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Nursing Research Guide

Library resources for the School of Nursing

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research in Nursing approaches a clinical question from a place of unknowing in an attempt to understand the complexity, depth, and richness of a particular situation from the perspective of the person or persons impacted by the situation (i.e., the subjects of the study).

Study subjects may include the patient(s), the patient's caregivers, the patient's family members, etc. Qualitative research may also include information gleaned from the investigator's or researcher's observations.

While typically more subjective than quantitative research (which focuses on measurements and numbers), qualitative research still employs a systematic approach.

Qualitative research is generally preferred over quantitative research (which on measurements and numbers) when the clinical question centers around life experiences or meaning.

Adapted from:

Where can I find qualitative research?

Qualitative research can be found in numerous databases. Some good starting options are:

How can I find qualitative research?

CINAHL and/or MEDLine

  1. Start at the Advanced Search screen.
  2. Add a search term that represents the topic you are interested in into one (or more) of the search boxes.
  3. Scroll down until you see the Limit your results section.
  4. Use the Clinical Queries menu to select one or more of the following:
    • Qualitative - High Sensitivity (broadest category/broad search)
    • Qualitative - High Specificity (narrowest category/specific search)
    • Qualitative - Best Balance (somewhere in between)
  5. Select or click the search button.

CINAHL and/or MEDLine qualitative research limiters.


  1. Start at the Advanced Search screen.
  2. Add a search term that represents the topic you are interested in into one (or more) of the search boxes.
  3. Scroll down until you see the Limit your results section.
  4. Use the Methodology menu to select Qualitative.
  5. Select or click the search button.

APA PsychINFO qualitative research limiter.


  1. Start at the Advanced Search screen.
  2. Add a search term that represents the topic you are interested in into one (or more) of the search boxes.
  3. Use the drop-down menu next the Enter search term box to set the search to MeSH Terms
  4. Search for the MeSH Terms (one at at time or combine using the Boolean operator OR):
    1. Qualitative Research
    2. Nursing Methodology Research
  5. Select or click the search button.

PubMED qualitative research limiters.

How can I use keywords to search for qualitative research?

Try adding adding a keyword that might specifically identify qualitative research. You could add the term qualitative to your search and/or your could add different types of qualitative research according to your specific needs and/or research assignment.

For example, consider the following types of qualitative research in light of the types of questions a researcher might be trying to answer with each qualitative research type: 

  • Action research: conducted by and for those taking action to improve or refine actions
    •  Clinical question: What happens to the quality of nursing practice when we implement a peer-mentoring system?
  • Case study: in-depth analysis of an entity or group of entities (case)
    • Clinical question: How is patient autonomy promoted by a unit?
  • Descriptive: content analysis of data
    • Clinical question: What is the nursing role in end-of-life decisions?
  • Discourse analysis: in-depth analysis of written, vocal, or sign language
    • Clinical question: What discourses are used in nursing practice and how do they shape practice?
  • Ethnography: in-depth analysis of a culture
    • Clinical question: How does Filipino culture influence childbirth experiences?
  • Ethology: biology of human behavior and events
    • Clinical question: What are the immediate underlying psychological and environmental causes of incivility in nursing?
  • Grounded theory: social processes within a social setting
    • Clinical question: How does the basic social process of role transition happen within the context of advanced practice nursing transitions?
  • Historical research: past behaviors, events, conditions
    • Clinical question: When and why did nurses become researchers?
  • Narrative inquiry: story as the object of inquiry
    • Clinical question: How does one live with a diagnosis of scleroderma?
  • Phenomenology: lived experiences
    • Clinical question: What is the lived experience of nurses who were admitted as patients on their home practice units?

Adapted from: Chicca, J. (2020 June 5). Introduction to qualitative nursing research. American Nurse Journal.

NOTE: The list of qualitative research types above is not exhaustive. If using these as keywords doesn't help you in your own research you might want to reconsider your keywords and/or approaches--or ask the Libraries and/or your instructor for help!

Need more help?

Finding relevant qualitative research can be both difficult and time consuming. Once you conduct a search, you will need to review your search results and look at individual articles, their subject terms, and abstracts to determine if they are truly qualitative research articles. And that's a determination that only you can make.

If you still need help after trying the search strategies and tips suggested on this research guide, we encourage you to schedule an in-person or Zoom research appointment. Health Services librarian Rachel Riffe-Albright is a great bet, but any librarian would be happy to help!

Additonal resources on qualitative research

The following are research guides created by other academic libraries. While you likely will not have access to any of their linked resources, the tips and tricks shared may be useful to you as you search for qualitative research: