. “Direct Ties to a Faculty Mentor Related to Positive Outcomes for Undergraduate Researchers.” BioScience 69: 389–397. doi10.1093/biosci/biz039

Kim, Ann Y., and Gale M. Sinatra. 2018. “Science Identity Development: An Interactionist Approach.” International Journal of STEM Education 5: 51. doi: 10.1186/s40594-018-0149-9

Knott, Eleanor, Aliya Hamid Rao, Kate Summers, and Chana Teeger. 2022. “Interviews in the Social Sciences.” Nature Reviews Methods Primers 2: 73. doi: 10.1038/s43586-022-00150-6

Korstjens, Irene, and Albine Moser. 2017. “Series: Practical Guidance to Qualitative Research. Part 2: Context, Research Questions and Designs.” European Journal of General Practice 23: 274–279. doi: 10.1080/13814788.2017.1375090

Kvale, Steinar. 1996. InterViews: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Interviewing . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kyngäs, Helvi, Kristina Mikkonen, and Maria Kääriäinen, eds. 2020. The Application of Content Analysis in Nursing Science Research . Cham: Springer International. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-30199-6

Limeri, Lisa B., Muhammad Zaka Asif, Benjamin H. T. Bridges, David Esparza, Trevor T. Tuma, Daquan Sanders, Alexander J. Morrison, Pallavi Rao, Joseph A. Harsh, and Adam V. Maltese. 2019. “‘Where’s My Mentor?!’ Characterizing Negative Mentoring Experiences in Undergraduate Life Science Research.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 18(4): ar61. doi: 10.1187/cbe.19-02-0036

Lincoln, Yvonna S., and Egon G. Guba. 1985. Naturalistic Inquiry . Sage.

Loeb, Susanna, Susan Dynarski, Daniel McFarland, Pamela Morris, Sean Reardon, and Sarah Reber. 2017. “Descriptive Analysis in Education: A Guide for Researchers.” NCEE 2017-4023. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

Luft, Julie A., Sophia Jeong, Robert Idsardi, and Grant Gardner. 2022. “Literature Reviews, Theoretical Frameworks, and Conceptual Frameworks: An Introduction for New Biology Education Researchers.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 21(3): rm33. doi: 10.1187/cbe.21-05-0134

Majocha, Megan, Zachary Davenport, Derek C. Braun, and Cara Gormally. 2018. “‘Everyone Was Nice . . . But I Was Still Left Out’: An Interview Study about Deaf Interns’ Research Experiences in STEM.” Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education 19(1): 19.1.10. doi: 10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1381

Mays, Nicholas, and Catherine Pope. 2020. “Quality in Qualitative Research.” In Qualitative Research in Health Care , ed. Catherine Pope and Nicholas Mays, 211–233. doi:10.1002/9781119410867.ch15

McGee, Ebony O., and Lydia Bentley. 2017. “The Troubled Success of Black Women in STEM.” Cognition and Instruction 35: 265–289. doi: 10.1080/07370008.2017.1355211

Merriam, Sharan B. 2014. Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation . San Francisco: Wiley.

Miles, Matthew B., A. Michael Huberman, and Johnny Saldana. 2014. Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook . 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Morse, Janice M. 1997. “‘Perfectly Healthy, but Dead’: The Myth of Inter-Rater Reliability.” Qualitative Health Research 7:445–47. doi: 10.1177/104973239700700401

Morse, Janice M., Michael Barrett, Maria Mayan, Karin Olson, and Jude Spiers. 2002. “Verification Strategies for Establishing Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods 1(2): 13–22. Doi:10.1177/160940690200100202

National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. 1978. “The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research.” 3 vols. Bethesda, MD: National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/779133

O’Connor, Cliodhna, and Helene Joffe. 2020. “Intercoder Reliability in Qualitative Research: Debates and Practical Guidelines.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods 19:1609406919899220. doi: 10.1177/1609406919899220

Pfeifer, Mariel A., Julio J. Cordero, and Julie Dangremond Stanton. 2023. “What I Wish My Instructor Knew: How Active Learning Influences the Classroom Experiences and Self-Advocacy of STEM Majors with ADHD and Specific Learning Disabilities.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 2(1): ar2. doi: 10.1187/cbe.21-12-0329

Pfeifer, Mariel A., C. J. Zajic, Jared M. Isaacs, Olivia A. Erickson, and Erin L. Dolan. 2023. “Beyond Performance, Competence, and Recognition: Forging a Science Researcher Identity in the Context of Research Training.” BioRxiv 2023.03.22.533783. doi: 10.1101/2023.03.22.533783

Potvin, Geoff, and Zahra Hazari. 2013. “The Development and Measurement of Identity across the Physical Sciences.” 2013 PERC Proceedings . American Association of Physics Teachers. https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=13182&DocID=3729

Pratt, Michael G., Kevin W. Rockmann, and Jeffrey B. Kaufmann. 2006. “Constructing Professional Identity: The Role of Work and Identity Learning Cycles in the Customization of Identity among Medical Residents.” Academy of Management Journal 49: 235–262. doi: 10.5465/AMJ.2006.20786060

Ritchie, Jane, Jane Lewis, Carol McNaughton Nicholls, and Rachel Ormston. 2013. Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers . Sage.

Roulston, Kathryn, Kathleen deMarrais, and Jamie B. Lewis. 2003. “Learning to Interview in the Social Sciences.” Qualitative Inquiry 9: 643–668. doi: 10.1177/1077800403252736

Saldaña, Johnny. 2016. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers . 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage.

Sandelowski, Margarete. 1995. “Qualitative Analysis: What It Is and How to Begin.” Research in Nursing & Health 18: 371–375. doi: 10.1002/nur.4770180411

Sandelowski, Margarete. 1998. “Writing a Good Read: Strategies for Re-Presenting Qualitative Data.” Research in Nursing & Health 21: 375–382. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-240X(199808)21:4<375::AID-NUR9>3.0.CO;2-C

Sandelowski, Margarete. 2001. “Real Qualitative Researchers Do Not Count: The Use of Numbers in Qualitative Research.” Research in Nursing & Health 24: 230–240. doi: 10.1002/nur.1025

Spangler, Denise A., and Steven R. Williams. 2019. “The Role of Theoretical Frameworks in Mathematics Education Research.” In Designing, Conducting, and Publishing Quality Research in Mathematics Education , ed. Keith R. Leatham, 3–16. Research in Mathematics Education. Cham: Springer International. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-23505-5_1

Starks, Helene, and Susan Brown Trinidad. 2007. “Choose Your Method: A Comparison of Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis, and Grounded Theory.” Qualitative Health Research 17: 1372–1380. doi: 10.1177/1049732307307031

Tracy, Sarah J. 2010. “Qualitative Quality: Eight ‘Big-Tent’ Criteria for Excellent Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 16:837–851. doi: 10.1177/1077800410383121

University of California Museum of Paleontology. 2022. “Understanding Science: Science Flowchart.” UC Museum of Paleontology Understanding Science. https://undsci.berkeley.edu/science-flowchart

Vaccaro, Annemarie, Ezekiel W. Kimball, Ryan S. Wells, and Benjamin J. Ostiguy. “Researching students with disabilities: The importance of critical perspectives.” New directions for institutional research 2014, no. 163 (2015): 25-41. doi: 10.1002/ir.20084

Vasquez-Salgado, Yolanda, Tissyana C. Camacho, Isabel López, Gabriela Chavira, Carrie L. Saetermoe, and Crist Khachikian. 2023. “‘I Definitely Feel like a Scientist’: Exploring Science Identity Trajectories among Latinx Students in a Critical Race Theory–Informed Undergraduate Research Experience.” Infant and Child Development 32(3): e2371. doi: 10.1002/icd.2371

Watson, Rachel M., John D. Willford, and Mariel A. Pfeifer. 2018. “A Cultured Learning Environment: Implementing a Problem-and Service-Based Microbiology Capstone Course to Assess Process- and Skill-Based Learning Objectives.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning 12(1): article 8. doi:10.7771/1541-5015.1694

Welch, Catherine. 2018. “Good Qualitative Research: Opening up the Debate.” In Collaborative Research Design: Working with Business for Meaningful Findings , 401–412. Singapore: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-981-10-5008-4

Yadav, Drishti. 2022. “Criteria for Good Qualitative Research: A Comprehensive Review.” Asia-Pacific Education Researcher 31 679–689. doi: 10.1007/s40299-021-00619-0

Yilmaz, Kaya. 2013. “Comparison of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Traditions: Epistemological, Theoretical, and Methodological Differences.” European Journal of Education 48: 311–325. doi: 10.1111/ejed.12014

Mariel A. Pfeifer

University of Georgia, [email protected]

Mariel A. Pfeifer is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Georgia’s SPREE (Social Psychology of Research Experiences and Education) Lab. Her passion for biology education research was sparked by her experiences as an undergraduate teaching assistant, a pre-service science teacher, and a disability services coordinator. Soon Pfeifer will begin her new role as an assistant professor of biology at the University of Mississippi.

Erin L. Dolan is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Innovative Science Education at the University of Georgia As a graduate student, Dolan volunteered in K–12 schools, which inspired her pursuit of a biology education career. She teaches introductory biology and her research group, the SPREE Lab, works to delineate features of undergraduate and graduate research that influence students’ career decisions.

More Articles in this Issue

Table of contents – fall 2023, quantifying equity in the american theater: student research at the intersection of performance and data analysis.

Dramatic literature courses in the undergraduate theater curriculum traditionally include the study of plays: their structure and themes. In a course titled Contemporary Female Playwrights at Davidson College, the learning goals go beyond script analysis and include strategies for documenting and redressing the underrepresentation of female and BIPOC playwrights in American theater.

Building Research Skills through an Undergraduate Research Project on Local Community

This research aims to build economic research skills and stimulate students’ interest in the local economy through data-based undergraduate research in entry-level economics courses. The authors developed two assignments and one student survey assessing students’ learning outcomes and implemented them in two introductory-level classes from fall 2019 to fall 2021. The survey responses confirmed that the assignments positively affected students’ primary research skills and increased students’ interest in local economic issues. The study also provides empirical evidence that undergraduate research can be carried out in both face-to-face and online classes. It confirms the positive contribution of exposing students to the research culture early in their academic journey by improving students’ skills in collecting, processing, and interpreting data on the local economy.

Fulfilling the Land-Grant Mission in Undergraduate Research in English Studies

The pandemic provided a natural experiment to test an alternative approach to teaching a traditional classroom-based research methods course; as teachers, we should not wait for such interventions but try out various strategies for effectiveness. Remote mentoring is entirely feasible for successful undergraduate research experiences. This is a particularly crucial finding in the humanities, which relies very much on discussion-based formats rather than lectures for its courses. Faculty have learned new technologies, such as Zoom, to ensure that meaningful interactions would occur.

Making Research Accessible for All through a Fully Online Cancer Genomics CURE

Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) can engage large numbers of students and provide a structured environment in which to learn valuable research skills. The ability to implement laboratory-based CUREs was hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, generating a greater need for online options. A pilot study of an adaptation of a fully online cancer genomics CURE is described here. Students utilized freely available databases such as cBioPortal to develop novel scientific questions, generate and analyze data, collaborate with peers, and present their findings in an online environment. This format preserved the defining aspects of CUREs while promoting student ownership over their projects. Although the most common challenge was developing a hypothesis, students valued peer and instructor feedback throughout the process as well as flexible formats for communicating their research findings.

Laboratory-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (LUREs):  Evidence of Effectiveness from the Social Sciences

The impact of undergraduate research experiences (UREs) is supported by evidence from physical and life science fields, especially when student-apprentices work in traditional laboratories. Within social sciences specifically, some excellent student outcomes associated with UREs adhere to non–lab-based modalities like course-based research experiences (CUREs). Here, the authors evaluate the laboratory-based undergraduate research experiences (LUREs) as a potentially valuable approach for incorporating social science undergraduates in research. Using comparative analysis of survey data from students completing three types of social science-based UREs (n = 235), individual research experiences (IREs), CUREs, or LUREs, students perceived gains overall regardless of the type of experience, with some indication that LUREs are the most effective.

SUREbyts: Presenting Early-Year Undergraduate Students with Videos on Research Topics

Undergraduate research initiatives such as mentoring programs, conferences, and journals typically focus on the later stages of undergraduate studies. It is not unusual for a student to reach the final year of their program without developing their awareness of research within their discipline or their institution. SUREbyts is a project that provides first- and second-year undergraduate students with access to research through video recordings of professional researchers and research students discussing their own research, with each video structured around a research question with a set of possible solutions. This article presents the successes and challenges faced by the project’s initial implementation in six higher education institutions in Ireland and offers advice to institutions globally that are considering engaging their students with research in this way.

Systematic Review of Outcomes for Faculty Mentors in Undergraduate Research

Significant research has highlighted the benefits and outcomes of mentored research experiences for undergraduate students. Substantially less empirical research has examined the benefits and outcomes of these experiences for the other member of the mentoring dyad: the mentors themselves. To address this gap, a systematic review of 1,915 articles was conducted. After review, 16 articles were determined relevant. Articles were categorized based on design and theoretical framework. Further analysis revealed three categorizations: faculty mentor outcomes, barriers to mentorship of undergraduate research students, and supporting factors associated with mentorship of students. Results indicate that faculty mentors in undergraduate research contexts face more barriers to mentorship than supporting factors. Three lines of inquiry are proposed for future researchers.

Undergraduate Research: Why and How Do We Mentor?

Our advocacy for undergraduate research, mentorship, and equity is strengthened by being explicit about why they are vital. Research mentors guide undergraduates in learning how to learn, in evaluating evidence, and in discovering talents and career interests. Our mission can be extended by bringing a research perspective to the courses we teach. Effective mentorship involves appreciating individual differences while having shared goals. As mentors, we aim to provide undergraduates with opportunities to participate in research that can lead to discovering new knowledge. Students can build on this experience to become proactive in making a difference. The global future depends on today’s undergraduates, who are tomorrow’s decision-makers, innovators, and leaders.

Step Up for SPUR

This editorial details observations from a departing associate editor of SPUR about the experience of working on the journal. The author contextualizes this work within the academic journal editorial process, focusing on specific challenges in recruiting reviewers for the peer review process. The author stresses the importance of broad participation from the undergraduate research community, including submitting articles to SPUR , accepting requests to review manuscripts, and participating in the editorial board, all to ensure the sustainability and intellectual vitality of the journal.

qualitative research questions for education

SUBSCRIPTION

SPUR advances knowledge and understanding of novel and effective approaches to mentored undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry by publishing high-quality, rigorously peer reviewed studies written by scholars and practitioners of undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry. The SPUR Journal is a leading CUR member benefit. Gain access to all electronic articles by joining CUR.

American University Online

  • make a call
  • schedule an appointment
  • Chat Loading...
  • Request Info

855-725-7614

  • Online Graduate Degree Programs
  • School of Public Affairs
  • Master of Public Administration and Policy
  • MS in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • MA in Economics, Applied Economics Specialization
  • MS in Nutrition Education
  • School of Communication
  • School of Professional and Extended Studies
  • MS in Health Promotion Management
  • MS in Human Resource Analytics and Management
  • MS in Measurement & Evaluation
  • MS in Sports Analytics and Management
  • Online Graduate Certificates
  • School of Professional and Extended Studies Graduate Certificate Programs
  • Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Analytics and Management
  • Graduate Certificate in Nutrition Education
  • Graduate Certificate in Project Monitoring & Evaluation
  • Graduate Certificate in Sports Analytics and Management
  • Financial Aid and Tuition
  • Scholarships
  • International Students
  • Military Students
  • Schedule an Appointment
  • University Registrar
  • Campus Programs
  • Why American University
  • Accreditation and Rankings
  • President's Message
  • Online Student Life
  • Virtual Open Houses & Webinars
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Qualitative Methods in Monitoring and Evaluation: Qualitative Research Questions

  • Online Degrees
  • Program Resources

You are here

Selecting your research topic and crafting a qualitative research question from it is the first, and possibly the hardest, step of qualitative research. You will likely start with a topic, and as you start reading and do exploratory research, hone that topic into a research question that can be answered using qualitative methods.

I suggest that students start big and then narrow their topics. As you review the literature and current events around your larger topic, you will likely discover what questions academics and policymakers are asking about that topic. You should identify your topic’s puzzles, those questions that have yet to be answered. Then you should choose one of these puzzles to meld into your research question.

Throughout this process, you should constantly remind yourself of the purpose of qualitative inquiry. As researchers, we use qualitative data collection techniques to gather rich, emic data around a topic. That data highlights experiences and perceptions that help to provide explanation. As you explore your larger topic, focus on those puzzles that need qualitative explanation. As you hone your topic into possible research questions, ask yourself why qualitative data collection techniques would be the best way to provide insight into your topic and answer your research question. This is actually harder than you might think, as many of us tend towards the quantitative. Usually, crafting a qualitative research question means asking a why or a what explains question, NOT a how or a descriptive question.

The best qualitative research questions are:

  • Interesting to you. Depending on the purpose of your research and your research output, you will likely spend a lot of time on your topic. Pick a topic that you find interesting, so that you will be engaged throughout the research process.
  • Original. When we conduct primary research, we are not summarizing the research of others. We are coming up with our own research question and qualitative design to answer it. Your qualitative research could identify a brand new topic, or it could take a new spin on an old topic, or look at a new topic in a different light.
  • Answerable. Your research question should be answerable using qualitative methods. Not every research question can and should be answered using qualitative data collection techniques. You should craft a question that is best answered using qualitative research.
  • Manageable. Your research question should be manageable within your time, space, and budget constraints. Craft a question that fits within the purpose and scope of your research. Some qualitative questions might take an article length paper to answer, and some may take a book! Some questions might require a longer time to answer, travel that you are not able to do, or a larger budget than you have to support your research. Craft your question with these constraints and parameters in mind.

Once you have a research question, you will need to draft your qualitative research design. Your design will need to provide specifics on the qualitative data collection techniques you intend to use to answer your research question. You should think in advance about what kinds of data you will need, and what qualitative data collection techniques would be most useful to gather it. You have a number of tools available in your qualitative data collection toolkit, and you need to figure out which is most appropriate for your data collection need. You might use observation, participant observation , interviews , focus groups , or participatory tools , for example. You also need to think through how you will address missing or incomplete data, and how you will manage and analyze the data that you collect.

Qualitative Questions and Evaluation

When we conduct an evaluation , we usually start by crafting a logic model or Logical Framework (LogFrame) . As evaluators, we usually ask qualitative questions that help us to understand an organization’s logic model or to populate its LogFrame. We might ask a broad question such as: What explains this organization’s theory of change? Such a broad question would also have support questions such as: What does this organization do? Why does it do it that way? What are some examples of projects? How are those projects managed? Who are the beneficiaries? What are this organization’s challenges? What are this organization’s risks and assumptions?

Good qualitative research questions that help us to craft an evaluation might include questions around program need, and program conceptualization and design (Rossi, Lipsey, and Freeman, 2004). Depending on the purpose of the evaluation and your evaluation design, you might ask process-focused questions such as who, what, when, where, why, and how; or you might ask outcome focused questions around changes, effects, and impacts.

