Some qualitative research resources we particularly like

If you’re completely new to qualitative, our introductory lectures on qualitative research foundations and design may provide a useful starting point. The resources linked on this page are ones we’ve found helpful or useful, in our thinking and practice as qualitative researchers, supervisors, teachers and scholars. It’s a by-no-means-comprehensive list, but if you’re new(ish) to qualitative and want to get started somewhere, we don’t think these will let you down.

The suggestions here don’t tell a single story. Many come from psychology, but not all. And because the broad domain of qualitative is shaped differently in different contexts (geographical, and also disciplinary, among others) the ways people describe things can differ. That can add to the confusion around things. But it can also expand one’s thinking and push one further to recognising and evaluating one’s familiar assumptions.

Subjectivity, reflexivity, and reflexive journals

To read about subjectivity as a resource for quality inquiry, we quite like: Gough, B., & Madill, A. (2012). Subjectivity in psychological research: From problem to prospect. Psychological Methods, 17(3), 374-384.

In relation to reflexivity, Sue Wilkinson’s classic paper is an accessible place to start: Wilkinson, S. (1988). The role of reflexivity in feminist psychology. Women’s Studies International Forum, 11(5), 493-502.

A really useful range of perspectives on reflexivity can be found in: Finlay, L., & Gough, B. (Eds.) (2003). Reflexivity: A practical guide for researchers in health and social sciences. Blackwell Science.

Some other papers on reflexivity we like and have found useful:

  • Bott, E. (2010). Favourites and others: reflexivity and the shaping of subjectivities and data in qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 10(2), 159-173.
  • Finlay, L. (2002). Negotiating the swamp: The opportunity and challenge of reflexivity in research practice. Qualitative Research, 2(2), 209-230.
  • Finlay, L. (2002). “Outing” the researcher: The provenance, process, and practice of reflexivity. Qualitative Health Research, 12(4), 531-545.
  • Gerstl-Pepin, C., & Patrizio, K. (2009). Learning from Dumbledore’s Pensieve: metaphor as an aid in teaching reflexivity in qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 9(3), 299-308.
  • Lazard, L., & McAvoy, J. (2020). Doing reflexivity in psychological research: What’s the point? What’s the practice? Qualitative Research in Psychology, 17(2), 159-177.
  • Mauthner, N. S., & Doucet, A. (2003). Reflexive accounts and accounts of reflexivity in qualitative data analysis. Sociology, 37(3), 413-431.

For a useful discussion of the value and practice of keeping a research journal, see: Nadin, S., & Cassell, C. (2006). The use of a research diary as a tool for reflexive practice: Some reflections from management research. Qualitative Research in Accounting Management, 3(3), 208-217.

Paradigms and theory

We offer an accessible introduction to the theories and concepts underpinning qualitative research in the social sciences in Chapter 2 of: Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. Sage.

For another psychology-based and accessible discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of qualitative research, see Chapters 1 and 2 in: Willig, C. (2013). Introducing qualitative research in psychology (3rd ed). Open University Press.

For a great chapter introducing a distinction between Big Q and small q qualitative: Kidder, L. H., & Fine, M. (1987). Qualitative and quantitative methods: When stories converge. In M. M. Mark & L. Shotland (Eds.), New Directions for Program Evaluation (pp. 57-75). Jossey-Bass.

For an excellent introduction to the theoretical foundations of qualitative inquiry, and particularly positivism and postpositivism, constructionism, the ‘interpretivist’ paradigm and critical theory (Marxism, feminism and poststructuralism), see: Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process. Sage.

For an accessible and lively discussion of the paradigms underpinning qualitative research (although not exactly how we’d map them), and comparing them to the positivist paradigm that typically underpins quantitative research, see: Grant, B.M., & Giddings, L.S. (2002). Making sense of methodologies: A paradigm framework for the novice researcher. Contemporary Nurse, 13(1), 10-28.

A more challenging, but nonetheless hugely rewarding, text on the theoretical underpinnings of Big Q qualitative inquiry is: Alvesson, M. and Sköldberg, K. (2009). Reflexive methodology: New vistas for qualitative research (2nd ed). Sage.

For a discussion of how the language of theory (and concept) is used in different ways in qualitative research, see: Varpio, L., Paradis, E., Uijtdehaage, S., & Young, M. (2020). The distinctions between theory, theoretical framework, and conceptual framework. Academic Medicine, 95(7), 989-994.

For a basic introduction to the theories of language and representation, we recommend going back to this classic: Hall, S. (1997). The work of representation. In Hall, S. (Ed.). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (pp. 13-74). Sage.

For an introduction to a wide array of Indigenous knowledge (and critical) frameworks within qualitative research, see: Denzin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., & Smith, L. T. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies. Sage.

