Saturday, 20 February 2016

Qualitative research methods: when to use them and how to judge them
  1. S. de Lacey2
+Author Affiliations
  1. 1Jean Hailes Research Unit, School of Public Health and Preventive MedicineMonash UniversityMelbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2School of Nursing & MidwiferyFlinders UniversityAdelaide, South Australia, Australia
  1. *Correspondence address. E-mail:
  • Received December 1, 2015.
  • Revision received December 1, 2015.
  • Accepted December 7, 2015.


In March 2015, an impressive set of guidelines for best practice on how to incorporate psychosocial care in routine infertility care was published by the ESHRE Psychology and Counselling Guideline Development Group (ESHRE Psychology and Counselling Guideline Development Group, 2015). The authors report that the guidelines are based on a comprehensive review of the literature and we congratulate them on their meticulous compilation of evidence into a clinically useful document. However, when we read the methodology section, we were baffled and disappointed to find that evidence from research using qualitative methods was not included in the formulation of the guidelines. Despite stating that ‘qualitative research has significant value to assess the lived experience of infertility and fertility treatment’, the group excluded this body of evidence because qualitative research is ‘not generally hypothesis-driven and not objective/neutral, as the researcher puts him/herself in the position of the participant to understand how the world is from the person's perspective’.
Qualitative and quantitative research methods are often juxtaposed as representing two different world views. In quantitative circles, qualitative research is commonly viewed with suspicion and considered lightweight because it involves small samples which may not be representative of the broader population, it is seen as not objective, and the results are assessed as biased by the researchers' own experiences or opinions. In qualitative circles, quantitative research can be dismissed as over-simplifying individual experience in the cause of generalisation, failing to acknowledge researcher biases and expectations in research design, and requiring guesswork to understand the human meaning of aggregate data.
As social scientists who investigate psychosocial aspects of human reproduction, we use qualitative and quantitative methods, separately or together, depending on the research question. The crucial part is to know when to use what method.
The peer-review process is a pillar of scientific publishing