Your qualitative research and the answers to all of these questions could help you to develop a LogFrame that you could use to guide a future evaluation that asks questions around program operations and service delivery, program outcomes, or program cost efficiency. Your evaluation design would include evaluation questions that likely have a mixed method element that uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative data and methods to help measure progress or change. Our evaluation questions are not necessarily qualitative in nature; they are often questions that require mixed methods or quantitative tools and analyses to answer. However, we often use qualitative research questions and data collection techniques to help us craft our evaluation questions, LogFrame, and evaluation design.

Rossi, Peter, Mark Lipsey, and Howard Freeman. Evaluation: A Systematic Approach. 7th edition. Thousand Oaks, SAGE, 2004.

About The Author

Dr. Beverly Peters has more than twenty years of experience teaching, conducting qualitative research, and managing community development, microcredit, infrastructure, and democratization projects in several countries in Africa. As a consultant, Dr. Peters worked on EU and USAID funded infrastructure, education, and microcredit projects in South Africa and Mozambique. She also conceptualized and developed the proposal for Darfur Peace and Development Organization’s women’s crisis center, a center that provides physical and economic assistance to women survivors of violence in the IDP camps in Darfur. Dr. Peters has a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. Learn more about Dr. Peters.

To learn more about American University’s online MS in Measurement & Evaluation or Graduate Certificate in Project Monitoring & Evaluation, request more information or call us toll free at 855-725-7614.

(855) 725-7614

  • Terms & Conditions
  • About American University

qualitative research questions for education

qualitative research questions for education

Research Topics & Ideas: Education

170+ Research Ideas To Fast-Track Your Project

Topic Kickstarter: Research topics in education

If you’re just starting out exploring education-related topics for your dissertation, thesis or research project, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll help kickstart your research topic ideation process by providing a hearty list of research topics and ideas , including examples from actual dissertations and theses..

PS – This is just the start…

We know it’s exciting to run through a list of research topics, but please keep in mind that this list is just a starting point . To develop a suitable education-related research topic, you’ll need to identify a clear and convincing research gap , and a viable plan of action to fill that gap.

If this sounds foreign to you, check out our free research topic webinar that explores how to find and refine a high-quality research topic, from scratch. Alternatively, if you’d like hands-on help, consider our 1-on-1 coaching service .

Overview: Education Research Topics

  • How to find a research topic (video)
  • List of 50+ education-related research topics/ideas
  • List of 120+ level-specific research topics 
  • Examples of actual dissertation topics in education
  • Tips to fast-track your topic ideation (video)
  • Free Webinar : Topic Ideation 101
  • Where to get extra help

Education-Related Research Topics & Ideas

Below you’ll find a list of education-related research topics and idea kickstarters. These are fairly broad and flexible to various contexts, so keep in mind that you will need to refine them a little. Nevertheless, they should inspire some ideas for your project.

  • The impact of school funding on student achievement
  • The effects of social and emotional learning on student well-being
  • The effects of parental involvement on student behaviour
  • The impact of teacher training on student learning
  • The impact of classroom design on student learning
  • The impact of poverty on education
  • The use of student data to inform instruction
  • The role of parental involvement in education
  • The effects of mindfulness practices in the classroom
  • The use of technology in the classroom
  • The role of critical thinking in education
  • The use of formative and summative assessments in the classroom
  • The use of differentiated instruction in the classroom
  • The use of gamification in education
  • The effects of teacher burnout on student learning
  • The impact of school leadership on student achievement
  • The effects of teacher diversity on student outcomes
  • The role of teacher collaboration in improving student outcomes
  • The implementation of blended and online learning
  • The effects of teacher accountability on student achievement
  • The effects of standardized testing on student learning
  • The effects of classroom management on student behaviour
  • The effects of school culture on student achievement
  • The use of student-centred learning in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher-student relationships on student outcomes
  • The achievement gap in minority and low-income students
  • The use of culturally responsive teaching in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher professional development on student learning
  • The use of project-based learning in the classroom
  • The effects of teacher expectations on student achievement
  • The use of adaptive learning technology in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher turnover on student learning
  • The effects of teacher recruitment and retention on student learning
  • The impact of early childhood education on later academic success
  • The impact of parental involvement on student engagement
  • The use of positive reinforcement in education
  • The impact of school climate on student engagement
  • The role of STEM education in preparing students for the workforce
  • The effects of school choice on student achievement
  • The use of technology in the form of online tutoring

Level-Specific Research Topics

Looking for research topics for a specific level of education? We’ve got you covered. Below you can find research topic ideas for primary, secondary and tertiary-level education contexts. Click the relevant level to view the respective list.

Research Topics: Pick An Education Level

Primary education.

  • Investigating the effects of peer tutoring on academic achievement in primary school
  • Exploring the benefits of mindfulness practices in primary school classrooms
  • Examining the effects of different teaching strategies on primary school students’ problem-solving skills
  • The use of storytelling as a teaching strategy in primary school literacy instruction
  • The role of cultural diversity in promoting tolerance and understanding in primary schools
  • The impact of character education programs on moral development in primary school students
  • Investigating the use of technology in enhancing primary school mathematics education
  • The impact of inclusive curriculum on promoting equity and diversity in primary schools
  • The impact of outdoor education programs on environmental awareness in primary school students
  • The influence of school climate on student motivation and engagement in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of early literacy interventions on reading comprehension in primary school students
  • The impact of parental involvement in school decision-making processes on student achievement in primary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of inclusive education for students with special needs in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of teacher-student feedback on academic motivation in primary schools
  • The role of technology in developing digital literacy skills in primary school students
  • Effective strategies for fostering a growth mindset in primary school students
  • Investigating the role of parental support in reducing academic stress in primary school children
  • The role of arts education in fostering creativity and self-expression in primary school students
  • Examining the effects of early childhood education programs on primary school readiness
  • Examining the effects of homework on primary school students’ academic performance
  • The role of formative assessment in improving learning outcomes in primary school classrooms
  • The impact of teacher-student relationships on academic outcomes in primary school
  • Investigating the effects of classroom environment on student behavior and learning outcomes in primary schools
  • Investigating the role of creativity and imagination in primary school curriculum
  • The impact of nutrition and healthy eating programs on academic performance in primary schools
  • The impact of social-emotional learning programs on primary school students’ well-being and academic performance
  • The role of parental involvement in academic achievement of primary school children
  • Examining the effects of classroom management strategies on student behavior in primary school
  • The role of school leadership in creating a positive school climate Exploring the benefits of bilingual education in primary schools
  • The effectiveness of project-based learning in developing critical thinking skills in primary school students
  • The role of inquiry-based learning in fostering curiosity and critical thinking in primary school students
  • The effects of class size on student engagement and achievement in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of recess and physical activity breaks on attention and learning in primary school
  • Exploring the benefits of outdoor play in developing gross motor skills in primary school children
  • The effects of educational field trips on knowledge retention in primary school students
  • Examining the effects of inclusive classroom practices on students’ attitudes towards diversity in primary schools
  • The impact of parental involvement in homework on primary school students’ academic achievement
  • Investigating the effectiveness of different assessment methods in primary school classrooms
  • The influence of physical activity and exercise on cognitive development in primary school children
  • Exploring the benefits of cooperative learning in promoting social skills in primary school students

Secondary Education

  • Investigating the effects of school discipline policies on student behavior and academic success in secondary education
  • The role of social media in enhancing communication and collaboration among secondary school students
  • The impact of school leadership on teacher effectiveness and student outcomes in secondary schools
  • Investigating the effects of technology integration on teaching and learning in secondary education
  • Exploring the benefits of interdisciplinary instruction in promoting critical thinking skills in secondary schools
  • The impact of arts education on creativity and self-expression in secondary school students
  • The effectiveness of flipped classrooms in promoting student learning in secondary education
  • The role of career guidance programs in preparing secondary school students for future employment
  • Investigating the effects of student-centered learning approaches on student autonomy and academic success in secondary schools
  • The impact of socio-economic factors on educational attainment in secondary education
  • Investigating the impact of project-based learning on student engagement and academic achievement in secondary schools
  • Investigating the effects of multicultural education on cultural understanding and tolerance in secondary schools
  • The influence of standardized testing on teaching practices and student learning in secondary education
  • Investigating the effects of classroom management strategies on student behavior and academic engagement in secondary education
  • The influence of teacher professional development on instructional practices and student outcomes in secondary schools
  • The role of extracurricular activities in promoting holistic development and well-roundedness in secondary school students
  • Investigating the effects of blended learning models on student engagement and achievement in secondary education
  • The role of physical education in promoting physical health and well-being among secondary school students
  • Investigating the effects of gender on academic achievement and career aspirations in secondary education
  • Exploring the benefits of multicultural literature in promoting cultural awareness and empathy among secondary school students
  • The impact of school counseling services on student mental health and well-being in secondary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of vocational education and training in preparing secondary school students for the workforce
  • The role of digital literacy in preparing secondary school students for the digital age
  • The influence of parental involvement on academic success and well-being of secondary school students
  • The impact of social-emotional learning programs on secondary school students’ well-being and academic success
  • The role of character education in fostering ethical and responsible behavior in secondary school students
  • Examining the effects of digital citizenship education on responsible and ethical technology use among secondary school students
  • The impact of parental involvement in school decision-making processes on student outcomes in secondary schools
  • The role of educational technology in promoting personalized learning experiences in secondary schools
  • The impact of inclusive education on the social and academic outcomes of students with disabilities in secondary schools
  • The influence of parental support on academic motivation and achievement in secondary education
  • The role of school climate in promoting positive behavior and well-being among secondary school students
  • Examining the effects of peer mentoring programs on academic achievement and social-emotional development in secondary schools
  • Examining the effects of teacher-student relationships on student motivation and achievement in secondary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of service-learning programs in promoting civic engagement among secondary school students
  • The impact of educational policies on educational equity and access in secondary education
  • Examining the effects of homework on academic achievement and student well-being in secondary education
  • Investigating the effects of different assessment methods on student performance in secondary schools
  • Examining the effects of single-sex education on academic performance and gender stereotypes in secondary schools
  • The role of mentoring programs in supporting the transition from secondary to post-secondary education

Tertiary Education

  • The role of student support services in promoting academic success and well-being in higher education
  • The impact of internationalization initiatives on students’ intercultural competence and global perspectives in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effects of active learning classrooms and learning spaces on student engagement and learning outcomes in tertiary education
  • Exploring the benefits of service-learning experiences in fostering civic engagement and social responsibility in higher education
  • The influence of learning communities and collaborative learning environments on student academic and social integration in higher education
  • Exploring the benefits of undergraduate research experiences in fostering critical thinking and scientific inquiry skills
  • Investigating the effects of academic advising and mentoring on student retention and degree completion in higher education
  • The role of student engagement and involvement in co-curricular activities on holistic student development in higher education
  • The impact of multicultural education on fostering cultural competence and diversity appreciation in higher education
  • The role of internships and work-integrated learning experiences in enhancing students’ employability and career outcomes
  • Examining the effects of assessment and feedback practices on student learning and academic achievement in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty professional development on instructional practices and student outcomes in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty-student relationships on student success and well-being in tertiary education
  • The impact of college transition programs on students’ academic and social adjustment to higher education
  • The impact of online learning platforms on student learning outcomes in higher education
  • The impact of financial aid and scholarships on access and persistence in higher education
  • The influence of student leadership and involvement in extracurricular activities on personal development and campus engagement
  • Exploring the benefits of competency-based education in developing job-specific skills in tertiary students
  • Examining the effects of flipped classroom models on student learning and retention in higher education
  • Exploring the benefits of online collaboration and virtual team projects in developing teamwork skills in tertiary students
  • Investigating the effects of diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus climate and student experiences in tertiary education
  • The influence of study abroad programs on intercultural competence and global perspectives of college students
  • Investigating the effects of peer mentoring and tutoring programs on student retention and academic performance in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effectiveness of active learning strategies in promoting student engagement and achievement in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effects of blended learning models and hybrid courses on student learning and satisfaction in higher education
  • The role of digital literacy and information literacy skills in supporting student success in the digital age
  • Investigating the effects of experiential learning opportunities on career readiness and employability of college students
  • The impact of e-portfolios on student reflection, self-assessment, and showcasing of learning in higher education
  • The role of technology in enhancing collaborative learning experiences in tertiary classrooms
  • The impact of research opportunities on undergraduate student engagement and pursuit of advanced degrees
  • Examining the effects of competency-based assessment on measuring student learning and achievement in tertiary education
  • Examining the effects of interdisciplinary programs and courses on critical thinking and problem-solving skills in college students
  • The role of inclusive education and accessibility in promoting equitable learning experiences for diverse student populations
  • The role of career counseling and guidance in supporting students’ career decision-making in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty diversity and representation on student success and inclusive learning environments in higher education

Research topic idea mega list

Education-Related Dissertations & Theses

While the ideas we’ve presented above are a decent starting point for finding a research topic in education, they are fairly generic and non-specific. So, it helps to look at actual dissertations and theses in the education space to see how this all comes together in practice.

Below, we’ve included a selection of education-related research projects to help refine your thinking. These are actual dissertations and theses, written as part of Master’s and PhD-level programs, so they can provide some useful insight as to what a research topic looks like in practice.

  • From Rural to Urban: Education Conditions of Migrant Children in China (Wang, 2019)
  • Energy Renovation While Learning English: A Guidebook for Elementary ESL Teachers (Yang, 2019)
  • A Reanalyses of Intercorrelational Matrices of Visual and Verbal Learners’ Abilities, Cognitive Styles, and Learning Preferences (Fox, 2020)
  • A study of the elementary math program utilized by a mid-Missouri school district (Barabas, 2020)
  • Instructor formative assessment practices in virtual learning environments : a posthumanist sociomaterial perspective (Burcks, 2019)
  • Higher education students services: a qualitative study of two mid-size universities’ direct exchange programs (Kinde, 2020)
  • Exploring editorial leadership : a qualitative study of scholastic journalism advisers teaching leadership in Missouri secondary schools (Lewis, 2020)
  • Selling the virtual university: a multimodal discourse analysis of marketing for online learning (Ludwig, 2020)
  • Advocacy and accountability in school counselling: assessing the use of data as related to professional self-efficacy (Matthews, 2020)
  • The use of an application screening assessment as a predictor of teaching retention at a midwestern, K-12, public school district (Scarbrough, 2020)
  • Core values driving sustained elite performance cultures (Beiner, 2020)
  • Educative features of upper elementary Eureka math curriculum (Dwiggins, 2020)
  • How female principals nurture adult learning opportunities in successful high schools with challenging student demographics (Woodward, 2020)
  • The disproportionality of Black Males in Special Education: A Case Study Analysis of Educator Perceptions in a Southeastern Urban High School (McCrae, 2021)

As you can see, these research topics are a lot more focused than the generic topic ideas we presented earlier. So, in order for you to develop a high-quality research topic, you’ll need to get specific and laser-focused on a specific context with specific variables of interest.  In the video below, we explore some other important things you’ll need to consider when crafting your research topic.

Get 1-On-1 Help

If you’re still unsure about how to find a quality research topic within education, check out our Research Topic Kickstarter service, which is the perfect starting point for developing a unique, well-justified research topic.

Research Topic Kickstarter - Need Help Finding A Research Topic?

66 Comments

Watson Kabwe

This is an helpful tool 🙏

Musarrat Parveen

Special education

Akbar khan

Really appreciated by this . It is the best platform for research related items

Trishna Roy

Research title related to school of students

Nasiru Yusuf

How are you

Oyebanji Khadijat Anike

I think this platform is actually good enough.

Angel taña

Research title related to students

My field is research measurement and evaluation. Need dissertation topics in the field

Saira Murtaza

Assalam o Alaikum I’m a student Bs educational Resarch and evaluation I’m confused to choose My thesis title please help me in choose the thesis title

Ngirumuvugizi Jaccques

Good idea I’m going to teach my colleagues

Anangnerisia@gmail.com

You can find our list of nursing-related research topic ideas here: https://gradcoach.com/research-topics-nursing/

FOSU DORIS

Write on action research topic, using guidance and counseling to address unwanted teenage pregnancy in school

Samson ochuodho

Thanks a lot

Johaima

I learned a lot from this site, thank you so much!

Rhod Tuyan

Thank you for the information.. I would like to request a topic based on school major in social studies

Mercedes Bunsie

parental involvement and students academic performance

Abshir Mustafe Cali

Science education topics?

alina

plz tell me if you got some good topics, im here for finding research topic for masters degree

Karen Joy Andrade

How about School management and supervision pls.?

JOHANNES SERAME MONYATSI

Hi i am an Deputy Principal in a primary school. My wish is to srudy foe Master’s degree in Education.Please advice me on which topic can be relevant for me. Thanks.

NKWAIN Chia Charles

Every topic proposed above on primary education is a starting point for me. I appreciate immensely the team that has sat down to make a detail of these selected topics just for beginners like us. Be blessed.

Nkwain Chia Charles

Kindly help me with the research questions on the topic” Effects of workplace conflict on the employees’ job performance”. The effects can be applicable in every institution,enterprise or organisation.

Kelvin Kells Grant

Greetings, I am a student majoring in Sociology and minoring in Public Administration. I’m considering any recommended research topic in the field of Sociology.

Sulemana Alhassan

I’m a student pursuing Mphil in Basic education and I’m considering any recommended research proposal topic in my field of study

Cristine

Research Defense for students in senior high

Kupoluyi Regina

Kindly help me with a research topic in educational psychology. Ph.D level. Thank you.

Project-based learning is a teaching/learning type,if well applied in a classroom setting will yield serious positive impact. What can a teacher do to implement this in a disadvantaged zone like “North West Region of Cameroon ( hinterland) where war has brought about prolonged and untold sufferings on the indegins?

Damaris Nzoka

I wish to get help on topics of research on educational administration

I wish to get help on topics of research on educational administration PhD level

Sadaf

I am also looking for such type of title

Afriyie Saviour

I am a student of undergraduate, doing research on how to use guidance and counseling to address unwanted teenage pregnancy in school

wysax

the topics are very good regarding research & education .

William AU Mill

Can i request your suggestion topic for my Thesis about Teachers as an OFW. thanx you

ChRISTINE

Would like to request for suggestions on a topic in Economics of education,PhD level

Aza Hans

Would like to request for suggestions on a topic in Economics of education

George

Hi 👋 I request that you help me with a written research proposal about education the format

Cynthia abuabire

Am offering degree in education senior high School Accounting. I want a topic for my project work

Sarah Moyambo

l would like to request suggestions on a topic in managing teaching and learning, PhD level (educational leadership and management)

request suggestions on a topic in managing teaching and learning, PhD level (educational leadership and management)

Ernest Gyabaah

I would to inquire on research topics on Educational psychology, Masters degree

Aron kirui

I am PhD student, I am searching my Research topic, It should be innovative,my area of interest is online education,use of technology in education

revathy a/p letchumanan

request suggestion on topic in masters in medical education .

