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Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Searching the Literature

Suggested Databases

Searching For Qualitative Literature

Qualitative research can be challenging to find.  The methodologies are not well indexed in subject databases.  Below is a short guide that will help provide you with some basics tips and strategies on how to find qualitative research literature through health science databases like PubMed and CINAHL.

Electronic Databases 

  • Databases for health science literature does not index qualitative health research openly
  • Authors do not always mention the word qualitative in the titles or abstracts of their articles

Strategy 1: Use Subject Headings

  • Databases index their records using controlled vocabulary.  PubMed for example uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) as their indexing system for controlled vocabulary. Different databases use different indexing strategies.  In PubMed, the term "qualitative research" is indexed as "Qualitative Research", while in CINAHL it is indexed as "Qualitative Studies".  Other subject headings to think about using can include: "Phenomenological Research", "Grounded Theory", "Focus Groups", "Interviews" or "Descriptive Research". 

Strategy 2: Free Text Keywords

  • Using text or keywords may help you find specific qualitative research.  Using free text words will find terms within the titles, abstracts and other records held in a database.  Using terms such as, qualitative, "ethnographic research", phenomenological, "purposive sample", "lived experience", "grounded theory", "life experiences", "focus group*",  interview* 

Strategy 3: Using filters

  • Must databases allow you to enable filters to specific fields. Filters such as Publication Type, Clinical Queries can be applied to your search.


PubMed and CINAHL

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.

In PubMed: There is a special query interface for Health Services Research, which has a category for Qualitative Research

In CINAHL: Refine/Limit the set to Clinical Queries.  Select within the drop-down Clinical Queries menu: Qualitative-High Sensitivity; Qualitative-High Specificity; Qualitative-Best Balance.  High Sensitivity is the broadest search, to include ALL relevant material, but may also include less relevant citations.  High Specificity is the most targeted search to include only the most relevant result set, but may miss some relevant materials.  Best Balance retrieves the best balance between the two.

Credit to: NYU Locating Qualitative Research guide: