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Research Methods: Finding qualitative research

A guide to research methods, and search strategies for finding research.

General strategies

When searching for qualitative research it is important that you search across a range of databases, as no single database covers all the literature. The decision regarding which databases to search depends largely upon your research topic. Journal databases also provide search hints and tips in the help menu - start there if you are not familiar with the database.

Developing a robust search strategy will help reduce irrelevant results. It is good practice to plan a strategy before you start to search.


Basic search tips

  • Break your research topic into keywords.
  • Use Boolean operators to connect your search terms or keywords together to either narrow or broaden the results. The three basic Boolean operators are: AND, OR, and NOT.
  • Use parentheses, quotation marks, and/or asterisks with your search terms to create a search phrase.


Subject headings

Databases categorize their records using subject terms or controlled vocabularies (Thesauri). These Subject Headings vary for each database, for example Medline uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) for its indexing system. The term 'qualitative research' is indexed as "Qualitative Research" or "Nursing Methodology Research" in Medline, and as "Qualitative Studies" in CINAHL. Related Subject Headings such as Focus Groups, Interviews, or Descriptive Research can also be useful. Combine searches with topic Subject Headings to locate qualitative research.


Free text keywords

Use selective free text keywords to search in Titles, Abstracts or Keywords of records held in the databases to identify Qualitative Research. Selective keywords include terms like phenomenological, "lived experience", "grounded theory", "life experiences", "focus groups" or interview.


Limiting searches

Databases enable sets of results to be limited or filtered by specific fields. Determine your search conditions, such as Publication Type, Clinical Queries or Publication Year and apply them to your search.