D.Newlands PhD.

Look at British Library as they keep a copy of all PhDs in the UK Core.ac.uk to access Open University and 6 other university e-archives, pdf downloads mostly available, all free.

Monica

May I also ask for a topic based on mathematics education for college teaching, please?

Aman

Please I am a masters student of the department of Teacher Education, Faculty of Education Please I am in need of proposed project topics to help with my final year thesis

Ellyjoy

Am a PhD student in Educational Foundations would like a sociological topic. Thank

muhammad sani

please i need a proposed thesis project regardging computer science

also916

Greetings and Regards I am a doctoral student in the field of philosophy of education. I am looking for a new topic for my thesis. Because of my work in the elementary school, I am looking for a topic that is from the field of elementary education and is related to the philosophy of education.

shantel orox

Masters student in the field of curriculum, any ideas of a research topic on low achiever students

Rey

In the field of curriculum any ideas of a research topic on deconalization in contextualization of digital teaching and learning through in higher education

Omada Victoria Enyojo

Amazing guidelines

JAMES MALUKI MUTIA

I am a graduate with two masters. 1) Master of arts in religious studies and 2) Master in education in foundations of education. I intend to do a Ph.D. on my second master’s, however, I need to bring both masters together through my Ph.D. research. can I do something like, ” The contribution of Philosophy of education for a quality religion education in Kenya”? kindly, assist and be free to suggest a similar topic that will bring together the two masters. thanks in advance

betiel

Hi, I am an Early childhood trainer as well as a researcher, I need more support on this topic: The impact of early childhood education on later academic success.

TURIKUMWE JEAN BOSCO

I’m a student in upper level secondary school and I need your support in this research topics: “Impact of incorporating project -based learning in teaching English language skills in secondary schools”.

Fitsum Ayele

Although research activities and topics should stem from reflection on one’s practice, I found this site valuable as it effectively addressed many issues we have been experiencing as practitioners.

Lavern Stigers

Your style is unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this site.

Submit a Comment Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

  • Print Friendly

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base

Methodology

  • What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

Published on June 19, 2020 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.

Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research , which involves collecting and analyzing numerical data for statistical analysis.

Qualitative research is commonly used in the humanities and social sciences, in subjects such as anthropology, sociology, education, health sciences, history, etc.

  • How does social media shape body image in teenagers?
  • How do children and adults interpret healthy eating in the UK?
  • What factors influence employee retention in a large organization?
  • How is anxiety experienced around the world?
  • How can teachers integrate social issues into science curriculums?

Table of contents

Approaches to qualitative research, qualitative research methods, qualitative data analysis, advantages of qualitative research, disadvantages of qualitative research, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about qualitative research.

Qualitative research is used to understand how people experience the world. While there are many approaches to qualitative research, they tend to be flexible and focus on retaining rich meaning when interpreting data.

Common approaches include grounded theory, ethnography , action research , phenomenological research, and narrative research. They share some similarities, but emphasize different aims and perspectives.

Qualitative research approaches
Approach What does it involve?
Grounded theory Researchers collect rich data on a topic of interest and develop theories .
Researchers immerse themselves in groups or organizations to understand their cultures.
Action research Researchers and participants collaboratively link theory to practice to drive social change.
Phenomenological research Researchers investigate a phenomenon or event by describing and interpreting participants’ lived experiences.
Narrative research Researchers examine how stories are told to understand how participants perceive and make sense of their experiences.

Note that qualitative research is at risk for certain research biases including the Hawthorne effect , observer bias , recall bias , and social desirability bias . While not always totally avoidable, awareness of potential biases as you collect and analyze your data can prevent them from impacting your work too much.

Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Style consistency

See an example

qualitative research questions for education

Each of the research approaches involve using one or more data collection methods . These are some of the most common qualitative methods:

  • Observations: recording what you have seen, heard, or encountered in detailed field notes.
  • Interviews:  personally asking people questions in one-on-one conversations.
  • Focus groups: asking questions and generating discussion among a group of people.
  • Surveys : distributing questionnaires with open-ended questions.
  • Secondary research: collecting existing data in the form of texts, images, audio or video recordings, etc.
  • You take field notes with observations and reflect on your own experiences of the company culture.
  • You distribute open-ended surveys to employees across all the company’s offices by email to find out if the culture varies across locations.
  • You conduct in-depth interviews with employees in your office to learn about their experiences and perspectives in greater detail.

Qualitative researchers often consider themselves “instruments” in research because all observations, interpretations and analyses are filtered through their own personal lens.

For this reason, when writing up your methodology for qualitative research, it’s important to reflect on your approach and to thoroughly explain the choices you made in collecting and analyzing the data.

Qualitative data can take the form of texts, photos, videos and audio. For example, you might be working with interview transcripts, survey responses, fieldnotes, or recordings from natural settings.

Most types of qualitative data analysis share the same five steps:

  • Prepare and organize your data. This may mean transcribing interviews or typing up fieldnotes.
  • Review and explore your data. Examine the data for patterns or repeated ideas that emerge.
  • Develop a data coding system. Based on your initial ideas, establish a set of codes that you can apply to categorize your data.
  • Assign codes to the data. For example, in qualitative survey analysis, this may mean going through each participant’s responses and tagging them with codes in a spreadsheet. As you go through your data, you can create new codes to add to your system if necessary.
  • Identify recurring themes. Link codes together into cohesive, overarching themes.

There are several specific approaches to analyzing qualitative data. Although these methods share similar processes, they emphasize different concepts.

Qualitative data analysis
Approach When to use Example
To describe and categorize common words, phrases, and ideas in qualitative data. A market researcher could perform content analysis to find out what kind of language is used in descriptions of therapeutic apps.
To identify and interpret patterns and themes in qualitative data. A psychologist could apply thematic analysis to travel blogs to explore how tourism shapes self-identity.
To examine the content, structure, and design of texts. A media researcher could use textual analysis to understand how news coverage of celebrities has changed in the past decade.
To study communication and how language is used to achieve effects in specific contexts. A political scientist could use discourse analysis to study how politicians generate trust in election campaigns.

Qualitative research often tries to preserve the voice and perspective of participants and can be adjusted as new research questions arise. Qualitative research is good for:

  • Flexibility

The data collection and analysis process can be adapted as new ideas or patterns emerge. They are not rigidly decided beforehand.

  • Natural settings

Data collection occurs in real-world contexts or in naturalistic ways.

  • Meaningful insights

Detailed descriptions of people’s experiences, feelings and perceptions can be used in designing, testing or improving systems or products.

  • Generation of new ideas

Open-ended responses mean that researchers can uncover novel problems or opportunities that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

Researchers must consider practical and theoretical limitations in analyzing and interpreting their data. Qualitative research suffers from:

  • Unreliability

The real-world setting often makes qualitative research unreliable because of uncontrolled factors that affect the data.

  • Subjectivity

Due to the researcher’s primary role in analyzing and interpreting data, qualitative research cannot be replicated . The researcher decides what is important and what is irrelevant in data analysis, so interpretations of the same data can vary greatly.

  • Limited generalizability

Small samples are often used to gather detailed data about specific contexts. Despite rigorous analysis procedures, it is difficult to draw generalizable conclusions because the data may be biased and unrepresentative of the wider population .

  • Labor-intensive

Although software can be used to manage and record large amounts of text, data analysis often has to be checked or performed manually.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Chi square goodness of fit test
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

There are five common approaches to qualitative research :

  • Grounded theory involves collecting data in order to develop new theories.
  • Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a group or organization to understand its culture.
  • Narrative research involves interpreting stories to understand how people make sense of their experiences and perceptions.
  • Phenomenological research involves investigating phenomena through people’s lived experiences.
  • Action research links theory and practice in several cycles to drive innovative changes.

Data collection is the systematic process by which observations or measurements are gathered in research. It is used in many different contexts by academics, governments, businesses, and other organizations.

There are various approaches to qualitative data analysis , but they all share five steps in common:

  • Prepare and organize your data.
  • Review and explore your data.
  • Develop a data coding system.
  • Assign codes to the data.
  • Identify recurring themes.

The specifics of each step depend on the focus of the analysis. Some common approaches include textual analysis , thematic analysis , and discourse analysis .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Bhandari, P. (2023, June 22). What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved July 10, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/qualitative-research/

Is this article helpful?

Pritha Bhandari

Pritha Bhandari

Other students also liked, qualitative vs. quantitative research | differences, examples & methods, how to do thematic analysis | step-by-step guide & examples, "i thought ai proofreading was useless but..".

I've been using Scribbr for years now and I know it's a service that won't disappoint. It does a good job spotting mistakes”

Our websites may use cookies to personalize and enhance your experience. By continuing without changing your cookie settings, you agree to this collection. For more information, please see our University Websites Privacy Notice .

Neag School of Education

Educational Research Basics by Del Siegle

Qualitative research.

Although researchers in anthropology and sociology have used the approach known as qualitative research  for a century, the term was not used in the social sciences until the late 1960s. The term qualitative research is used as an umbrella term to refer to several research strategies. Five common types of qualitative research are grounded theory , ethnographic , narrative research , case studies , and phenomenology.

It is unfair to judge qualitative research by a quantitative research paradigm, just as it is unfair to judge quantitative research from the qualitative research paradigm .

“Qualitative researchers seek to make sense of personal stories and the ways in which they intersect” (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992). As one qualitative researcher noted, “I knew that I was not at home in the world of numbers long before I realized that I was at home in the world of words.”

The data collected in qualitative research has been termed “soft”, “that is, rich in description of people, places, and conversations, and not easily handled by statistical procedures.” Researchers do not approach their research with specific questions to answer or hypotheses to test. They are concerned with understanding behavior from the subject’s own frame of reference. Qualitative researcher believe that “multiple ways of interpreting experiences are available to each of us through interacting with others, and that it is the meaning of our experiences that constitutes reality. Reality, consequently,  is ‘socially constructed'” (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992).

Data is usually collected through sustained contact with people in the settings where they normally spend their time. Participant observations and in-depth interviewing are the two most common ways to collect data. “The researcher enters the world of the people he or she plans to study, gets to know, be known, and trusted by them, and systematically keeps a detailed written record of what is heard and observed. This material is supplemented by other data such as [artifacts], school memos and records, newspaper articles, and photographs” (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992).

Rather than test theories, qualitative researchers often inductively analyze their data and develop theories through a process that Strauss called ” developing grounded theory “. They use purposive sampling to select the people they study. Subjects are selected because of who they are and what they know, rather than by chance.

Some key terms:

Access to a group is often made possible by a gate keeper . The gate keeper is the person who helps you gain access to the people you wish to study. In a school setting it might be a principal.

Most qualitative studies involve at least one key informant . The key informant knows the inside scoop and can point you to other people who have valuable information. The “key informant” is not necessarily the same as the gate keeper. A custodian might be a good key informant to understanding faculty interactions. The process of one subject recommending that you talk with another subject is called “ snowballing .”

Qualitative researchers use rich-thick description when they write their research reports. Unlike quantitative research where the researcher wished to generalize his or her findings beyond the sample from whom the data was drawn, qualitative researcher provide rich-thick descriptions for their readers and let their readers determine if the situation described in the qualitative study applies to the reader’s situation. Qualitative researchers do not use the terms validity and reliability. Instead they are concerned about the trustworthiness of their research.

Qualitative researchers often begin their interviews with grand tour questions . Grand tour questions are open ended questions that allow the interviewee to set the direction of the interview. The interviewer then follows the leads that the interviewee provides. The interviewer can always return to his or her preplanned interview questions after the leads have been followed.

Qualitative researchers continue to collect data until they reach a point of data saturation . Data saturation occurs when the researcher is no longer hearing or seeing new information. Unlike quantitative researchers who wait until the end of the study to analyze their data, qualitative researcher analyze their data throughout their study.

Note:   It is beyond the scope of this course to provide an extensive overview of qualitative research. Our purpose is to make you aware of this research option, and hopefully help you develop an appreciation of it. Qualitative research has become a popular research procedure in education.

Del Siegle, PhD [email protected] www.delsiegle.info

  • (855) 776-7763

Training Maker

All Products

Qualaroo Insights

ProProfs.com

  • Get Started Free

FREE. All Features. FOREVER!

Try our Forever FREE account with all premium features!

How to Write Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

qualitative research questions for education

Sameer Bhatia

Founder and CEO - ProProfs

Review Board Member

Sameer Bhatia is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ProProfs.com. He believes that software should make you happy and is driven to create a 100-year company that delivers delightfully ... Read more

Sameer Bhatia is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ProProfs.com. He believes that software should make you happy and is driven to create a 100-year company that delivers delightfully smart software with awesome support. His favorite word is 'delight,' and he dislikes the term 'customer satisfaction,' as he believes that 'satisfaction' is a low bar and users must get nothing less than a delightful experience at ProProfs. Sameer holds a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Southern California (USC). He lives in Santa Monica with his wife & two daughters. Read less

 Emma David

Market Research Specialist

Emma David, a seasoned market research professional, specializes in employee engagement, survey administration, and data management. Her expertise in leveraging data for informed decisions has positively impacted several brands, enhancing their market position.

qualitative research questions for education

Qualitative research questions focus on depth and quality, exploring the “why and how” behind decisions, without relying on statistical tools.

Unlike quantitative research, which aims to collect tangible, measurable data from a broader demographic, qualitative analysis involves smaller, focused datasets, identifying patterns for insights.

The information collected by qualitative surveys can vary from text to images, demanding a deep understanding of the subject, and therefore, crafting precise qualitative research questions is crucial for success.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to write effective qualitative research questions, explore various types, and highlight characteristics of good qualitative research questions.

Let’s dive in!

What Are Qualitative Research Questions?

Qualitative questions aim to understand the depth and nuances of a phenomenon, focusing on “why” and “how” rather than quantifiable measures.

They explore subjective experiences, perspectives, and behaviors, often using open-ended inquiries to gather rich, descriptive data.

Unlike quantitative questions, which seek numerical data, qualitative questions try to find out meanings, patterns, and underlying processes within a specific context.

These questions are essential for exploring complex issues, generating hypotheses, and gaining deeper insights into human behavior and phenomena.

Here’s an example of a qualitative research question:

“How do you perceive and navigate organizational culture within a tech startup environment?”

qualitative research questions for education

This question asks about the respondent’s subjective interpretations and experiences of organizational culture within a specific context, such as a tech startup.

It seeks to uncover insights into the values, norms, and practices that shape workplace dynamics and employee behaviors, providing qualitative data for analysis and understanding.

When Should We Use Qualitative Research Questions?

Qualitative research questions typically aim to open up conversations, encourage detailed narratives, and foster a deep understanding of the subject matter. Here are some scenarios they are best suited for:

  • Exploring Complex Phenomena : When the research topic involves understanding complex processes, behaviors, or interactions that cannot be quantified easily, qualitative questions help delve into these intricate details.
  • Understanding Contexts and Cultures : To grasp the nuances of different social contexts, cultures, or subcultures, qualitative research questions allow for an in-depth exploration of these environments and how they influence individuals and groups.
  • Exploring Perceptions and Experiences : When the aim is to understand people’s perceptions, experiences, or feelings about a particular subject, qualitative questions facilitate capturing the depth and variety of these perspectives.
  • Developing Concepts or Theories : In the early stages of research, where concepts or theories are not yet well-developed, qualitative questions can help generate hypotheses, identify variables, and develop theoretical frameworks based on observations and interpretations.
  • Investigating Processes : To understand how processes unfold over time and the factors that influence these processes, qualitative questions are useful for capturing the dynamics and complexities involved.
  • Seeking to Understand Change : When researching how individuals or groups experience change, adapt to new circumstances, or make decisions, qualitative research questions can provide insights into the motivations, challenges, and strategies involved.
  • Studying Phenomena Not Easily Quantified : For phenomena that are not easily captured through quantitative measures, such as emotions, beliefs, or motivations, qualitative questions can probe these abstract concepts more effectively.
  • Addressing Sensitive or Taboo Topics : In studies where topics may be sensitive, controversial, or taboo, qualitative research questions allow for a respectful and empathetic exploration of these subjects, providing space for participants to share their experiences in their own words.

How to Write Qualitative Research Questions?

Read this guide to learn how you can craft well-thought-out qualitative research questions:

1. Begin with Your Research Goals

The first step in formulating qualitative research questions is to have a clear understanding of what you aim to discover or understand through your research. There are two types of qualitative questionnaires or research – Ontological and Epistemological.

Finding out the nature of your research influences all aspects of your research design, including the formulation of research questions.

Subsequently:

  • Identify your main objective : Consider the broader context of your study. Are you trying to explore a phenomenon, understand a process, or interpret the meanings behind behaviors? Your main objective should guide the formulation of your questions, ensuring they are aligned with what you seek to achieve.
  • Focus on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ : Qualitative research is inherently exploratory and aims to understand the nuances of human behavior and experience. Starting your questions with “how” or “why” encourages a deeper investigation into the motivations, processes, and contexts underlying the subject matter. This approach facilitates an open-ended exploration, allowing participants to provide rich, detailed responses that illuminate their perspectives and experiences.

Take a quick look at the following visual for a better understanding:

qualitative research questions for education

So, if you are doing Ontological research, ensure that the questions focus on the “what” aspects of reality (the premise of your research) and opt for the nature of the knowledge for Epistemological research.

2. Choose the Right Structure

The structure of your research questions significantly impacts the depth and quality of data you collect. Opting for an open-ended format allows respondents the flexibility to express themselves freely, providing insights that pre-defined answers might miss.

  • Open-ended format : These questions do not constrain respondents to a set of predetermined answers, unlike closed-ended questions. By allowing participants to articulate their thoughts in their own words, you can uncover nuances and complexities in their responses that might otherwise be overlooked.
  • Avoid yes/no questions : Yes/no questions tend to limit the depth of responses. While they might be useful for gathering straightforward factual information, they are not conducive to exploring the depths and nuances that qualitative research seeks to uncover. Encouraging participants to elaborate on their experiences and perspectives leads to richer, more informative data.

For example, take a look at some qualitative questions examples shown in the following image:

qualitative research questions for education

3. Be Clear and Specific

Clarity and specificity in your questions are crucial to ensure that participants understand what is being asked and that their responses are relevant to your research objectives.

  • Use clear language : Use straightforward, understandable language in your questions. Avoid jargon, acronyms, or overly technical terms that might confuse participants or lead to misinterpretation. The goal is to make your questions accessible to everyone involved in your study.
  • Be specific : While maintaining the open-ended nature of qualitative questions, it’s important to narrow down your focus to specific aspects of the phenomenon you’re studying. This specificity helps guide participants’ responses and ensures that the data you collect directly relates to your research objectives.

4. Ensure Relevance and Feasibility

Each question should be carefully considered for its relevance to your research goals and its feasibility, given the constraints of your study.

  • Relevance : Questions should be crafted to address the core objectives of your research directly. They should probe areas that are essential to understanding the phenomenon under investigation and should align with your theoretical framework or literature review findings.
  • Feasibility : Consider the practical aspects of your research, including the time available for data collection and analysis, resources, and access to participants. Questions should be designed to elicit meaningful responses within the constraints of your study, ensuring that you can gather and analyze data effectively.