For an excellent and key discussion of decolonising’ methodologies and Indigenous research, we recommend: Smith, L. T. (2021). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples (3rd ed). Zed.

For a great exploration of how we ‘do’ epistemology through our methodological choices and approaches to research, see: Carter, S.M., & Little, M. (2007). Justifying knowledge, justifying method, taking action: Epistemologies, methodologies, and methods in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1316-1328.

One of the more accessible accounts of critical realism and its value for qualitative inquiry that we have come across is this book from a US education researcher: Maxwell, J. (2012). A realist approach for qualitative research. Sage.

For a more challenging but compelling account of critical realism, particularly for doctoral students and researchers working in applied fields, see: Pilgrim, D. (2014). Some implications of critical realism for mental health research. Social Theory & Health, 12(1), 1-21.

For an accessible and engaging ‘invitation’ to social constructionism from one of the key figures in the social constructionist movement, see: Gergen, K. (2015). An invitation to social construction (3rd ed). Sage.

For a shorter and fairly accessible introduction to social constructionism, see: Burr, V., & Dick, P. (2017). Social constructionism. In B. Gough (Ed.), The Palgrave handbook of critical social psychology (pp. 59-80). Palgrave.

If you are really struggling to shake off the shackles of positivism, this account of the essentialism vs. social constructionism debate in relation to lesbian and gay psychology is a really good entry point: Kitzinger, C. (1995). Social constructionism: Implications for lesbian and gay psychology. In A.R. D’Augelli & C.J. Patterson (Eds.), Lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities over the lifespan: Psychological perspectives (pp. 136-161). Oxford University Press.

Planning and general ‘design’ guides for qualitative research, including questions of data

For an engaging and eminently practical guide to planning and conducting research, see: Boynton, P. (2016). The Research Companion (2nd ed). Routledge.

An accessible introduction to qualitative research theory, design, and a range of methods of data collection and analysis are covered in our other textbook: Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practice guide for beginners. Sage.

Design guides we and our students have found useful include:

  • Creswell, J., W., & Poth, C. N. (2016). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage.
  • Levitt, H. M., Motulsky, S. L., Wertz, F. J., Morrow, S. L., & Ponterotto, J. G. (2017). Recommendations for designing and reviewing qualitative research in psychology: Promoting methodological integrity. Qualitative Psychology, 4(1), 2-22.
  • Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2015). Designing qualitative research. Sage.
  • Maxwell, J. A. (Maxwell, 2012a). Qualitative research design (3rd ed.). Sage.
    Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research and evaluating methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed). Sage.
  • Willig, C. (2013). Introducing qualitative research in psychology (3rd ed.). Open University Press.

For a fantastic conceptual discussion of ‘what data are’ we really enjoyed this paper: Sandelowski, M. (2011). When a cigar is not just a cigar: Alternative takes on data and data analysis. Research in Nursing & Health, 34(4), 342-352.  (In general, Margarete Sandelowki’s writing is fantastic.)

Interpretation as analytic practice (including ethics and politics of representation)

For a really excellent discussion of interpretation, located within but applicable beyond psychology, we recommend: Willig, C. (2017). Interpretation in qualitative research. In C. Willig & W. Stainton Rogers (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology (2nd ed., pp. 274-288). Sage.

As a starting point for reading around ethics and qualitative research, including representation, see: Swauger, M. (2011). Afterword: The ethics of risk, power, and representation. Qualitative Sociology, 34(3), 497-502.

For a broader discussion of the complex issues around ethics, particularly related to critical research, see: Macleod, C. I., Marx, J., Mnyaka, P., & Treharne, G. J. (Eds.). (2018). The Palgrave handbook of ethics in critical research. Palgrave Macmillan.

For an example of ethics as meshed into qualitative research practice (evocatively described as ‘snakes in the swamp’ – see next), see: Reid, A.-M., Brown, J. M., Smith, J. M., Cope, A. C., & Jamieson, S. (2018). Ethical dilemmas and reflexivity in qualitative research. Perspectives on Medical Education, 7(2), 69-75.

To read about qualitative ethics as ‘snakes in the swamp’, see: Price, J. (1996). Snakes in the swamp: Ethical issues in qualitative research. In R. Josselson (Ed.), Ethics and process in the narrative study of lives (pp. 207-215). Sage.

For an introduction to intersectionality theory and practice, this book offers a rich discussion: Collins, P. H., & Bilge, S. (2016). Intersectionality. Polity.

For a longer discussion of the politics of research and knowledge, including Indigenous research and decolonization, we recommend this excellent book: Smith, L. T. (2021). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples (3rd ed). Zed.

