Problem and main objectives

There is an increasing number of qualitative research in the health sciences. This growth has been accompanied by an increase in the number of qualitative studies published in recognized scientific journals (British Medical Journal, Psychology and Health, Family Practice, Sociology of Health and Illness: A journal of Medical Sociology, etc.). These indicators show that qualitative research is starting to find a place in its own right within science despite the criticisms addressed to it (lack of rigor in the sampling procedure; not reproductible; lack of reliability and constancy in data; lack of explicitation concerning validation procedures; lack of comparison (difficulty to generalize)).

Thus, since the 1980s, there has been a wealth of literature published on how to conduct and assess qualitative research, in both medicine and in the humanities and social sciences (Guba & Lincoln, 1981; Seale & Silverman, 1997; Giacomini & Cook, 2000; Côté & Turgeon, 2005; Pickler, 2007).

A review of the literature reveals the variability of these standards or criteria, whether the latter are put forward in books and/or articles referring to qualitative studies, or whether they are disseminated via available “guidelines” provided to experts for the reviewing of articles in international journals. These differences of proposed criteria, as well as debate amongst researchers, indicate that there is a difficulty in establishing a consensus in the evaluation of the quality of qualitative research. Therefore it appears that there is a need to examine the criteria for assessing the quality of these studies.

Main objectives

To overcome these debates, our research focuses on the analysis of existing guidelines and on the consensus discussion among users. Beyond this consensus, it provides a test of the use validity of the guidelines on the field.

  • Drawing an inventory of the existing assessment frames in the different fields of health sciences
  • Verify their advantages and their limits, their ease of use with a panel of experts who will be responsible for testing them in different fields.
  • Provide researchers with explicit and appropriate tools for the assessment of their work,
  • Provide experts (and readers) with assessment frames that will enable them to assess the quality of qualitative research submitted for their review in the various fields of health research.
  • Create a TOOLBOX of consensual quality criteria of qualitative research based on an empirical research validated by expert users from different health science fields.

The results allow researchers a better understanding of the quality criteria of qualitative research. They are a support for the writing of their research. They also enable peer-review experts or backers to be guided among the various existing guidelines and to quickly understand the criteria that make consensus with a TOOLBOX of main criteria of qualitative research tested by 60 experts.