5. Focus on a Single Concept or Theme per Question

To ensure clarity and depth, each question should concentrate on a single idea or theme. However, if your main qualitative research question is tough to understand or has a complex structure, you can create sub-questions in limited numbers and with a “ladder structure”.

This will help your respondents understand the overall research objective in mind, and your research can be executed in a better manner.

For example, suppose your main question is – “What is the current state of illiteracy in your state?”

Then, you can create the following subquestions: 

“How does illiteracy block progress in your state?”

“How would you best describe the feelings you have about illiteracy in your state?”

For an even better understanding, you can see the various qualitative research question examples in the following image:

qualitative research questions for education

📊 : Test them with a small group similar to your study population to ensure they are understood as intended and elicit the kind of responses you are seeking.

: Be prepared to refine your questions based on pilot feedback or as your understanding of the topic deepens.

Types of Qualitative Research Questions With Examples

Qualitative survey questions primarily focus on a specific group of respondents that are participating in case studies, surveys, ethnography studies, etc., rather than numbers or statistics.

As a result, the questions are mostly open-ended and can be subdivided into the following types as discussed below:

1. Descriptive Questions

Descriptive research questions aim to detail the “what” of a phenomenon, providing a comprehensive overview of the context, individuals, or situations under study. These questions are foundational, helping to establish a baseline understanding of the research topic.

  • What are the daily experiences of teachers in urban elementary schools?
  • What strategies do small businesses employ to adapt to rapid technological changes?
  • How do young adults describe their transition from college to the workforce?
  • What are the coping mechanisms of families with members suffering from chronic illnesses?
  • How do community leaders perceive the impact of gentrification in their neighborhoods?

2. Interpretive Questions

Interpretive questions seek to understand the “how” and “why” behind a phenomenon, focusing on the meanings people attach to their experiences. These questions delve into the subjective interpretations and perceptions of participants.

  • How do survivors of natural disasters interpret their experiences of recovery and rebuilding?
  • Why do individuals engage in voluntary work within their communities?
  • How do parents interpret and navigate the challenges of remote schooling for their children?
  • Why do consumers prefer local products over global brands in certain markets?
  • How do artists interpret the influence of digital media on traditional art forms?

3. Comparative Questions

Comparative research questions are designed to explore differences and similarities between groups, settings, or time periods. These questions can help to highlight the impact of specific variables on the phenomenon under study.

  • How do the strategies for managing work-life balance compare between remote and office workers?
  • What are the differences in consumer behavior towards sustainable products in urban versus rural areas?
  • How do parenting styles in single-parent households compare to those in dual-parent households?
  • What are the similarities and differences in leadership styles across different cultures?
  • How has the perception of online privacy changed among teenagers over the past decade?

4. Process-oriented Questions

These questions focus on understanding the processes or sequences of events over time. They aim to uncover the “how” of a phenomenon, tracing the development, changes, or evolution of specific situations or behaviors.

  • How do non-profit organizations develop and implement community outreach programs?
  • What is the process of decision-making in high-stakes business environments?
  • How do individuals navigate the process of career transition after significant industry changes?
  • What are the stages of adaptation for immigrants in a new country?
  • How do social movements evolve from inception to national recognition?

5. Evaluative Questions

Evaluative questions aim to assess the effectiveness, value, or impact of a program, policy, or phenomenon. These questions are critical for understanding the outcomes and implications of various initiatives or situations.

  • How effective are online therapy sessions compared to in-person sessions in treating anxiety?
  • What is the impact of community gardening programs on neighborhood cohesion?
  • How do participants evaluate the outcomes of leadership training programs in their professional development?
  • What are the perceived benefits and drawbacks of telecommuting for employees and employers?
  • How do residents evaluate the effectiveness of local government policies on waste management?

6. One-on-One Questions

The one-on-one questions are asked to a single person and can be thought of as individual interviews that you can conduct online via phone and video chat as well.

The main aim of such questions is to ask your customers or people in the focus group a series of questions about their purchase motivations. These questions might also come with follow-ups, and if your customers respond with some interesting fact or detail, dig deeper and explore the findings as much as you want.

  • What makes you happy in regard to [your research topic]?
  • If I could make a wish of yours come true, what do you desire the most?
  • What do you still find hard to come to terms with?
  • Have you bought [your product] before?
  • If so, what was your initial motivation behind the purchase?

7. Exploratory Questions

These questions are designed to enhance your understanding of a particular topic. However, while asking exploratory questions, you must ensure that there are no preconceived notions or biases to it. The more transparent and bias-free your questions are, the better and fair results you will get.

  • What is the effect of personal smart devices on today’s youth?
  • Do you feel that smart devices have positively or negatively impacted you?
  • How do your kids spend their weekends?
  • What do you do on a typical weekend morning?

8. Predictive Questions

The predictive questions are used for qualitative research that is focused on the future outcomes of an action or a series of actions. So, you will be using past information to predict the reactions of respondents to hypothetical events that might or might not happen in the future.

These questions come in extremely handy for identifying your customers’ current brand expectations, pain points, and purchase motivation.

  • Are you more likely to buy a product when a celebrity promotes it?
  • Would you ever try a new product because one of your favorite celebs claims that it actually worked for them?
  • Would people in your neighborhood enjoy a park with rides and exercise options?
  • How often would you go to a park with your kids if it had free rides?

9. Focus Groups

These questions are mostly asked in person to the customer or respondent groups. The in-person nature of these surveys or studies ensures that the group members get a safe and comfortable environment to express their thoughts and feelings about your brand or services.

  • How would you describe your ease of using our product?
  • How well do you think you were able to do this task before you started using our product?
  • What do you like about our promotional campaigns?
  • How well do you think our ads convey the meaning?

10. In-Home Videos

Collecting video feedback from customers in their comfortable, natural settings offers a unique perspective. At home, customers are more relaxed and less concerned about their mannerisms, posture, and choice of words when responding.

This approach is partly why Vogue’s 73 Questions Series is highly popular among celebrities and viewers alike. In-home videos provide insights into customers in a relaxed environment, encouraging them to be honest and share genuine experiences.

  • What was your first reaction when you used our product for the first time?
  • How well do you think our product performed compared to your expectations?
  • What was your worst experience with our product?
  • What made you switch to our brand?

11. Online Focus Groups

Online focus groups mirror the traditional, in-person format but are conducted virtually, offering a more cost-effective and efficient approach to gathering data. This digital format extends your reach and allows a rapid collection of responses from a broader audience through online platforms.

You can utilize social media and other digital forums to create communities of respondents and initiate meaningful discussions. Once you have them started, you can simply observe the exchange of thoughts and gather massive amounts of interesting insights!

  • What do you like best about our product?
  • How familiar are you with this particular service or product we offer?
  • What are your concerns with our product?
  • What changes can we make to make our product better?

Ask the Right Qualitative Research Questions for Meaningful Insights From Your Respondents

Watch: How to Create a Survey Using ProProfs Survey Maker

By now, you might have realized that manually creating a list of qualitative research questions is a daunting task. Keeping numerous considerations in mind, it’s easy to run out of ideas while crafting qualitative survey questions .

However, investing in smart survey tools, like ProProfs Survey Maker, can significantly streamline this process, allowing you to create various types of surveys in minutes.

With this survey tool , you can generate forms, NPS surveys , tests, quizzes, and assessments.

It’s also useful for conducting polls, sidebar surveys, and in-app surveys. Offering over 100 templates and more than 1,000,000 ready-to-use examples of phenomenological research questions, this software simplifies the task immensely.

Equipped with the right tools and the professional tips shared here, you’re well-prepared to conduct thorough research studies and obtain valuable insights that drive impactful results.

Frequently Asked Questions on Q ualitative Research Questions

1. how do you choose qualitative research questions.

To choose qualitative research questions, identify your main research goal, focus on exploring ‘how’ and ‘why’ aspects, ensure questions are open-ended, and align them with your theoretical framework and methodology.

2. Why are good qualitative research questions important?

Good qualitative research questions are important because they guide the research focus, enable the exploration of depth and complexity, and facilitate the gathering of rich, detailed insights into human experiences and behaviors.

Emma David

About the author

Emma David is a seasoned market research professional with 8+ years of experience. Having kick-started her journey in research, she has developed rich expertise in employee engagement, survey creation and administration, and data management. Emma believes in the power of data to shape business performance positively. She continues to help brands and businesses make strategic decisions and improve their market standing through her understanding of research methodologies.

Related Posts

qualitative research questions for education

Top 5 Online Survey Distribution Methods of All Time

qualitative research questions for education

How to Analyze Survey Data Like a Pro

qualitative research questions for education

How to Find Survey Participants & Respondents

qualitative research questions for education

Top Customer Satisfaction Survey Questions You Should Ask in 2024

qualitative research questions for education

Best Practices for Designing Customer Satisfaction Surveys

qualitative research questions for education

Customer Feedback Loop: How to Create and Close it

Qualitative research in education : Background information

  • Background information

Cover Art

  • SAGE researchmethods SAGE Research Methods is a tool created to help researchers, faculty and students with their research projects. Users can explore methods concepts to help them design research projects, understand particular methods or identify a new method, conduct their research, and write up their findings. Since SAGE Research Methods focuses on methodology rather than disciplines, it can be used across the social sciences, health sciences, and other areas of research.
  • Next: Recent e-books >>
  • Recent e-books
  • Recent print books
  • Connect to Stanford e-resources
  • Related guides

Profile Photo

  • Last Updated: Jul 10, 2024 9:18 AM
  • URL: https://guides.library.stanford.edu/qualitative_research_in_ed

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings

Preview improvements coming to the PMC website in October 2024. Learn More or Try it out now .

  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List
  • J Grad Med Educ
  • v.7(4); 2015 Dec

Choosing a Qualitative Research Approach

Associated data.

Editor's Note: The online version of this article contains a list of further reading resources and the authors' professional information .

The Challenge

Educators often pose questions about qualitative research. For example, a program director might say: “I collect data from my residents about their learning experiences in a new longitudinal clinical rotation. If I want to know about their learning experiences, should I use qualitative methods? I have been told that there are many approaches from which to choose. Someone suggested that I use grounded theory, but how do I know this is the best approach? Are there others?”

What Is Known

Qualitative research is the systematic inquiry into social phenomena in natural settings. These phenomena can include, but are not limited to, how people experience aspects of their lives, how individuals and/or groups behave, how organizations function, and how interactions shape relationships. In qualitative research, the researcher is the main data collection instrument. The researcher examines why events occur, what happens, and what those events mean to the participants studied. 1 , 2

Qualitative research starts from a fundamentally different set of beliefs—or paradigms—than those that underpin quantitative research. Quantitative research is based on positivist beliefs that there is a singular reality that can be discovered with the appropriate experimental methods. Post-positivist researchers agree with the positivist paradigm, but believe that environmental and individual differences, such as the learning culture or the learners' capacity to learn, influence this reality, and that these differences are important. Constructivist researchers believe that there is no single reality, but that the researcher elicits participants' views of reality. 3 Qualitative research generally draws on post-positivist or constructivist beliefs.

Qualitative scholars develop their work from these beliefs—usually post-positivist or constructivist—using different approaches to conduct their research. In this Rip Out, we describe 3 different qualitative research approaches commonly used in medical education: grounded theory, ethnography, and phenomenology. Each acts as a pivotal frame that shapes the research question(s), the method(s) of data collection, and how data are analyzed. 4 , 5

Choosing a Qualitative Approach

Before engaging in any qualitative study, consider how your views about what is possible to study will affect your approach. Then select an appropriate approach within which to work. Alignment between the belief system underpinning the research approach, the research question, and the research approach itself is a prerequisite for rigorous qualitative research. To enhance the understanding of how different approaches frame qualitative research, we use this introductory challenge as an illustrative example.

The clinic rotation in a program director's training program was recently redesigned as a longitudinal clinical experience. Resident satisfaction with this rotation improved significantly following implementation of the new longitudinal experience. The program director wants to understand how the changes made in the clinic rotation translated into changes in learning experiences for the residents.

Qualitative research can support this program director's efforts. Qualitative research focuses on the events that transpire and on outcomes of those events from the perspectives of those involved. In this case, the program director can use qualitative research to understand the impact of the new clinic rotation on the learning experiences of residents. The next step is to decide which approach to use as a frame for the study.

The table lists the purpose of 3 commonly used approaches to frame qualitative research. For each frame, we provide an example of a research question that could direct the study and delineate what outcomes might be gained by using that particular approach.

Methodology Overview

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is i1949-8357-7-4-669-t01.jpg

How You Can Start TODAY

  • 1 Examine the foundations of the existing literature: As part of the literature review, make note of what is known about the topic and which approaches have been used in prior studies. A decision should be made to determine the extent to which the new study is exploratory and the extent to which findings will advance what is already known about the topic.
  • 2 Find a qualitatively skilled collaborator: If you are interested in doing qualitative research, you should consult with a qualitative expert. Be prepared to talk to the qualitative scholar about what you would like to study and why . Furthermore, be ready to describe the literature to date on the topic (remember, you are asking for this person's expertise regarding qualitative approaches—he or she won't necessarily have content expertise). Qualitative research must be designed and conducted with rigor (rigor will be discussed in Rip Out No. 8 of this series). Input from a qualitative expert will ensure that rigor is employed from the study's inception.
  • 3 Consider the approach: With a literature review completed and a qualitatively skilled collaborator secured, it is time to decide which approach would be best suited to answering the research question. Questions to consider when weighing approaches might include the following:
  • • Will my findings contribute to the creation of a theoretical model to better understand the area of study? ( grounded theory )
  • • Will I need to spend an extended amount of time trying to understand the culture and process of a particular group of learners in their natural context? ( ethnography )
  • • Is there a particular phenomenon I want to better understand/describe? ( phenomenology )

What You Can Do LONG TERM

  • 1 Develop your qualitative research knowledge and skills : A basic qualitative research textbook is a valuable investment to learn about qualitative research (further reading is provided as online supplemental material). A novice qualitative researcher will also benefit from participating in a massive online open course or a mini-course (often offered by professional organizations or conferences) that provides an introduction to qualitative research. Most of all, collaborating with a qualitative researcher can provide the support necessary to design, execute, and report on the study.
  • 2 Undertake a pilot study: After learning about qualitative methodology, the next best way to gain expertise in qualitative research is to try it in a small scale pilot study with the support of a qualitative expert. Such application provides an appreciation for the thought processes that go into designing a study, analyzing the data, and reporting on the findings. Alternatively, if you have the opportunity to work on a study led by a qualitative expert, take it! The experience will provide invaluable opportunities for learning how to engage in qualitative research.

Supplementary Material

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the US government.

References and Resources for Further Reading

  • Skip to main content
  • Skip to main navigation

Preparing to Write Survey Questions

Choosing your data type, qualitative.

Data that is verbally based (words and concepts).

Offers insight into research questions.

May identify emerging trends in the data not previously considered by the researcher.

Provides more direct representation of subjects’ responses.

Requires multiple stages of data analysis.

Introduces researcher subjectivity in data analysis (see  ).     

Quantitative

Data is numerically based (numbers only).

Allows for the direct application of statistical models such as ANOVA or t-tests (see  ) to identify general trends and patterns.

Potential for large data sets.

Limits insights to what the data shows statistically.                              

One survey data type is not necessarily better than another. As summarized by Ahmad (2019), “Quantitative data can help to see the big picture. Qualitative data adds the details.” What type of data you need is going to be dependent on what you are trying to analyze.

Choosing Your Question Format

Open-ended questions.

Open-ended questions are those in which a survey respondent can generate a unique response using their own words. These are seen predominantly in qualitative data surveys. These types of questions are particularly useful when information is needed about individual-specific context that might not be accounted for in a multiple-choice type closed-ended format. A key benefit of open-ended questions is that they allow for respondents to give personalized responses that are not confined to the choice selection set by the researcher. This is simultaneously a key disadvantage, however as it introduces the need for qualitative coding and in turn, introduces a new source of error.

Some examples of open-ended survey questions would be:

  • What was your impression about working in groups?

Describe any study techniques you found to be beneficial.

Open-ended survey questions are generally useful for small sample populations. Though these questions offer great insights, on a large sample population scale they are often unfeasible due to the administrative planning and analysis required. If you want the insight from open-ended questions but are working with a large respondent pool, a small sample population can be given an open-ended question-based Pilot Survey to obtain information and inform the design of close-ended question surveys for your larger populations.

Closed-Ended Questions

Closed-ended questions are those in which the response options are limited and provided with the survey. These can be used in qualitative data acquisition as well as quantitative. Some of the main benefits of closed-ended questions are the reduction of the need for communication skills on the behalf of the respondent and the ease of analysis. Conversely, some of the main disadvantages include lack of depth in responses and lack of emergent insights (Hyman and Sierra 2016). These question types help to eliminate sources of error in the data analysis by reducing or eliminating the need to code free response answers; however, the data obtained will be limited to response options generated by the researcher. Closed-ended survey questions can often be evaluated statistically and are easier to use when evaluating large sample sizes, which encourages studies that are more generalizable. Some examples of closed-ended survey questions would be:

  • Rewriting Notes
  • Group Study
  • None of these

Thinking Ahead

Often, qualitative data are linked to open-ended questions while closed-ended questions are paired with quantitative data. The reality is that open-ended qualitative questions can be converted into quantitative data and conversely closed-ended quantitative questions can be used to glean qualitative data. The key is the coding, so write the questions in whichever way will give you the data you are most needing to see while keeping in mind the logistical elements that come along with delivering each type to the population you are studying.

Ahmad, S., Wasim, S., Irfan, S., Gogoi, S., Srivastava, A., & Farheen, Z. (2019). Qualitative v/s. Quantitative Research- A Summarized Review. Journal of Evidence Based Medicine and Healthcare, 6(43).  https://journals.indexcopernicus.com/api/file/viewByFileId/916903.pdf

Hyman, M., & Sierra, J. (2016). Open- versus close-ended survey questions.  NMSU Business Outlook ,  14 (2), 1–5.

