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Qualitative Research

Finding Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is conducted across disciplines, and may be challenging to locate as a result. Other reasons which contribute to the challenge of qualitative resource location may include the following:

  • "descriptive titles such as 'Unbearable Incidents: Failure to Endure the Experience of Illness' make selection of specific key search terms more difficult
  • abstracts in qualitative articles may not be as structured and/or may not describe the research method
  • only using the search term qualitative could miss other methods such as focus groups, interviews, etc.
  • indexing in databases tends to be more robust for quantitative literature"

Listed below on this page are several source tips and search strategies that may be helpful as you locate qualitative research sources. Other boxes on this page feature search tips for specific databases or types of sources.

Locating Sources

"Search a range of national, regional and subject-specific databases, such as the examples listed below:


Other desirable sources

  • Reference lists in useful articles can be checked to find further articles 
  • Find related or find similar articles is another way to find additional articles
  • Citation indexes such as Web of Science and Scopus allow you to track literature over a period of time and to see if a particular article has been cited since it was first published
  • Internet - An Internet search can identify websites of relevant organisations, companies, academic centres which can then be scanned for relevant research studies. It may be worthwhile to try more than one search engine, as you can often get different results even when using the same search terms."

Use Alerts to Keep Up-To-Date

"Alerts are an effective means of keeping track of the latest research. Many databases and journals offer free alert services through emails and RSS feeds. Types of alerts include:

  • Search alerts are saved searches which alert you when a book or article that matches your search terms is published
  • Table of Contents (TOC) alert, which provides the table of contents of a newly published issue of a particular journal
  • Citation alerts which let you know when a particular article is cited by a new article."
  • Your citation manager software (e.g., Mendeley) may also allow you to opt-in to receive new publications related to your recent searches.

General Search Tips

Listed below are several search strategies that may be helpful as you search for qualitative research sources.

Strategy 1: Use Subject Headings 

Databases use controlled keywords (known as thesaurus or subject terms) to categorize each record stored. PubMed, for example, uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), a highly structured index of terminology. The subject headings vary for each database according to their indexing system.  The term "qualitative research" is indexed in PubMed as "Qualitative Research" or "Nursing Methodology Research", while in CINAHL the subject heading "Qualitative Studies" is complemented by more detailed terms, including "Phenomenological Research" and "Grounded Theory".


Strategy 2: Use Text Words

This strategy uses text or keywords that might specifically identify qualitative research and searches the titles, abstracts and keywords of records held in the databases. Some Text Words include: qualitative, ethnograph*, phenomenol*, ethnonurs*, grounded theor*, purposive sample, hermeneutic*, heuristic*, semiotics, lived experience*, narrative*, life experiences, cluster sample, action research, observational method, content analysis, thematic analysis, constant comparative method, field stud*, theoretical sample, discourse analysis, focus group*, ethnological research, ethnomethodolog*, interview*.


Strategy 3: Use Qualitative Research Filters

Qualitative Research Filters are pre-formulated search strategies that have been constructed by librarians to help you retrieve articles in databases that deal with qualitative research. You can use the filter and then combine the results with your subject.



Search the Hesburgh Libraries Catalog

To search the Hesburgh Libraries catalog for resources, click on any of the links below:


Visit PsycINFO


Limit to "Qualitative Study"

Enter your topic in the Search box. In the Limit Your Results section, select Qualitative Study, Interview, or Focus Groups under the Methodology drop-down menu. Click Search.

Use subject terms

Such as "qualitative research", "grounded theory", "interviews", "observation methods"


Use appropriate Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) terms in your search, such as:

  • Qualitative Research [research that derives data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focuses on the meanings and interpretations of the participants. Year introduced 2003]

  • Interviews as Topic [conversations with an individual or individuals held in order to obtain information about their background and other personal biographical data, their attitudes and opinions, etc. It includes school admission or job interviews. Year introduced: 2008 (1980)]

  • Focus Groups [a method of data collection and a qualitative research tool in which a small group of individuals are brought together and allowed to interact in a discussion of their opinions about topics, issues, or questions. Year introduced: 1993]

  • Grounded Theory [The generation of theories from analysis of empirical data. Year introduced 2015]

  • Nursing Methodology Research [research carried out by nurses concerning techniques and methods to implement projects and to document information, including methods of interviewing patients, collecting data, and forming inferences. The concept includes exploration of methodological issues such as human subjectivity and human experience. Year introduced: 1991(1989)]

  • Anecdotes as Topic [brief accounts or narratives of an incident or event. Year introduced: 2008(1963)]

  • Narration [the act, process, or an instance of narrating, i.e., telling a story. In the context of MEDICINE or ETHICS, narration includes relating the particular and the personal in the life story of an individual. Year introduced: 2003]

  • Video Recording [the storing or preserving of video signals for television to be played back later via a transmitter or receiver. Recordings may be made on magnetic tape or discs (VIDEODISC RECORDING). Year introduced: 1984]

  • Tape Recording [recording of information on magnetic or punched paper tape. Year introduced: 1967 (1964)]

  • Personal Narratives as Topic [works about accounts of individual experience in relation to a particular field or of participation in related activities. Year introduced: 2013]

  • Observational Study as Topic [A clinical study in which participants may receive diagnostic, therapeutic, or other types of interventions, but the investigator does not assign participants to specific interventions (as in an interventional study). Year introduced: 2014]

Limit your search to specific Publication Types, such as:

  • Interview [work consisting of a conversation with an individual regarding his or her background and other personal and professional details, opinions on specific subjects posed by the interviewer, etc. Year introduced: 2008(1993)]

  • Diaries [works consisting of records, usually private, of writers' experiences, observations, feelings, attitudes, etc. They may also be works marked in calendar order in which to note appointments and the like. (From Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2d ed) Year introduced: 2008(1997)]

  • Anecdotes [works consisting of brief accounts or narratives of incidents or events. Year introduced: 2008(1999)]

  • Personal Narratives [works consisting of accounts of individual experience in relation to a particular field or of participation in related activities. Year introduced: 2013]

  • Observational Study [A clinical study in which participants may receive diagnostic, therapeutic, or other types of interventions, but the investigator does not assign participants to specific interventions (as in an interventional study).Year introduced: 2014]

Use Text Words to find articles missed by MeSH terms (see Strategy 2)


Use a Quality Research Filter

  • PubMed Health Services Research (HSR) Queries
    • Select Topic - Specific Queries from the PubMed home page and then Health Services Research Queries.
    • This page provides a filter for specialized PubMed searches on healthcare quality and costs.
    • Enter your search topic and select Qualitative Research under Category
  • Qualitative Research search filter example [click the "i" icon below to copy/paste a modified filter into PubMed and combine your subject terms with the search filter


PubMed does not have suitable MeSH terms for mixed methods research. Search your topic with the following suggested text words using the quotes and truncation symbol*:

“mixed model*” OR “mixed design*” OR “multiple method*” OR multimethod* OR triangulat*

Grey Literature

What is grey literature?

Grey literature is material that is preserved in libraries and institutional repositories, but not available via commercial publishers or indexed in major databases. Grey literature includes—but is not limited to—conference abstracts/presentations/proceedings, working documents, theses and dissertations, patents, white papers, informal communications

Where can I find grey literature?