For a paper which nicely illustrates the value of time and distance for developing richer interpretative insights, see: Ho, K. H., Chiang, V. C., & Leung, D. (2017). Hermeneutic phenomenological analysis: the ‘possibility’ beyond ‘actuality’ in thematic analysis. Journal of advanced nursing, 73(7), 1757-1766.

We reflected on time in qualitative research and analysis in a recent chapter: Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2021). The ebbs and flows of qualitative research: Time, change and the slow wheel of interpretation. In B. C. Clift, J. Gore, S. Gustafsson, S. Bekker, I. C. Batlle & J. Hatchard (Eds.), Temporality in Qualitative Inquiry: Theories, Methods and Practices (pp. 22-38). Routledge.

Analytic claims and issues of quality

For an accessible discussion of a wide range of issues related to qualitative quality, and an overview of the concept of methodological integrity, see: Levitt, H. M., Motulsky, S. L., Wertz, F. J., Morrow, S. L., & Ponterotto, J. G. (2017). Recommendations for designing and reviewing qualitative research in psychology: Promoting methodological integrity. Qualitative Psychology, 4(1), 2-22.

For a critique of common ‘universal’ standards for quality in qualitative research, see: Smith, B., & McGannon, K. R. (2018). Developing rigor in qualitative research: Problems and opportunities within sport and exercise psychology. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 11(1), 101-121.

For a great discussion of some of the dominant concepts that often underpin supposed universal quality standards, see: Varpio, L., Ajjawi, R., Monrouxe, L. V., O’Brien, B. C., & Rees, C. E. (2017). Shedding the cobra effect: problematising thematic emergence, triangulation, saturation and member checking. Medical education, 51(1), 40-50.

We discuss the problematics of saturation as a universal measure for ‘data quality’ in this paper: Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2021). To saturate or not to saturate? Questioning data saturation as a useful concept for thematic analysis and sample-size rationales. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 13(2), 201-216.

For a rich but also practical discussion of generalisability and qualitative research, see: Smith, B. (2018). Generalizability in qualitative research: Misunderstandings, opportunities and recommendations for the sport and exercise sciences. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 10(1), 137-149.

See also: Varpio, L., O’Brien, B., Rees, C. E., Monrouxe, L., Ajjawi, R., & Paradis, E. (2021). The applicability of generalisability and bias to health professions education’s research. Medical Education, 55(2), 167-173.

We like the concept of information power as an alternative to ‘saturation’ for thinking around issues of ‘sample size’: Malterud, K., Siersma, V. D., & Guassora, A. D. (2016). Sample size in qualitative interview studies: Guided by information power. Qualitative Health Research, 26(13), 1753-1760.

For a great discussion of problems with ‘underdeveloped’ themes in qualitative research (written for a nursing audience, but widely applicable), see: Connelly, L. M., & Peltzer, J. N. (2016). Underdeveloped themes in qualitative research: Relationships with interviews and analysis. Clinical Nurse Specialist, 30(1), 51-57.

Writing for qualitative research

Writing is key in qualitative research, so if writing itself is a challenge, we recommend finding a guide to help develop your prose. Find what works for you. Two we like are:

  • Billig, M. (2013). Learn to write badly: How to succeed in the social sciences. Cambridge University Press.
  • Sword, H. (2016). The writer’s diet: A guide to fit prose. University of Chicago Press.

For an accessible guide to grammar, we find this useful: Sinclair, C. (2010). Grammar: A friendly approach (2nd ed). Open University Press.

We cover reporting qualitative research more generally, including a discussion of how to claim ‘frequency’ in: Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. Sage. Especially Chapters 11 and 13.

We’ve recently written a two-part blog on Tips on writing a qualitative dissertation or thesis, for the EdPsy.Org.UK blog. We encourage people to read both Part 1 and Part 2.

We recommend the excellent discussion of editing qualitative reports, which includes an example of hand-written edits on a page of a report, from: Woods, P. (1999). Successful writing for qualitative researchers. Routledge. The relevant chapter is Chapter 5, Editing.

The American Psychological Association’s style guide remains a very useful and popular general resource for writing and reporting guidance, including related to avoiding ‘bias’ in language. In addition to the weighty tome of their Publication Manual (American Psychological Association, 2020), much guidance can be found online.

Although we don’t agree with everything in it, Psychology of Women Quarterly’s style guide offers a lot of useful information regarding writing, correct word usage and grammar (but note there are variations in what is considered ‘good’ grammar and writing practice).

For a discussion of enhancing the usefulness of qualitative results (in health research, but again widely applicable), see: Sandelowski, M., & Leeman, J. (2012). Writing usable qualitative health research results. Qualitative Health Research, 22(10), 1404-1413.