Creative Commons License

Academy for Teaching and Learning

Moody Library, Suite 201

One Bear Place Box 97189 Waco, TX 76798-7189

  • General Information
  • Academics & Research
  • Administration
  • Gateways for ...
  • About Baylor
  • Give to Baylor
  • Pro Futuris
  • Social Media
  • College of Arts & Sciences
  • Diana R. Garland School of Social Work
  • George W. Truett Theological Seminary
  • Graduate School
  • Hankamer School of Business
  • Honors College
  • Louise Herrington School of Nursing
  • Research at Baylor University
  • Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences
  • School of Education
  • School of Engineering & Computer Science
  • School of Music
  • University Libraries, Museums, and the Press
  • More Academics
  • Compliance, Risk and Safety
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Office of General Counsel
  • Office of the President
  • Office of the Provost
  • Operations, Finance & Administration
  • Senior Administration
  • Student Life
  • University Advancement
  • Undergraduate Admissions
  • Graduate Admissions
  • Baylor Law School Admissions
  • Social Work Graduate Programs
  • George W. Truett Theological Seminary Admissions
  • Online Graduate Professional Education
  • Virtual Tour
  • Visit Campus
  • Alumni & Friends
  • Faculty & Staff
  • Prospective Faculty & Staff
  • Prospective Students
  • Anonymous Reporting
  • Annual Fire Safety and Security Notice
  • Cost of Attendance
  • Digital Privacy
  • Legal Disclosures
  • Mental Health Resources
  • Web Accessibility
  • How It Works
  • PhD thesis writing
  • Master thesis writing
  • Bachelor thesis writing
  • Dissertation writing service
  • Dissertation abstract writing
  • Thesis proposal writing
  • Thesis editing service
  • Thesis proofreading service
  • Thesis formatting service
  • Coursework writing service
  • Research paper writing service
  • Architecture thesis writing
  • Computer science thesis writing
  • Engineering thesis writing
  • History thesis writing
  • MBA thesis writing
  • Nursing dissertation writing
  • Psychology dissertation writing
  • Sociology thesis writing
  • Statistics dissertation writing
  • Buy dissertation online
  • Write my dissertation
  • Cheap thesis
  • Cheap dissertation
  • Custom dissertation
  • Dissertation help
  • Pay for thesis
  • Pay for dissertation
  • Senior thesis
  • Write my thesis

131 Interesting Qualitative Research Topics For High Scoring Thesis

qualitative research topics

Qualitative research topics are undoubtedly not easy. While statistics enthralls some students, others don’t like the subject. That’s because qualitative assignments entail cognitive analysis, which complicates them. But apart from the hardships of completing the projects, selecting topics for qualitative research papers is also a challenge.

This article presents a list of 130-plus qualitative research topic ideas to help learners that struggle to get titles for their papers. It is helpful because many learners have difficulties picking titles that will make their essays impressive to educators. But before presenting the topics, this article defines qualitative research.

What Is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is an investigative and innovative abstract data analysis. When writing a qualitative research paper, a learner analyzes intangible data. Qualitative researchers code the data after or during collection. Therefore, having top-notch research topics is necessary for a first-class essay.

Knowing how to write a qualitative research paper is vital because it helps the student deliver a copy that provides a clear picture of an event or situation. A researcher can achieve this via practical experience, reliable reporting, and conversations. Gathering raw data is the initial step in qualitative research. A researcher can gather raw data by conducting reviews, observations, and surveys. Also, researchers can use creative methods to collect data.

Best Examples Of Qualitative Research Topics

Qualitative research covers many things. Here are examples of topics that learners can explore in their qualitative study.

  • What causes stigma around some health challenges?
  • Stigma facing the people living with disabilities- What is the cause?
  • Can Pro Bono legal assistance improve the criminal justice system?
  • How the less privileged can benefit from Pro Bono services
  • The educational challenges facing rural children- Are there ways to help them?
  • Child labor causes- How to mitigate the practice
  • Substance and drugs- What are young people abusing more?
  • How alcohol affects college students
  • Can food insecurity interfere with children’s performance in school?
  • Food banks intricacies- Understanding the challenge in low-income areas
  • Free education- Does it have socioeconomic benefits?
  • Culture and female harm- What’s the connection?
  • The impact of social media on physical and social engagement among teens in urban areas
  • Using medication to treat depression- What are the health benefits?
  • Investigating peer educators’ efficiency in creating awareness of health and social issues
  • Gender-based violence- What causes it in rural areas, and how does it affect victims?
  • Sexual reproductive health challenges of child brides- Are there ways to control it?
  • Investigating the causes of school dropout among teenagers
  • How to address school dropout among young adults
  • Investigating the deteriorating academic pursuit in Third-World countries
  • Social activities- Do they have benefits for depressed people?
  • Investigating cerebral palsy and the stigma that people associate with it.
  • Living with disabilities- Are there social implications?
  • The impact of ableism on disabled people
  • Exploring the promotion and benefits of feminist values
  • Why should society promote free education in all learning environments?
  • What causes food insecurities among low-income earners?
  • Food and housing insecurity- What are the root causes?
  • What are the effects of displacement- Investigating the homeless people’s mental health

These are good examples of qualitative research topics. However, a student that picks a title in this category should research it extensively to impress the educator with their work.

Qualitative Nursing Research Topics

Professors ask students to write about qualitative topics when pursuing nursing studies. Here are issues to consider in this category.

  • How does the nurse-patient relationship affect health outcomes?
  • How can nurses deal with complex patients?
  • How can nurses provide culturally competent care?
  • How do personal beliefs affect nursing practice?
  • What is the impact of spirituality on nursing care?
  • How does the nurse’s role change when working with terminally ill patients?
  • What challenges do nurses face when providing end-of-life care?
  • How can nurses best support families whose members have serious illnesses?
  • What are the unique challenges of caring for elderly patients?
  • How does the nurse’s role change when working in a hospice setting?
  • Health outreach programs- What are the most effective ways to execute them?
  • Effective methods of curbing drug abuse
  • Effective ways to help rape survivors
  • How can nurses administer care to female genital mutilation victims?
  • How to care for special needs individuals
  • Anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Methods of administering care to Dyslexia patients
  • How to help individuals dealing with mental disorders
  • Signs of Alzheimer’s disease in older people
  • How to provide primary patient care

These are good qualitative research topics for students pursuing nursing studies. Nevertheless, learners must research any of these titles before writing their papers.

Qualitative Research Topics In Education

Most topics spring up from the education niche despite fitting other specifications. Here are examples of qualitative research topics that include the education niche.

  • Are guidance and counseling essential in schools?
  • How computer literacy affects education
  • Why governments in developing schools should encourage adult education
  • Autistic children’s education- Which learning style suits them?
  • Is mental health education relevant in the modern school curriculum?
  • Exploring the learning conditions for kids in third world countries
  • Child education and food insecurity- What is the connection?
  • The impact of virtual learning on high school students
  • How does alcoholism affect a student and their education?
  • Homeschooling- What are its advantages and disadvantages?
  • How do teachers’ beliefs about intelligence affect their teaching?
  • What is the teacher’s role in developing a student’s self-concept?
  • Does race or ethnicity play a role in how teachers treat their students?
  • What are the teachers’ experiences with teaching students with special needs?
  • What methods do effective teachers use to motivate their students?
  • What are the most effective ways to teach reading and writing?
  • How does technology use affect how teachers teach, and students learn?
  • What are the challenges faced by teachers in rural areas?
  • What are the challenges faced by teachers in urban areas?
  • How do charter schools differ from traditional public schools?

Many topics and issues in the education system allow learners to find subjects to investigate and cover in their papers quickly. And this is not an exhaustive qualitative research topic list in this field. Nevertheless, it covers the most exciting ideas to explore.

Qualitative Research Topics In Public Health

Educators ask students to write academic papers while studying the public health sector. And this provides insights into crucial and relevant aspects of this sector. Here are qualitative research topics examples in this category.

  • How does the public health sector manage epidemics?
  • The role of public health in disaster management
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of public health campaigns
  • An analysis of the factors that hinder effective public health delivery
  • Access to healthcare: A study of rural and urban populations
  • Health needs assessment of refugees
  • Mental health support within the public health sector
  • The role of technology in public health
  • Understanding and addressing health disparities
  • Sexual and reproductive health rights in the public health discourse
  • How immunization benefits people in rural areas
  • What causes water-borne diseases, and how can society mitigate them?
  • Symptoms of high blood pressure among young people
  • How antenatal care helps pregnant women
  • How to boost breast cancer awareness

These are excellent qualitative research paper topics in the public health sector. Nevertheless, learners need sufficient time and resources to investigate their preferred titles in this category to write winning papers.

Qualitative Research Topics In Project Management

Project management writing focuses on ways to achieve results and goals while basing the achievement on the process. This subject covers planning, structuring, proffering, and controlling ways to execute plans to accomplish desired goals. Here are research topics for qualitative research in project management.

  • How effective communication strategies can impact the outcome of a project
  • How different leadership styles affect team productivity during a project
  • The role of conflict management in ensuring successful project outcomes
  • Gender differences in the perception and understanding of project risk
  • The impact of organizational culture on a project’s likelihood of success
  • How different project management methodologies affect its outcome
  • The effect of stakeholder involvement on project success
  • How to manage virtual teams effectively to ensure successful project outcomes
  • What motivates project managers to achieve successful results?
  • How can project managers create a positive work environment that leads to successful outcomes?
  • What challenges do project managers face when trying to achieve successful outcomes?
  • How can project management be used to achieve social change?
  • What are the ethical implications of project management?
  • What are the global impacts of project management?
  • Ways to achieve sustainable development through project management

These are topics to explore in project management. Nevertheless, learners need adequate time to investigate their chosen titles and write winning essays.

Qualitative Research Topics In Political Science

Qualitative research can also cover political science. Investigating this field enables people to understand it better and can be broad. Here are sample titles to consider in for your scientific thesis .

  • How do social media affect the way people engage with politics?
  • What motivates people to vote?
  • How does voting behavior change over time?
  • What are the consequences of gerrymandering?
  • How does campaign finance influence elections?
  • Interest groups- What is their role in politics?
  • How do the media cover politics?
  • What are the effects of political scandals?
  • How does public opinion influence policymakers?
  • How feminism enhanced the American politics
  • The adverse effects of misrepresentation
  • The American democracy- A look into its dimensions
  • Colorism, racism, and classism- How the American ideologies differ
  • What causes an election crisis?
  • Two-party system- What challenges does it face in America?
  • Black women’s inclusion in the American politics
  • Should America have a multi-party system?
  • Why mass media matters in politics’ scrutiny and promotion

While political science is a broad field, these narrow topics help learners handle their research effectively. Pick any of these ideas to write a winning essay.

Topics For Ethnography Qualitative Research

Ethnographic research entails studying and paying attention to society and describing it. Here are topics to consider for a research paper in this field.

  • Studying a subculture: Reasons people join and stay in gangs
  • How does social media use vary by culture?
  • An ethnographic study of a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
  • Understanding the lives of sex workers through ethnography
  • The impact of religion on family life
  • How does parenting vary between cultures?
  • How do children learn and socialize in different cultures?
  • What is the effect of migration on family life?
  • What are the experiences of refugees?- An explorative case study
  • What is the impact of poverty on family life?
  • How do people in different cultures understand and experience mental illness?
  • What is the role of the family in other cultures?
  • What are the end-of-life experiences and beliefs around death in different cultures?

This article has presented easy qualitative research topics. However, some need time and resources to investigate and write quality papers. Therefore, pick your paper title carefully to write an essay that will earn you an excellent grade.

Get Quality Writing Help Online

Maybe you have a title for your paper but not time for writing a unique, top-notch thesis. In that case, get the best dissertation services from our writers. We’re educated, native ENL writers with a proven track record of exceeding customers’ expectations. Our team helps university, college, and high school learners complete their writing and editing assignments. Whether writing a research paper is a requirement for a degree or a diploma course, we can help you. Contact us to get quality, custom, and cheap help from qualified experts in your study field.

do professors check sources

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment * Error message

Name * Error message

Email * Error message

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

As Putin continues killing civilians, bombing kindergartens, and threatening WWIII, Ukraine fights for the world's peaceful future.

Ukraine Live Updates

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research Design: Understanding the Differences

qualitative research questions for education

As a future professional in the social and education landscape, research design is one of the most critical strategies that you will master to identify challenges, ask questions and form data-driven solutions to address problems specific to your industry. 

Many approaches to research design exist, and not all work in every circumstance. While all data-focused research methods are valid in their own right, certain research design methods are more appropriate for specific study objectives.

Unlock our resource to learn more about jump starting a career in research design — Research Design and Data Analysis for the Social Good .

We will discuss the differences between quantitative (numerical and statistics-focused) and qualitative (non-numerical and human-focused) research design methods so that you can determine which approach is most strategic given your specific area of graduate-level study. 

Understanding Social Phenomena: Qualitative Research Design

Qualitative research focuses on understanding a phenomenon based on human experience and individual perception. It is a non-numerical methodology relying on interpreting a process or result. Qualitative research also paves the way for uncovering other hypotheses related to social phenomena. 

In its most basic form, qualitative research is exploratory in nature and seeks to understand the subjective experience of individuals based on social reality.

Qualitative data is…

  • often used in fields related to education, sociology and anthropology; 
  • designed to arrive at conclusions regarding social phenomena; 
  • focused on data-gathering techniques like interviews, focus groups or case studies; 
  • dedicated to perpetuating a flexible, adaptive approach to data gathering;
  • known to lead professionals to deeper insights within the overall research study.

You want to use qualitative data research design if:

  • you work in a field concerned with enhancing humankind through the lens of social change;
  • your research focuses on understanding complex social trends and individual perceptions of those trends;
  • you have interests related to human development and interpersonal relationships.

Examples of Qualitative Research Design in Education

Here are just a few examples of how qualitative research design methods can impact education:

Example 1: Former educators participate in in-depth interviews to help determine why a specific school is experiencing a higher-than-average turnover rate compared to other schools in the region. These interviews help determine the types of resources that will make a difference in teacher retention. 

Example 2: Focus group discussions occur to understand the challenges that neurodivergent students experience in the classroom daily. These discussions prepare administrators, staff, teachers and parents to understand the kinds of support that will augment and improve student outcomes.

Example 3: Case studies examine the impacts of a new education policy that limits the number of teacher aids required in a special needs classroom. These findings help policymakers determine whether the new policy affects the learning outcomes of a particular class of students.

Interpreting the Numbers: Quantitative Research Design

Quantitative research tests hypotheses and measures connections between variables. It relies on insights derived from numbers — countable, measurable and statistically sound data. Quantitative research is a strategic research design used when basing critical decisions on statistical conclusions and quantifiable data.

Quantitative research provides numerical-backed quantifiable data that may approve or discount a theory or hypothesis.

Quantitative data is…

  • often used in fields related to education, data analysis and healthcare; 
  • designed to arrive at numerical, statistical conclusions based on objective facts;
  • focused on data-gathering techniques like experiments, surveys or observations;
  • dedicated to using mathematical principles to arrive at conclusions;
  • known to lead professionals to indisputable observations within the overall research study.

You want to use quantitative data research design if:

  • you work in a field concerned with analyzing data to inform decisions;
  • your research focuses on studying relationships between variables to form data-driven conclusions;
  • you have interests related to mathematics, statistical analysis and data science.

Examples of Quantitative Research Design in Education

Here are just a few examples of how quantitative research design methods may impact education:

Example 1: Researchers compile data to understand the connection between class sizes and standardized test scores. Researchers can determine if and what the relationship is between smaller, intimate class sizes and higher test scores for grade-school children using statistical and data analysis.

Example 2: Professionals conduct an experiment in which a group of high school students must complete a certain number of community service hours before graduation. Researchers compare those students to another group of students who did not complete service hours — using statistical analysis to determine if the requirement increased college acceptance rates.

Example 3: Teachers take a survey to examine an education policy that restricts the number of extracurricular activities offered at a particular academic institution. The findings help better understand the far-reaching impacts of extracurricular opportunities on academic performance.

Making the Most of Research Design Methods for Good: Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College

Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development offers a variety of respected, nationally-recognized graduate programs designed with future agents of social change in mind. We foster a culture of excellence and compassion and guide you to become the best you can be — both in the classroom and beyond.

At Peabody College, you will experience

  • an inclusive, welcoming community of like-minded professionals;
  • the guidance of expert faculty with real-world industry experience;
  • opportunities for valuable, hands-on learning experiences,
  • the option of specializing depending on your specific area of interest.

Explore our monthly publication — Ideas in Action — for an inside look at how Peabody College translates discoveries into action.

Please click below to explore a few of the graduate degrees offered at Peabody College:

  • Child Studies M.Ed. — a rigorous Master of Education degree that prepares students to examine the developmental, learning and social issues concerning children and that allows students to choose from one of two tracks (the Clinical and Developmental Research Track or the Applied Professional Track).
  • Cognitive Psychology in Context M.S. — an impactful Master of Science program that emphasizes research design and statistical analysis to understand cognitive processes and real-world applications best, making it perfect for those interested in pursuing doctoral studies in cognitive science.
  • Education Policy M.P.P — an analysis-focused Master of Public Policy program designed for future leaders in education policy and practice, allowing students to specialize in either K-12 Education Policy, Higher Education Policy or Quantitative Methods in Education Policy. 
  • Quantitative Methods M.Ed. — a data-driven Master of Education degree that teaches the theory and application of quantitative analysis in behavioral, social and educational sciences.

Connect with the Community of Professionals Seeking to Enhance Humankind at Peabody College

At Peabody College, we equip you with the marketable, transferable skills needed to secure a valuable career in education and beyond. You will emerge from the graduate program of your choice ready to enhance humankind in more meaningful ways than you could have imagined.

If you want to develop the sought-after skills needed to be a force for change in the social and educational spaces, you are in the right place .

We invite you to request more information ; we will connect you with an admissions professional who can answer all your questions about choosing one of these transformative graduate degrees at Peabody College. You may also take this opportunity to review our admissions requirements and start your online application today. 

A young boy is sitting at a table with his parents.

Subscribe to the Blog

← All Posts

Media Inquiries

615-322-6397 Email

Latest Stories

7 quantitative data careers in education that can make a difference, the rewarding outcomes of being a special education teacher, should i earn an m.p.p. degree in education policy 4 questions to ask, keep reading.

qualitative research questions for education

Explore Stories by Topic

  • M.Ed. Degrees
  • Research Design

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings
  • My Bibliography
  • Collections
  • Citation manager

Save citation to file

Email citation, add to collections.

  • Create a new collection
  • Add to an existing collection

Add to My Bibliography

Your saved search, create a file for external citation management software, your rss feed.

  • Search in PubMed
  • Search in NLM Catalog
  • Add to Search

Seven Practical Recommendations for Designing and Conducting Qualitative Research in Medical Education

Affiliations.

  • 1 Department of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon.
  • 2 Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland; and.
  • 3 Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.
  • PMID: 38957495
  • PMCID: PMC11215997
  • DOI: 10.34197/ats-scholar.2023-0144PS

Qualitative research seeks to provide context, nuance, and depth of understanding in regard to systems, behaviors, and/or lived experiences. As such, it plays a key role in many areas of medical education. Composed of myriad methods and methodologies, each of which may be valuable for some areas of inquiry but less so for others, qualitative research can be challenging to design, conduct, and report. This challenge can be conceptualized as ensuring that the study design, conduct, and reporting are "fit for purpose," following directly from a well-formulated research question. In this Perspective, we share seven important and practical recommendations to enhance the design and conduct of high-quality qualitative research in medical education: 1 ) craft a strong research question, 2 ) link the study design to this question, 3 ) assemble a team with diverse expertise, 4 ) prioritize information power when selecting recruitment and sampling strategies, 5 ) collect data carefully, 6 ) rigorously analyze data, and 7 ) disseminate results that tell a complete story.

Keywords: methods; qualitative; research design.

Copyright © 2024 by the American Thoracic Society.

PubMed Disclaimer

Seven practical recommendations for designing…

Seven practical recommendations for designing and conducting outstanding qualitative research in medical education.

  • Varpio L, Meyer H. A lesson from the qualitative rip out series: let go of expectations for universally applicable “gold standards” for qualitative research. J Grad Med Educ . 2017;9:154–156. - PMC - PubMed
  • Ng SL, Baker L, Cristancho S, Kennedy TJ, Lingard L. Understanding medical education. New York: John Wiley & Sons; 2018. Qualitative research in medical education; pp. 427–441.
  • Sawatsky AP, Ratelle JT, Beckman TJ. Qualitative research methods in medical education. Anesthesiology . 2019;131:14–22. - PubMed
  • Paradis E. The tools of the qualitative research trade. Acad Med . 2016;91:e17. - PubMed
  • Creswell JW, Poth CN. Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications; 2016.

Related information

Linkout - more resources, full text sources.

  • Europe PubMed Central
  • PubMed Central

Research Materials

  • NCI CPTC Antibody Characterization Program
  • Citation Manager

NCBI Literature Resources

MeSH PMC Bookshelf Disclaimer

The PubMed wordmark and PubMed logo are registered trademarks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Unauthorized use of these marks is strictly prohibited.

  • All topics »
  • Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) 
  • Ukraine emergency
  • Environment and health
  • Health services delivery 
  • Vaccines and immunization
  • Mental health
  • Digital health
  • Behavioural and cultural insights

qualitative research questions for education

  • All publications

United Action for Better Health

  • News releases 
  • Feature stories 
  • Photo stories 
  • Initiatives »
  • An introduction to WHO in the European Region

74th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe

74th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe

First qualitative research study conducted in Turkmenistan focuses on HPV vaccination

Within the framework of a WHO–European Union joint project on immunization in central Asia, the WHO Country Office in Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan jointly conducted the country’s first qualitative research study.

The project aimed at identifying factors influencing parents' decisions related to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for their children. Consisting of focus-group discussions and in-depth interviews, the research provided an understanding of parents’ attitudes and beliefs about HPV as well as barriers to HPV vaccination.

The results of the research conducted over 3 weeks in late 2023 will serve as the basis for activities to increase public awareness about HPV and sustain confidence in HPV vaccination in the future.

HPV vaccination in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan included the HPV vaccine in its routine immunization schedule starting in 2016, for boys and girls at 9 years of age. Although national vaccination coverage remains high, a slight downward trend has been observed in both urban and rural areas: from 99.2% in 2021 to 98.5% in 2023.

With a relatively young population increasingly turning to the internet for information, it is important that evidence-based answers to potential questions about vaccination are readily available. However, official online information about vaccines remains limited, creating an opportunity for misinformation to spread with the potential to decrease vaccination uptake in the coming years.

The Ministry asked WHO to conduct a qualitative research study to identify what parents know about HPV, the diseases it can cause, the effectiveness of vaccination in preventing these diseases, and especially what questions or concerns they have on HPV vaccination that need to be addressed in a transparent and accessible manner.

The study, conducted jointly by experts from the Ministry and WHO, aimed to develop targeted interventions to better inform the public and health-care workers about HPV vaccines. Focus groups and in-depth interviews with health-care providers, parents and staff of public organizations were conducted to identify participants’ knowledge, attitudes and behavioural determinants for uptake of HPV vaccine and childhood vaccines in general.

The study was conducted in cities, including the capital, as well as in rural sites in 2 regions. Data collection and analysis were conducted using the COM-B framework, which looks at 3 key components: capability, opportunity and motivation for behaviour change.

Study outcomes

Study findings revealed that attitudes toward HPV were generally positive, partially due to positive attitudes toward vaccination in general but also due to preparatory steps taken by health authorities prior to introducing the HPV vaccine in 2016.

These steps included informing and training health workers to administer and answer questions about the vaccine and to inform parents and children about the benefits of HPV vaccination in preventing HPV infection, emphasizing its role in preventing the spread of the virus rather than only in preventing cervical cancer.

Despite high levels of knowledge and trust in vaccination, study participants did reveal certain gaps in knowledge and potential vulnerability to misinformation. Based on the findings, researchers proposed several measures, including:

  • making up-to-date information on childhood vaccination available through a single online portal to ensure accessibility and availability for the public;
  • training health workers to increase their capacity to effectively communicate with parents on HPV and other vaccines in the routine immunization schedule; and
  • using existing facility-level data and ongoing activities to conduct local, community-based interventions to effectively engage the minority of parents delaying or rejecting vaccination.

Based on these recommendations, the Ministry is developing an action plan that will include regular training for health workers and provision of information to parents via online resources and individual consultations.

With an eye to sustaining high demand for vaccination in the future, the Ministry is also planning to pilot an education module for 10–12-year-olds called Immune Patrol in several schools. WHO developed Immune Patrol to increase health literacy, resistance to misinformation, and knowledge about the immune system and immunization. WHO will provide technical support to the Ministry to implement the action plan and to pilot the Immune Patrol package in 2024 and beyond.

Partnering with the European Union to support and strengthen vaccination

Questions and answers about human papillomavirus, second edition

Field guide to qualitative research for new vaccine introduction

Supporting the prevention, detection and treatment of cervical cancer

  • Open access
  • Published: 09 July 2024

Wounded healer nurses: a qualitative content analysis of the positive traits of nurses affected by chronic cardiovascular disease

  • Mahdi Nabi Foodani 1 ,
  • Masoumeh Zakerimoghadam 1 ,
  • Shahrzad Ghiyasvandian 1 &
  • Zahra Abbasi Dolatabadi 1  

BMC Nursing volume  23 , Article number:  465 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

The wounded healer concept refers to healthcare providers who, in the past, have had similar experiences to those of their clients and now draw on these challenging experiences to assist their clients. This study explored the positive traits of nurses with chronic cardiovascular diseases who transitioned to wounded healers.

A qualitative content analysis study was conducted within hospitals in Tehran, Iran, between November 2023 and March 2024. Sampling was conducted using a purposive sampling method in accordance with the study objectives and inclusion criteria. The data were collected through semi-structured face-to-face interviews. Twenty-three participants, comprising 16 females and 7 males, participated in the interviews. Data analysis was conducted by employing a qualitative content analysis approach, including creating codes, subcategories, generic categories, and main categories. MAXQDA v20 software was utilized to facilitate the analysis process.

The data analysis revealed one main category that aligned with the research question: the positive traits of a wounded healer nurse, consisting of three generic categories: (1) traits related to interpersonal and professional relationships; (2) traits related to the professional dimension; and (3) traits related to the personal dimension. wounded healer nurses demonstrate positive traits that enhance patient care.

Conclusions

The findings of this study have important implications for nursing practice and education. By identifying the positive traits exhibited by nurses as wounded healers affected by chronic cardiovascular diseases, nursing programs can emphasize and strengthen these qualities to convert challenges into opportunities and bridge the theory-practice gap.

Peer Review reports

The concept of the wounded healer, which originated from ancient Greek myths, was first articulated by Carl Jung to elucidate a phenomenon within the psychologist-client relationship [ 1 ]. Jung posited that wounded healers leverage their own painful experiences to cultivate insight and adaptability, thereby creating an environment conducive to effective therapeutic interventions [ 2 ]. This concept refers to healthcare providers who, in the past, have had similar experiences to those of their clients and now draw on these challenging experiences to assist their clients. Conti-O’Hare [ 3 ] introduced the concept of the “wounded healer” into the nursing discipline and developed the theory of the “nurse as a wounded healer”. She emphasized that in the face of trauma (physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual), nurses can adopt either effective or ineffective coping strategies. Individuals employing ineffective coping strategies may act as “walking wounded” and project their own struggles onto patients and colleagues, demonstrating less empathy. In contrast, nurses who select effective coping strategies can grow from their pain, transform their experiences into healing, and become wounded healers [ 4 , 5 ].

Despite its significance, limited literature has delved into the phenomenon of the wounded healer within nursing. For instance, a study examined nurses’ experiences with COVID-19, encompassing their recovery, return to work, and transformation into wounded healers. These nurses, after battling COVID-19, gained profound insights into patient conditions, consequently enhancing the quality of nursing care [ 4 ]. Similarly, Ladds et al. [ 6 ] explored the enduring impacts of COVID-19 on healthcare providers, revealing opportunities for personal growth and heightened caregiving efficacy. In an oncology nursing study, the concept of the “wounded healer” was introduced, emphasizing the mutual suffering experienced by both nurses and patients. This research proposed that acknowledging the physical and emotional distress of cancer patients could form the foundation of comprehensive care, foster compassion and empathy, and thereby enhance the standard of nursing care [ 7 ]. Similarly, a qualitative study conducted in Iran explored the experiences of nurses caring for patients with COVID-19. These nurses encountered numerous personal and professional challenges, including excessive workload, fear, anxiety, worry, and compassion fatigue. Despite these challenges, nurses persist in providing care, embodying the essence of the wounded healer concept [ 8 ]. An editorial commentary further delved into the concept of the wounded healer in nursing and its implications. It has been argued that personal experiences, particularly those involving suffering, have the potential to enrich the nurse‒patient relationship. The commentary proposed that acknowledging and reflecting on one’s own wounds can transform them from burdens into resources for healing [ 9 ].

Existing evidence highlights the pivotal role of nurses’ traits in shaping the quality of patient care. The transformation into a wounded healer can significantly influence the personal, social, and professional dimensions of nursing practice. Given the potential impact on patient outcomes and satisfaction, wounded healers represent invaluable assets to healthcare organizations [ 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ].

In sociology and anthropology, it has been suggested that personal characteristics can significantly influence human interaction and behavior [ 14 ]. By recognizing the positive attributes of wounded healers, it is possible to enhance the dynamics of nurse‒patient interactions. However, such investigations are rarely conducted in nursing, leading to a knowledge gap regarding the positive traits that wounded healers may possess.

Understanding the positive traits of wounded healer nurses is essential for enhancing care programs, emphasizing the positive attributes that may arise from illness experiences. Strengthening these qualities can convert challenges into opportunities, aligning with the nursing theory of the “nurse as a wounded healer” and bridging the theory-practice gap. Despite the growing recognition of the wounded healer concept in nursing, there remains a critical gap in research specifically exploring the positive traits of nurses as wounded healers. This gap hampers our understanding of how nurses with chronic cardiovascular illnesses leverage their own experiences to enhance patient care, particularly in the context of providing care to patients with similar ailments. Identifying and understanding these positive traits is essential for developing targeted interventions and support systems to empower nurses in their roles and improve patient outcomes. Therefore, this study aimed to address this research gap by identifying and understanding the positive traits exhibited by nurses with chronic cardiovascular illnesses who provide care to patients with similar ailments.

Study design

This research utilized a qualitative content analysis design. These types of studies aim to discover and understand phenomena, processes, or the perspectives, points of view, and worldviews of the people involved [ 15 ]. This study aimed to address the research gap in exploring the positive traits of nurses as wounded healers by identifying and understanding the positive traits exhibited by nurses with chronic cardiovascular illnesses who provide care to patients with similar conditions. The study adhered to the Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR) reporting guidelines [ 16 ] (Additional file 1 ).

Participants and sampling

This study was conducted within hospitals in Tehran, Iran, between November 2023 and March 2024. Twenty-three participants, comprising 16 females and 7 males, with a mean age of 45.6 ± 10.9 years (range 26–62) and work experience of 20.1 ± 8.4 years (range 4–32), participated in the interviews (Table  1 ).

Sampling was conducted using a purposive sampling method in accordance with the study objectives and inclusion criteria [ 17 ]. The inclusion criteria for participants to be included in the study were as follows: (i) aged > 22 years; (ii) held a nurse certificate; (iii) had chronic cardiovascular disease; and (iv) accepted and adapted to the disease (we used self-reported measures of acceptance and adherence from participants, along with objective indicators of disease control). The exclusion criterion for the study was the participant’s unwillingness to complete the interview. Participant selection was conducted by trained research team members (MNF and ZAD), who distributed invitations to nurses either face-to-face or via telephone. The researchers explained the study’s purpose, precautions, and confidentiality principles to potential participants through telephone or face-to-face conversations. Participation in the study was voluntary, and all participants provided written informed consent before participation. Nurses with chronic cardiovascular diseases were selected as the specific population due to their unique perspective and first-hand experience living with chronic illness while providing care to patients with similar conditions. Additionally, the research focused on nurses afflicted with chronic cardiovascular conditions due to the elevated prevalence of cardiovascular diseases among nurses and their accessibility. This selection provides valuable insights into the positive traits that may emerge from such shared experiences. Sampling continued until data saturation was achieved. Data saturation was achieved when no new information or categories emerged from the interviews, indicating that a comprehensive exploration of the positive traits had been achieved. The saturated sample size of 23 participants in this study aligns with similar studies and descriptions [ 18 ]. After completing the interviews with the initial 20 participants, additional interviewees were recruited to ensure genuine data saturation, aiming for the highest level of comprehensiveness and quality in the study. Notably, 27 individuals were invited to participate in this study, but 4 of them declined due to personal reasons.

Determining the interview outline

To develop the interview guide as recommended by Kallio et al. [ 19 ], a five-step process was followed: (i) identifying the prerequisites for using semi-structured interviews, which involved determining the suitability and relevance of this method for the research context; (ii) gathering and utilizing existing knowledge; (iii) drafting the preliminary semi-structured interview guide; (iv) conducting a pilot test of the guide; and (v) finalizing and presenting the complete semi-structured interview guide. Initially, an interview framework was created based on the research objectives and a thorough review of the relevant literature. This was followed by pre-interviews with two nurses, which, after a group discussion, led to the establishment of the final interview framework. Two researchers (MNF and ZAD) then separately conducted the trial runs with two additional nurses who were not part of the main study. These pre-interviews informed the refinement and finalization of the formal interview framework.

Data collection

Data collection was conducted through semi-structured face-to-face interviews using a semi-structured topic guide (Table  2 ). This method allows researchers to delve deeply into conversations and responses, exploring them in depth and multidimensionally [ 20 , 21 ]. The location and timing of the interviews were coordinated with the participants based on their preferences. Most of the interviews were conducted in the staff room after their shifts, and some were conducted in the hospital’s coffee shop. Initially, interviews began with general questions such as “Can you describe a typical day in your role as a nurse?” Subsequently, based on the participants’ responses, more detailed questions were asked, such as “What qualities do you believe distinguish you from other nurses after being diagnosed with your illness?” Exploratory questions such as “what” and “how” were used to gather further information. The duration of the interviews ranged from 30 to 60 min, depending on the interview circumstances. When needed, the interviewer utilized questioning, rhetorical questioning, and repetition methods to validate the participants’ answers and ensure comprehension. During the interviews, the main researcher (MNF) conducted each interview while actively observing, listening, and recording the interviewees’ expressions, voices, and intonation. Additionally, any uncertain information was clarified and verified to enhance the accuracy of the data. The interview guide comprised open-ended questions, enabling participants to fully articulate their viewpoints, perceptions, and experiences. At the onset of each interview, the participants were requested to provide their information, educational degree, and work experience. Throughout the interviews, the researcher (MNF) maintained a linguistically and nonjudgmentally neutral stance to facilitate observation and recording. All interviews were recorded using an audio recording device and transcribed by the MNF after completion of the interview.

Data analysis

This study used conventional inductive content analysis to explore and understand the positive traits exhibited by nurses afflicted with chronic cardiovascular illnesses while simultaneously accepting and adapting to their conditions and presently delivering care to patients with similar ailments. This approach involves systematically coding and identifying patterns in textual content without consideration of the methods of data collection. This type of data interpretation aids in achieving a deep understanding of human experiences and perceptions [ 22 ]. The unit of analysis consisted of recorded interview transcripts. MNF, ZAD, and MZ meticulously read through the interview text multiple times to immerse themselves in the data. To conduct content analysis, the steps outlined by Elo and Kyngäs were followed, including creating codes, subcategories, generic categories, and main categories [ 23 ]. All these steps were individually performed by three researchers, MNF, ZAD, and MZ, and after completing the individual analyses, a consensus meeting was held to organize the data. MAXQDA v20 software was utilized to facilitate the analysis process.

In the initial phase, researchers MNF, MZ, and ZAD meticulously reviewed the recorded data multiple times, thoroughly examined the transcribed text, and identified any transcription errors for prompt rectification. This process involved extracting pertinent content from the transcript and annotating the interviewer’s expressions in brackets based on the participants’ verbatim statements. Subsequently, meaningful units were distilled from the transcribed text by condensing and summarizing recurring words or sentences as appropriate, employing inductive analysis by MNF, ZAD, and MZ. Following the completion of open coding, MNF, ZAD, and MZ compiled a list of subcategories and generic categories. This was followed by a comprehensive review of all codes, subcategories, and generic categories by the researchers, as emerged from the transcripts. Given the differing perspectives among team members, the iterative process continued until a consensus was reached. The findings of the content analysis process are reported in Table  3 (Additional file 2 ).

Trustworthiness

In line with Guba and Lincoln’s [ 24 ] criteria for trustworthiness in qualitative research, this study employed various strategies to establish credibility, dependability, confirmability, and transferability. The researchers’ preunderstanding influenced the data collection and analysis, guiding the development of the research questions and data interpretation. To mitigate bias and ensure rigor, they maintained a reflexive journal, used triangulation by involving multiple researchers, and conducted member checking with participants to confirm findings.

Credibility was ensured through member checking and triangulation of the data sources. Comprehensive descriptions were provided to mitigate the risk of overlooking vital information, thus enhancing the meaningful interpretation of the data. Additionally, a member-check process was conducted, wherein participants received interview transcripts and extracted codes for comparison with the researchers’ interpretations, providing valuable feedback. Triangulation, involving independent analysis by three researchers (MNF, ZAD, and MZ), was another method used to ensure trustworthiness. Furthermore, peer checking was employed to enhance credibility, with codes and categories evaluated by ShGh, an experienced qualitative researcher [ 25 ].

To establish dependability, an audit trail was meticulously maintained, documenting all stages of the research process, from data collection to analysis and interpretation. The study methodology was comprehensively described, aiming to facilitate replication by other researchers. By maintaining detailed records and providing clear methodological descriptions, the study sought to enhance the dependability of its findings.

Confirmability was achieved by maintaining reflexivity and acknowledging the researchers’ potential biases throughout the study. This ongoing reflection ensured transparency and minimized the influence of subjective biases on the research process and findings. Additionally, transferability was addressed through the provision of rich, detailed descriptions of the research context, methods, and findings. By presenting a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon under investigation, readers could assess the applicability of the findings to their own contexts. This approach facilitated comparison and extrapolation of the research findings to similar situations, thereby enhancing the study’s transferability and overall credibility [ 26 ]. By adhering to these principles, we aimed to enhance the trustworthiness and credibility of our research findings.

