Beyond exploratory: A tailored framework for designing and assessing qualitative health research

Katharine A. Rendle, Corey M. Abramson, Sarah B. Garrett, Meghan C. Halley, Daniel Dohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The objective of this commentary is to develop a framework for assessing the rigour of qualitative approaches that identifies and distinguishes between the diverse objectives of qualitative health research, guided by a narrative review of the published literature on qualitative guidelines and standards from peer-reviewed journals and national funding organisations that support health services research, patient-centered outcomes research and other applied health research fields. In this framework, we identify and distinguish three objectives of qualitative studies in applied health research: exploratory, descriptive and comparative. For each objective, we propose methodological standards that may be used to assess and improve rigour across all study phases - from design to reporting. Similar to hierarchies of quality of evidence within quantitative studies, we argue that standards for qualitative rigour differ, appropriately, for studies with different objectives and should be evaluated as such. Distinguishing between different objectives of qualitative health research improves the ability to appreciate variation in qualitative studies and to develop appropriate evaluations of the rigour and success of qualitative studies in meeting their stated objectives. Researchers, funders and journal editors should consider how further developing and adopting the framework for assessing qualitative rigour outlined here may advance the rigour and potential impact of this important mode of inquiry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere030123
JournalBMJ open
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019


  • Health services research
  • Patient-centered outcomes research
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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