Ethical considerations

This study was conducted in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration [ 27 ]. The Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at Tehran University of Medical Sciences approved this study (ethical code: IR.TUMS.FNM.REC.1402.064). The researchers explained the study’s purpose, precautions, and confidentiality principles to the participants. All participants were informed about the study details, and informed consent was obtained from them. Participants had the option to withdraw from the study at any time they desired. Participant anonymity was ensured by removing any identifying information, such as names or specific locations, during the transcription and analysis phases. Additionally, during the preparation of this manuscript, all identifying details that could compromise anonymity were either removed or generalized to ensure confidentiality. To preserve participant privacy, interview audio files are encrypted and stored with the principal researcher, and after a specified period, the audio records are deleted. Participants were informed that their decision to participate in this research would have no effect on them. Additionally, protective measures to maintain their privacy were described to them before the beginning of the interview. Participants did not receive any financial compensation or other benefits for participating in the study. The decision to participate was voluntary, and participants were informed that their involvement would solely contribute to advancing research in the field.

Twenty-three participants, comprising 16 females and 7 males, participated in the interviews. A total of 632 codes were extracted from the analysis of 23 interview transcripts. The data analysis revealed that the main category that emerged that aligned with the research question was the positive traits of a wounded healer nurse, which consisted of three generic categories: traits related to interpersonal and professional relationships, traits related to the professional dimension, and traits related to the personal dimension (Additional file 2 ).

Traits related to interpersonal and professional relationships

This generic category includes two subcategories: appropriate communication with patients and their families and constructive professional relationships with colleagues. The participants in the current study highlighted that wounded healer nurses possess the unique ability to cultivate strong interpersonal and professional relationships, driven by their personal experiences with illness. This background enhances their empathy and understanding, allowing them to deeply connect with patients and their families and providing comfort and reassurance through active listening and compassionate communication. These nurses’ skills extend to their professional interactions, where they are collaborative, supportive, and attuned to the needs of their colleagues, often taking on mentorship and leadership roles. Their empathy and communication skills make them effective at resolving conflicts, fostering a positive work environment, and ultimately contributing to improved patient care and team dynamics.

Appropriate communication with patients and their families

Participants in the study reported that after their diagnosis, they saw a marked improvement in their communication with patients and families, recognizing it as essential for quality healthcare. For instance, one nurse stated:

…When I disclose to the patient who I also have a heart condition, they tend to trust me more and establish a connection with me more readily… (Participant 4).

Participants stressed the importance of clear, concise, and accurate information while being attuned to the emotional and psychological needs of patients and their relatives. Nurses exhibiting traits of wounded healers, such as active listening, empathy, and responsiveness, faced fewer conflicts. Using jargon-free language ensured that patients and families fully understood diagnoses, treatment options, and care plans. This holistic approach not only improved daily interactions but also facilitated better therapeutic communication, reduced misunderstandings, and improved healthcare outcomes.

Constructive professional relationships with colleagues

Participants in the current study reported that their diagnosis and adaptation to the disease led to more constructive relationships with their healthcare colleagues. In one of the interviews, a nurse stated:

…I extensively studied my own illness, which enabled me to better understand the medical literature and language regarding this disease. Consequently, it improved my communication with medical doctors… (Participant 18).

These nurses observed significant improvements in collaboration, communication, and mutual support, which facilitated smoother workflows, encouraged knowledge sharing, and created a more cohesive and efficient healthcare environment. These healthcare professionals, influenced by their personal experiences, actively promoted a culture of teamwork and shared goals, ultimately enhancing patient care and overall job satisfaction.

Traits related to the professional dimension

This generic category comprised five subcategories, including having a strong professional identity, providing transcendent care, paying more attention to patient education and empowerment, having a deeper understanding of patients, and serving as mentors and role models for colleagues and nursing students. The current study identified traits related to the professional dimension of wounded healer nurses, highlighting their profound commitment to nursing. These traits include a strong professional identity, transcendent care, an emphasis on patient education and empowerment, a deep understanding of patients’ needs and role modeling of mentorship and leadership. Wounded healer nurses exemplified resilience, empathy, and integrity, making significant contributions to patient care, colleague support, and the advancement of nursing education and practice.

Having a strong professional identity

The participants in the present study revealed that their disease diagnosis did not weaken their professional identity but rather enhanced and refined it. In this regard, one of the nurses admitted:

… Since I myself became a recipient of nursing services, I am more in love with nursing than ever before… (Participant 6).

Facing personal health challenges led them to discover profound resilience, which strengthened their dedication to nursing. Adversity fueled their passion for the profession, igniting a deeper sense of purpose and commitment. They transformed their experience of illness into a source of strength and inspiration, gaining a heightened appreciation for the privilege of being a nurse. This perspective enriched their fulfillment and reaffirmed their identity within the nursing community.

Providing transcendent care

Participants emphasized that providing transcendent care involves moving beyond routine practices to establish profound connections and understanding with patients. In this regard, one of the participants stated:

… My negative experience of not being listened to during my hospitalization has led me to pay more attention to the preferences and desires of my patients… Patient-centered care is beyond routine care (Participant 22).

Wounded healer nurses, drawing from their personal experiences with illness, create care plans that prioritize holistic well-being. They deeply respect patients’ beliefs and preferences, ensuring that every interaction maintains the individual’s dignity. Through empathetic engagement and personalized interventions, these nurses foster an environment where patients feel seen, heard, and valued, building trust and empowerment that surpasses conventional healthcare boundaries.

Paying more attention to patient education and empowerment

Participants stated that their professional knowledge of controlling and managing their illness was very helpful. Therefore, they are highly focused on educating and empowering their patients while providing care. For example, one nurse said:

…I was a nurse and knew a lot about the disease, but the patient is not like that… Empowering patients in any way possible can be a factor in preventing many disease complications… (Participant 1).

The participants emphasized the importance of educating and empowering patients. They leverage their professional knowledge to provide comprehensive education, help patients understand their conditions and actively participate in their care. This approach not only enhances patient outcomes but also fosters a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy among patients.

Deeper understanding of patients

Participants’ first-hand experience of illness gave them profound insight into patients’ lived experiences, fostering a deeper understanding of their conditions and perspectives. One of the participants expressed:

Now I understand what it means when my patient says they cannot climb two more steps… (Participant 9).

This heightened awareness allowed them to empathize more fully and comprehend patients’ concerns with greater clarity. Through this empathetic connection, wounded healer nurses are better equipped to tailor their care to meet individual needs and preferences, enhancing the quality and effectiveness of patient-centered care.

Serving as mentors and role models for colleagues and nursing students

Fulfilling the role of mentor and serving as role models for novice nurses and nursing students was another characteristic of wounded healer nurses mentioned by the participants. For example, one nurse said:

Even though I sometimes have dyspnea, I do not let the work in my department stay on the ground… After seeing these conditions, one of the young nurses told me that you are a professional role model for me… (Participant 8).

Some of the participating nurses believed that by disclosing their own illness status to novice nurses and nursing students, as well as demonstrating their enthusiasm and passion for nursing, they inspire and motivate these young colleagues. This mentoring role helps in nurturing the next generation of nurses and fostering a supportive and learning-oriented environment within healthcare settings.

Traits related to personal dimension

This category encompasses three subcategories: increased resilience and adaptation, greater empathy and compassion, and posttraumatic growth, highlighting the transformative power of healing from within. The final generic category identified in the study pertains to the personal traits of wounded healer nurses, revealing the qualities that define their inner landscape. These nurses exhibit resilience that goes beyond endurance, allowing them to thrive amid challenges. Their empathy and compassion, deepened by their own suffering, enable them to form genuine connections with patients. Their journey through adversity fosters personal growth, offering new perspectives, insights, and wisdom that enrich their practice.

Increased resilience and adaptation

The interviews with participants highlighted a recurring theme of resilience, flexibility, and enhanced adaptability among wounded healer nurses. Their experiences with illness significantly influenced their approach to workplace challenges, increasing their ability to recover from setbacks, navigate obstacles, and embrace change with confidence and resourcefulness. This enhanced resilience and adaptability, described as transformative, empowered them to tackle professional challenges more effectively. Participants illustrated how adversity strengthened their resolve and equipped them with the tools and mindset needed to thrive in the demanding healthcare environment.

Increased empathy and compassion

Most nurses reported feeling more empathy and compassion after experiencing their own illness. This subcategory highlights a profound shift in wounded healer nurses’ emotional landscape, forged through adversity and healing. In one interview, a nurse admitted:

… Empathy and sympathy do not occur until a person experiences pain themselves… (Participant 2).

These nurses develop heightened sensitivity to others’ pain and struggles, cultivating deep empathy that allows them to truly connect with their patients. Their personal encounters with suffering and resilience provide unique insights into the human condition, fostering authentic compassion. This empathy shapes their practice, guiding their interactions with warmth, understanding, and kindness and transforming empathy into a powerful catalyst for healing and connection.

Post traumatic growth

In interviews with wounded healer nurses, the subcategory of posttraumatic growth emerged as a narrative of transformation. Nurses candidly share their journeys through adversity, revealing how trauma became moments of personal evolution. Through introspection and perseverance, they navigated suffering, emerging with newfound insights and strengths. Posttraumatic growth is a journey of self-discovery and empowerment that leads to a deeper understanding of oneself and others, fostering purpose and resilience beyond past trauma. Their stories inspire hope, illustrating the human capacity to find meaning and growth in adversity.

Based on the study results, contracting and adapting to an illness can create new traits for nurses. These characteristics are classified into three generic categories: traits related to interpersonal and professional relationships, traits related to the professional dimension and traits related to the personal dimension. Although this study was conducted in Iran, some of the findings are similar to those in other countries. A parallel investigation by Piredda et al. [ 4 ] demonstrated that nurses, post-COVID-19 contractions, evolve into what can be termed “wounded healers”, thereby enhancing their therapeutic rapport with both patients and peers. Similarly, psychological inquiries have elucidated how wounded healers transcend their personal afflictions, leveraging these experiences to foster deeper therapeutic alliances with their clientele [ 28 ]. In alignment with these broader insights, our study corroborates that nurses, following illness contraction and adaptation, exhibit heightened relational adeptness with both patients and colleagues. Consequently, our study augments the existing corpus of scientific knowledge in this domain.

Moreover, the findings also reveal that possessing a robust professional identity is another hallmark of wounded healer nurses. Similar investigations have shown that some nurses, following traumatic physical and psychological events, embark on a reevaluation of the esteemed tenets inherent in the nursing profession. For instance, in a study conducted by Johnstone et al. [ 29 ], nurses who encountered traumatic events in disasters and crises acknowledged experiencing a sense of pride in their nursing profession and rediscovered the core professional values despite the significant pressures they encountered. In another inquiry, nurses afflicted by COVID-19 expressed that, subsequent to the initial crisis precipitated by the pandemic, they attained a renewed recognition of the foundational values of nursing and took pride in their nursing identity [ 4 ].

The results of the current study indicate that one of the traits of wounded healer nurses is the provision of transcendent care. These findings align with those of the study by Cuseglio [ 30 ], which suggested that all traumas and traumatic events during childhood can significantly influence the formation of a therapist’s professional personality and transform the care he or she provides. According to the findings of this study, the care that wounded healer nurses can provide is of greater quality than routine care. In another study conducted on Japanese physicians, illness and recovery led to changes in their thinking and behavior regarding the provision of medical services to their patients. The results of this study suggest that some of these physicians seek to acquire new medical knowledge and provide superior services to their patients, which is consistent with the findings of the current study. However, some of the results of this study showed that some physicians exhibited signs of reduced self-confidence in their profession, which contradicts the findings of the present study [ 31 ]. Nevertheless, considering that this study was conducted on physicians whose role involves accurate diagnosis and prognosis for patients, some degree of justification for this contradiction can be made.

Based on the results, another prominent feature repeatedly emphasized by wounded healer nurses is their heightened focus on educating and empowering their patients. Two studies conducted on former inmates revealed that postliberation individuals, who function as wounded healers, devote themselves to educating and empowering current prisoners and those newly released to reintegrate them into normal life [ 32 , 33 ]. While the context of these studies differs from the nursing context of the present study, they were conducted within the framework of the wounded healer concept, and their findings resonate with the present study.

Additionally, a notable trait of wounded healers is their deeper understanding of patients’ conditions. Similarly, in the study by Zerubavel and Wright [ 34 ], this attribute was highlighted among wounded healers. Although this study also emphasized the necessity of supporting wounded healers as vulnerable individuals and understanding their conditions, it falls outside the scope of the present study. In numerous other studies, the development of a deeper understanding following traumatic experiences has been noted for experiencers [ 31 , 32 , 35 ].

Furthermore, traces of the wounded healer concept can even be found in Persian poetry and the literature. For instance, in one of his poems, Omid SabaghNo [ 36 , p123], a Persian-language poet, wrote, “I have suffered the pain of love that only the afflicted understand, the man understands the meaning of grief when he loses a bet”. Although this poetry may not directly relate to the concept of wounded healers, it implies that individuals can only fully comprehend an event after personal experience with it.

Some participants identified themselves as mentors and role models for their nursing peers and students. In a study conducted by Powell et al. [ 37 ], the experiences of nurses subjected to peer violence were examined. The findings indicated that these nurses transitioned into wounded healers within their profession, assuming the roles of mentorship and support for novice colleagues. Although the trauma encountered in this study pertained to psychological distress, which is distinct from the findings of the present investigation, it also underscores the significance of mentorship and role modeling for wounded healers, aligning with the focus of the present study. Furthermore, within social work research, leveraging the experiences of wounded healers for student training and education has been highlighted. For instance, Murphy [ 38 ] identified childhood trauma as a motivating factor for individuals pursuing careers in social work. These individuals may subsequently serve as active mentors, imparting their experiences to students. The findings of this study resonate with those of the present study.

Increased resilience and adaptation to challenges are also characteristic features of wounded healers. However, it has been noted in most studies that resilience increases in individuals involved in a challenging event following a successful coping experience [ 4 , 7 , 39 ]. However, in a study conducted by Wheeler [ 40 ], wounded healers were identified as a dilemma for supervisors. On the one hand, the unique characteristics of these individuals have been highlighted, while on the other hand, their increased vulnerability to workplace pressures has posed challenges for supervisors. The second part of this study, which indicates the heightened vulnerability of injured healers to workplace challenges, differs from the findings of the present study. However, since this study was conducted on upper-level managers rather than on the wounded healers themselves, it is justified because the perspective of managers may differ from that of wounded healer nurses.

One of the most prominent traits of wounded healers, according to participants in the present research, is their heightened compassion and empathy toward their patients compared to other colleagues. In the study by Vincent and Corso [ 7 ], after experiencing various existential events throughout their professional careers, oncology nurses transformed into wounded healers, developing a compassion identity. These nurses exhibit a high level of empathy and compassion. According to the results of a study where a physician became a patient, after experiencing illness, the physician understood patients’ experiences better, demonstrated greater empathy toward all patients, and showed increased compassion and kindness in their interactions with them [ 41 ]. The findings of these studies align with and resonate with the present research.

Based on the findings of this study, increased compassion and empathy stand out as pivotal attributes among wounded healer nurses following their diagnosis of the disease and encounters with challenges. These outcomes resonate with Travelbee’s [ 42 ] concept of “therapeutic use of self,” which emphasizes the deliberate deployment of one’s personality and understanding of human dynamics to enhance nursing interventions. Travelbees underscore the importance of self-insight, a deep understanding of human behavior, and the ability to interpret behaviors within clinical contexts, influenced by personal beliefs about illness, suffering, and death. This framework highlights how nurses can integrate personal insights into their professional practice, foster meaningful connections with patients and enhance therapeutic outcomes.

According to the literature, a common trait among all wounded healers, regardless of the mechanism of injury they have faced, is posttraumatic growth and resilience. For example, McCarthy et al. [ 43 ] indicated in their study that after traumatic incidents, both physical and psychological posttraumatic growth can create greater capacities for individual development. In the present study, wounded healer nurses also experienced posttraumatic growth. Another study reviewed the experiences of an individual who had recovered from addiction and helped others [ 44 ]. According to the results of this study, posttraumatic growth was one of the most significant traits that individuals acquired in various domains after overcoming addiction. Although this study was conducted on a different population than the present study, its results suggest that individuals can experience growth after surviving a traumatic event. These findings are consistent with the present study.

This study was conducted within the context of Iran, which may differ to some extent from other countries. Future research should include wounded healer nurses affected by various physical and psychological illnesses in a multicounty context. Additionally, future quantitative studies could be designed based on the findings of the present study to investigate the characteristics of wounded healer nurses, thus enhancing the generalizability of the results.

Implication for nursing

The positive attributes of wounded healer nurses identified in the present qualitative study have significant implications for the nursing profession. In nursing education, these findings suggest the potential for wounded healer nurses to serve as mentors and role models, transmitting their positive qualities to new nurses and nursing students. Within clinical practice, leveraging these attributes could lead to enhanced care programs tailored to the unique perspectives of wounded healer nurses, thereby improving patient outcomes. Furthermore, in nursing management, understanding and utilizing these traits may inform the development of more supportive policies and practices, ensuring adequate support for this vulnerable population of nurses. Finally, in nursing research, the identified positive attributes provide a rich foundation for further exploration, potentially leading to the development of innovative interventions and strategies to enhance nursing care delivery and improve patient experiences.

The findings of this study contribute to an enhanced understanding of the attributes of wounded healer nurses. These unique and quality-enhancing traits of wounded healer nurses can be prioritized in nursing student education programs and continuous education initiatives for nursing staff, serving as educational content to empower nurses. Nursing administrators and decision-makers can leverage wounded healer nurses’ assistance, utilizing role modeling techniques, to reinforce these attributes among other nursing professionals. By harnessing the abilities of wounded healer nurses, who exhibit exceptional attributes according to this study, nursing care at the bedside can be improved, leading to increased patient satisfaction—the primary beneficiaries of nursing care. Wounded healer nurses represent valuable human capital in the nursing and healthcare systems, offering distinct experiences. When devising nursing action plans, nursing managers can optimize the utilization of these capacities and specific attributes. Furthermore, awareness of these attributes can inform the integration of theory into clinical practice, enhancing nursing care plans through the incorporation of the perspectives and attributes of wounded healer nurses. The attributes of wounded healer nurses in nursing lay the groundwork for designing future research aimed at enhancing nursing programs with a theoretical framework centered on nurses as wounded healers. Researchers can give heightened consideration to these attributes in their investigations.

Limitations and strengths

Although this study offers comprehensive insight into the positive traits demonstrated by wounded healer nurses, it also has some limitations. First, during face-to-face interviews, the interviewer endeavored to recall and document participants’ facial expressions. However, capturing and recording all expressions and movements proved challenging, potentially leading to oversight. Second, the interpretation and construction of the interviews may have influenced the data collection and analysis, potentially resulting in a less thorough exploration of certain content. Additionally, the translation of quotes from Persian to English introduces the possibility of nuanced differences in meaning between the original and translated versions. Despite these limitations, this study offers unique insights into the positive traits demonstrated by wounded healer nurses experiencing chronic cardiovascular disease, highlighting how personal adversity can profoundly enhance empathetic connections and therapeutic outcomes in nursing practice.

Data availability

All the raw data (including participants’ voice files and the texts of the interviews) will be confidential and will not be able to share publicly. However, the codes that emerged during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Abbreviations

coronary artery bypass graft

Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research

Benziman G, Kannai R, Ahmad A. The wounded healer as cultural archetype. CLCWeb: Comp Literature Cult. 2012;14(1). https://doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.1927 .

Newcomb M, Burton J, Edwards N, Hazelwood Z. How Jung’s concept of the wounded healer can guide learning and teaching in social work and human services. Adv Social Work Welf Educ. 2015;17(2):55–69.

Google Scholar  

Conti-O’Hare M. The nurse as wounded healer: from trauma to transcendence. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2002.

Piredda M, Fiorini J, Marchetti A, Mastroianni C, Albanesi B, Livigni L, Carrabs G, Zaghini F, De Marinis MG, Sili A. The wounded healer: a phenomenological study on Hospital nurses who contracted COVID-19. Front Public Health. 2022;10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2022.867826 .

Kalpaklı F. Health and healing in patch adams: patch adams, the wounded healer. Kesit Akademi Dergisi. 2021;7(27):52–71. https://doi.org/10.29228/kesit.51035 .

Article   Google Scholar  

Ladds E, Rushforth A, Wieringa S, Taylor S, Rayner C, Husain L, Greenhalgh T. Developing services for long COVID: lessons from a study of wounded healers. Clin Med. 2021;21(1):59–65. https://doi.org/10.7861%2Fclinmed.2020-0962.

Corso VM. Oncology nurse as wounded healer: developing a Compassion Identity. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2012;16(5):448–50. https://doi.org/10.1188/12.cjon.448-450 .

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Ahmadidarrehsima S, Salari N, Dastyar N, Rafati F. Exploring the experiences of nurses caring for patients with COVID-19: a qualitative study in Iran. BMC Nurs. 2022;21(1):16. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-022-00805-5 .

Article   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Niven E. The wounded healer - what has the concept to offer nursing? Nurs Ethics. 2008;15(3):287–8. https://doi.org/10.1177/0969733007088354 .

Koch SH, Proynova R, Paech B, Wetter T. The perfectly motivated nurse and the others: Workplace and personal characteristics impact preference of nursing tasks. J Nurs Adm Manag. 2014;22(8):1054–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.12083 .

Alan H, Baykal U. Personality characteristics of nurse managers: the personal and professional factors that affect their performance. J Psychiatric Nurs. 2018;9(2):119–28. https://doi.org/10.14744/phd.2017.08870 .

Grigorescu S, Cazan A-M, Grigorescu OD, Rogozea LM. The role of the personality traits and work characteristics in the prediction of the burnout syndrome among nurses—a new approach within predictive, preventive, and personalized medicine concept. EPMA J. 2018;9:355–65. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13167-018-0151-9 .

Geyer NM, Coetzee SK, Ellis SM, Uys LR. Relationship of nurses’ intrapersonal characteristics with work performance and caring behaviors: a cross-sectional study. Nurs Health Sci. 2018;20(3):370–9. https://doi.org/10.1111/nhs.12416 .

Anwar S, Shah N. Impact of personality traits on ethical behavior. Government-Annual Res J Political Sci. 2018;6(6).

Miao C, Liu C, Zhou Y, Zou X, Song L, Chung JWY, Tan W, Li X, Li D. Nurses’ perspectives on professional self-concept and its influencing factors: a qualitative study. BMC Nurs. 2024;23(1):237. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-01834-y .

O’Brien BC, Harris IB, Beckman TJ, Reed DA, Cook DA. Standards for reporting qualitative research: a synthesis of recommendations. Acad Med. 2014;89(9):1245–51. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000000388 .

Palinkas LA, Horwitz SM, Green CA, Wisdom JP, Duan N, Hoagwood K. Serv Res. 2015;42(5):533–44. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-013-0528-y . Purposeful Sampling for Qualitative Data Collection and Analysis in Mixed Method Implementation Research. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health.

Saunders B, Sim J, Kingstone T, Baker S, Waterfield J, Bartlam B, Burroughs H, Jinks C. Saturation in qualitative research: exploring its conceptualization and operationalization. Qual Quant. 2018;52(4):1893–907. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-017-0574-8 .

Kallio H, Pietilä AM, Johnson M, Kangasniemi M. Systematic methodological review: developing a framework for a qualitative semi-structured interview guide. J Adv Nurs. 2016;72(12):2954–65. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.13031 .

Kakilla C. Strengths and weaknesses of semi-structured interviews in qualitative research: A critical essay. 2021. https://doi.org/10.20944/preprints202106.0491.v1 .

Kuczawski M, Ablard S, Sampson F, Croft S, Sutton-Klein J, Mason S. Exploring advanced clinical practitioner perspectives on training, role identity and competence: a qualitative study. BMC Nurs. 2024;23(1):185. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-01843-x .

Hsieh H-F, Shannon SE. Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qual Health Res. 2005;15(9):1277–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732305276687 .

Elo S, Kyngäs H. The qualitative content analysis process. J Adv Nurs. 2008;62(1):107–15. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04569.x .

Lincoln YS, Guba EG. Naturalistic inquiry. Sage; 1985.

Adler RH. Trustworthiness in qualitative research. J Hum Lactation. 2022;38(4):598–602. https://doi.org/10.1177/08903344221116620 .

Stahl NA, King JR. Expanding approaches for research: understanding and using trustworthiness in qualitative research. J Dev Educ. 2020;44(1):26–8.

Association WM. World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki: ethical principles for Medical Research Involving human subjects. JAMA. 2013;310(20):2191–4.

Hadjiosif M. The ethos of the nourished wounded healer: a narrative inquiry. Eur J Psychother Counselling. 2021;23(1):43–69. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642537.2021.1881137 .

Johnstone MJ, Turale S. Nurses’ experiences of ethical preparedness for public health emergencies and healthcare disasters: a systematic review of qualitative evidence. Nurs Health Sci. 2014;16(1):67–77. https://doi.org/10.1111/nhs.12130 .

Cuseglio R. After the Flood: reflections of a wounded healer’s countertransference in adolescent treatment. Clin Soc Work J. 2021;49(1):35–44. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-019-00716-0 .

Tsukasaki A, Mizuno S, Fushimi K. Changes in Japanese doctors’ perspective after battling serious illnesses and the consequent impact on their medical practice the wounded healer. J Med Dent Sci. 2023;70:11–22. https://doi.org/10.11480/jmds.700002 .

Heidemann G, Cederbaum JA, Martinez S, LeBel TP. Wounded healers: how formerly incarcerated women help themselves by helping others. Punishm Soc. 2016;18(1):3–26. https://doi.org/10.1177/1462474515623101 .

LeBel TP, Richie M, Maruna S. Helping others as a response to reconcile a criminal past: the role of the wounded healer in prisoner reentry programs. Criminal Justice Behav. 2015;42(1):108–20. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093854814550029 .

Zerubavel N, Wright MOD. The dilemma of the wounded healer. Psychotherapy. 2012;49(4):482. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027824 .

Clark CS, Aboueissa AE. Nursing students’ adverse childhood experience scores: a national survey. Int J Nurs Educ Scholarsh. 2021;18(1). https://doi.org/10.1515/ijnes-2020-0097 .

Sabaghno O. Sibe Havas. Tehran. Maktab al noor; 2020.

Powell N, Ford L, Rochinski D, McEvoy V. The lived experience of workplace violence among emergency nurses. Journal of emergency nursing. 2023;1;49(3):425 – 30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jen.2022.11.004 .

Murphy E. A reflection on social work students as the wounded healer. Relational Social Work. 2022;1;6(1).

Farber SK. Celebrating the wounded healer psychotherapist: Pain, post-traumatic growth and self-disclosure. Taylor & Francis; 2016.

Wheeler S. What shall we do with the wounded healer? The supervisor’s dilemma. Psychodynamic Pract. 2007;13(3):245–56. https://doi.org/10.1080/14753630701455838 .

Hudzik B. The wounded healer: a Doctor’s experience of being a patient. JACC: Case Rep. 2019;1(2):228–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaccas.2019.06.009 .

Travelbee J. Interpersonal aspects of nursing. Nurs Manag. 1971;1(1):44.

McCarthy K. Celebrating the wounded healer psychotherapist: Pain, Post-traumatic Growth and Self-Disclosure. Taylor & Francis; 2018.

Haroosh E, Freedman S. Posttraumatic growth and recovery from addiction. Eur J Psychotraumatology. 2017;8(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2017.1369832 .

Download references

Acknowledgements

All the participants in this research are sincerely appreciated.

No funding was received for this research.

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Department of Medical-Surgical Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Mahdi Nabi Foodani, Masoumeh Zakerimoghadam, Shahrzad Ghiyasvandian & Zahra Abbasi Dolatabadi

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Contributions

MNF: collected data, analyzed, and drafted the manuscript. ZAD: analyzed and revised the manuscript. MZ: collected data, designed and supervised the study. ShGh: supervised the study. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zahra Abbasi Dolatabadi .

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate.

The Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at Tehran University of Medical Sciences approved this study (ethical code: IR.TUMS.FNM.REC.1402.064). All participants were informed about the study details, and informed consent was obtained from them.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note.

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary Material 1

Supplementary material 2, rights and permissions.

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ . The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ ) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article.

Foodani, M.N., Zakerimoghadam, M., Ghiyasvandian, S. et al. Wounded healer nurses: a qualitative content analysis of the positive traits of nurses affected by chronic cardiovascular disease. BMC Nurs 23 , 465 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-02124-3

Download citation

Received : 16 April 2024

Accepted : 25 June 2024

Published : 09 July 2024

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-02124-3

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Chronic illness
  • Positive traits
  • Qualitative content analysis
  • Wounded healer

BMC Nursing

ISSN: 1472-6955

qualitative research questions for education

IMAGES

  1. Qualitative Questionnaire

    qualitative research questions for education

  2. 83 Qualitative Research Questions & Examples

    qualitative research questions for education

  3. How to Write Awesome Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

    qualitative research questions for education

  4. How to Write Awesome Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

    qualitative research questions for education

  5. How to Write Awesome Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

    qualitative research questions for education

  6. Qualitative Research Questions: What it is and how to write it

    qualitative research questions for education

VIDEO

  1. Characteristics of Qualitative Research Questions: Approaching Unambiguous Questions

  2. Writing Qualitative Research Questions

  3. Research #research #objective #features #significance #education #teacher #topic#viral #viralshorts

  4. Crafting Qualitative Research Questions

  5. VL15

  6. What is Research

COMMENTS

  1. Qualitative Research Questions: Gain Powerful Insights + 25 Examples

    25 examples of expertly crafted qualitative research questions. It's easy enough to cover the theory of writing a qualitative research question, but sometimes it's best if you can see the process in practice. In this section, we'll list 25 examples of B2B and B2C-related qualitative questions. Let's begin with five questions.

  2. Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process

    Creating discovery‐oriented questions can help a researcher use the process of developing and refining questions as a basis for a more rigorous and reflexive inquiry. With a qualitative study, a researcher is inquiring about such topics as how people are experiencing an event, a series of events, and/or a condition.

  3. How to Write Qualitative Research Questions

    5. Ask something researchable. Big questions, questions about hypothetical events or questions that would require vastly more resources than you have access to are not useful starting points for qualitative studies. Qualitative words or subjective ideas that lack definition are also not helpful.

  4. Planning Qualitative Research: Design and Decision Making for New

    While many books and articles guide various qualitative research methods and analyses, there is currently no concise resource that explains and differentiates among the most common qualitative approaches. We believe novice qualitative researchers, students planning the design of a qualitative study or taking an introductory qualitative research course, and faculty teaching such courses can ...

  5. PDF Guidance Note on Qualitative Research in Education

    Section 1: A shared understanding of qualitative research. Purposes and contributions of qualitative researchWhat comes to mind when many people think of qualitative research is the type of data it generates: narratives, quotes, life histories, group discussion notes, or detailed ethnographic accounts of the l.

  6. Qualitative Research Questions

    When a qualitative methodology is chosen, research questions should be exploratory and focused on the actual phenomenon under study. From the Dissertation Center, Chapter 1: Research Question Overview, there are several considerations when forming a qualitative research question. Qualitative research questions should . Below is an example of a ...

  7. Chapter 4. Finding a Research Question and Approaches to Qualitative

    Finding a Research Question and Approaches to Qualitative Research We've discussed the research design process in general and ways of knowing favored by qualitative researchers. In chapter 2, I asked you to think about what interests you in terms of a focus of study, including your motivations and research purpose.

  8. Venturing into Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide to Getting

    Types of Qualitative Research Questions. ... We thank members of the Biology Education Research Group at the University of Georgia and Daniel Dries, Joseph Provost, and Verónica Segarra for their thoughtful feedback on manuscript drafts. References. Agee, Jane. 2009. "Developing Qualitative Research Questions: A Reflective Process."

  9. Qualitative Research Questions

    Good qualitative research questions that help us to craft an evaluation might include questions around program need, and program conceptualization and design (Rossi, Lipsey, and Freeman, 2004). Depending on the purpose of the evaluation and your evaluation design, you might ask process-focused questions such as who, what, when, where, why, and ...

  10. 170+ Research Topics In Education (+ Free Webinar)

    Education-Related Research Topics & Ideas. Below you'll find a list of education-related research topics and idea kickstarters. ... Higher education students services: a qualitative study of two mid-size universities' direct exchange programs (Kinde, 2020)

  11. What Is Qualitative Research?

    Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research, which involves collecting and analyzing numerical data for statistical analysis. Qualitative research is commonly used in the humanities and social sciences, in subjects such as anthropology, sociology, education, health sciences, history, etc. Qualitative research question examples

  12. PDF Qualitative Studies: Developing Good Research Questions 1 Running ...

    that qualitative research questions are open-ended to allow the researcher to keep an open mind. These questions guide the research study, but at the same time, these questions allow ... Education for Health, 13(2), 251-261. Frankel, R. M., & Devers, K. J. (2000). Study design in qualitative research-2: Developing

  13. Qualitative research essentials for medical education

    In recent years, qualitative research methods have become increasingly prominent in medical education. The reason is simple: some of the most pressing questions in the field require qualitative approaches for meaningful answers to be found. Qualitative research examines how things unfold in real world settings.

  14. Qualitative Research

    Qualitative researchers often begin their interviews with grand tour questions. Grand tour questions are open ended questions that allow the interviewee to set the direction of the interview. ... Qualitative research has become a popular research procedure in education. Del Siegle, PhD [email protected] www.delsiegle.info. 6/18/2019

  15. Understanding Qualitative Research in Education

    How To Do Qualitative Research For Education. You won't find a one-size-fits-all approach to qualitative educational research. Depending on your specific research questions, a handful of qualitative data and methods are often used to gather the in-depth data required for this type of educational study.

  16. How to Write Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

    The first step in formulating qualitative research questions is to have a clear understanding of what you aim to discover or understand through your research. There are two types of qualitative questionnaires or research - Ontological and Epistemological. Finding out the nature of your research influences all aspects of your research design ...

  17. Qualitative research in education : Background information

    Sara Delamont (Ed.) Publication Date: 2020. This updated second edition extends the discussions surrounding the key qualitative methods used in contemporary educational research. Featuring comprehensive coverage of research across all stages of education, it provides sophisticated and concise discussions on both the building blocks of the field ...

  18. A Practical Guide to Writing Quantitative and Qualitative Research

    INTRODUCTION. Scientific research is usually initiated by posing evidenced-based research questions which are then explicitly restated as hypotheses.1,2 The hypotheses provide directions to guide the study, solutions, explanations, and expected results.3,4 Both research questions and hypotheses are essentially formulated based on conventional theories and real-world processes, which allow the ...

  19. PDF Asking the Right Question: Qualitative Research Design and Analysis

    Limitations of Qualitative Research. Lengthy and complicated designs, which do not draw large samples. Validity of reliability of subjective data. Difficult to replicate study because of central role of the researcher and context. Data analysis and interpretation is time consuming. Subjective - open to misinterpretation.

  20. Choosing a Qualitative Research Approach

    In this Rip Out, we describe 3 different qualitative research approaches commonly used in medical education: grounded theory, ethnography, and phenomenology. Each acts as a pivotal frame that shapes the research question (s), the method (s) of data collection, and how data are analyzed. 4, 5. Go to:

  21. Preparing to Write Survey Questions

    Choosing Your Data Type Qualitative Data that is verbally based (words and concepts). Strengths Weaknesses Offers insight into research questions. May identify emerging trends in the data not previously considered by the researcher. Provides more direct representation of subjects' responses. Requires multiple stages of data analysis.

  22. 131 Qualitative Research Topics For Academic Thesis Writing

    This article presents a list of 130-plus qualitative research topic ideas to help learners that struggle to get titles for their papers. It is helpful because many learners have difficulties picking titles that will make their essays impressive to educators. But before presenting the topics, this article defines qualitative research.

  23. Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research Design: Understanding the Differences

    Examples of Qualitative Research Design in Education Here are just a few examples of how qualitative research design methods can impact education: Example 1: Former educators participate in in-depth interviews to help determine why a specific school is experiencing a higher-than-average turnover rate compared to other schools in the region.

  24. 83 Qualitative Research Questions & Examples

    Qualitative research questions help you understand consumer sentiment. They're strategically designed to show organizations how and why people feel the way they do about a brand, product, or service. It looks beyond the numbers and is one of the most telling types of market research a company can do. The UK Data Service describes this ...

  25. Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process

    Good qualitative questions are usually developed or refined in all stages of a reflexive and interactive inquiry journey. Flick (2006, 105) noted that 'reflecting on and reformulating the research questions are central points of reference for assessing the appropriateness of the decisions you take at several points.'.

  26. Seven Practical Recommendations for Designing and Conducting ...

    In this Perspective, we share seven important and practical recommendations to enhance the design and conduct of high-quality qualitative research in medical education: 1) craft a strong research question, 2) link the study design to this question, 3) assemble a team with diverse expertise, 4) prioritize information power when selecting ...

  27. Full article: Visual arts teachers making art

    The qualitative analysis of the results and the interpretation of the data address the research questions, referring to the content of the theoretical work or the findings in the research. In the answers to the research questions, individual contents are meaningfully interwoven and supplemented.

  28. The Ethics of Using Artificial Intelligence in Qualitative Research

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other large language models are rapidly infiltrating the world of education and educational research. These new technological developments raise questions about use and ethics throughout the world of educational research, particularly for qualitative methods given the philosophical and structural foundations of its associated designs.

  29. First qualitative research study conducted in Turkmenistan focuses on

    Within the framework of a WHO-European Union joint project on immunization in central Asia, the WHO Country Office in Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan jointly conducted the country's first qualitative research study. The project aimed at identifying factors influencing parents' decisions related to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for their ...

  30. Wounded healer nurses: a qualitative content analysis of the positive

    Study design. This research utilized a qualitative content analysis design. These types of studies aim to discover and understand phenomena, processes, or the perspectives, points of view, and worldviews of the people involved [].This study aimed to address the research gap in exploring the positive traits of nurses as wounded healers by identifying and understanding the positive traits ...