Most medical and social science databases will contain qualitative research
Medline and EMBASE have clinical medicine as their focus so they have more quantitative than qualitative studies
Nursing, allied health and social science databases such as CINAHL and Social Care Online are more likely to contain qualitative research
Sources of Qualitative Research
Qualitative journal articles can be found in the following databases:
Social Care Online
Is the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature
As it covers journals from nursing and allied disciplines it includes many qualitative studies as these designs are more dominant in the literature
Has subject headings describing many qualitative methods and topics
Covers 1982 onwards and includes virtually all English-language journals in this area
EMBASE- is similar to Medline but has an emphasis on drugs and pharmacology and has better coverage of European publications. It has references from over 3,500 journals and also has some references to books, book chapters and conference proceedings
Medline- covers Medicine , Nursing , Dentistry , Allied health and Pre-clinical sciences and has excellent coverage of US Journals. Contains over 16 million references to papers from 4,600 medical journals
Social Care Online
Is a UK-based social care database
Produced by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)
Contains journal articles, book chapters, reports and policy-related documents on a range of social care topics
Has its own ‘topic’ system (similar to the subject headings used in Medline, CINAHL and EMBASE, including the topic ‘qualitative research’
Searching for qualitative studies
To find qualitative studies you need to be aware of some of the key words/phrases that frequently appear in the titles and abstracts of qualitative studies
Additionally, some databases have subject headings which describe qualitative study designs and methods, such as ‘focus groups’
Key free text terms
NB: An asterisk * is often used as a truncation mark- this means that the word stem (i.e.interview*) will be searched, plus variations such as interviews, interviewing, interviewed, etc.
The words and phrases below can all be searched in the titles and abstracts of articles in any database:
Key subject headings
EMBASE Ethnography / Phenomenology / Psychological Aspect / Patient Attitude / Patient Satisfaction / CINAHL Qualitative-Studies/ Ethnographic-Research/ Ethnonursing-Research/ Phenomenological-Research/ Focus-Groups/ Grounded-Theory/ Note: As you can see, while Medline and EMBASE have a small selection of subject headings that may retrieve qualitative studies, the list for CINAHL is longer and contains terms that are likely to recall a higher percentage of studies which are qualitative
For every subject heading in Medline, CINAHL and EMBASE, there are a selection of sub-headings- these are terms that help you to focus in on what aspects of the subject heading you are interested in. The choices vary for each individual subject heading, but below are some of the common subheadings which are useful in retrieving qualitative research designs
So how does this work in practice?
Imagine you are a practice nurse in a Primary Care Trust and you are concerned by the lack of support available for the husbands of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
You would like to determine what counselling and support services should be offered in response to the husbands’ needs.
You start by searching Medline for published accounts of the husbands’ attitudes to their wives’ disease.
You break your search down into following components using SPICE:
S etting: Primary and Community Care
P erspective: Husbands
I ntervention: Wife with breast cancer
C omparison: [Perhaps] the needs of the
E valuation: Attitudes
Choosing subject headings
Match the SPICE components to relevant subject headings (if any):
Comparison: (no relevant subject headings for this)
Husband* OR Spouses/
1 AND exp Breast-Neoplasms/
2 AND (qualitative OR interview* OR findings OR Interviews/ OR exp Attitude-To-Health/)
In the example above, I’ve started by searching for papers featuring the word stem ‘husband’ OR the subject heading spouses. To this, I add a search for papers with the subject heading ‘Breast Neoplasms’ giving me a set of papers about breast cancer and spouses/husbands. Finally I add on a selection of terms that should draw out qualitative studies: the word ‘qualitative’ or the word stem ‘interview*’ or the word ‘findings’ or the subject headings ‘Interviews’ and ‘Attitude to Health’
Here I’ve searched the National Library for Health Medline database using the search strategy on the previous slide. Note that I’ve also limited to papers in English. Note: You can access the National Library for Health Databases by going to www.evidence.nhs.uk and clicking on ‘conduct a specialist search’ (you may need to register for a password first)
Here are the search results- as you can see, they look to be very relevant to our scenario.
Is an organisation very similar to Cochrane which produces systematic reviews
Topics covered include: crime and justice, education and social welfare
Has a very small collection of reviews but it is gradually growing
View the reviews at : www.campbellcollaboration.org /
This is the homepage of the Campbell Collaboration. Click on ‘The Campbell Library’ on the left hand menu to view their reviews…
…then click on ‘browse’…
…and then you can see a list of categories. These break down into many further sub-categories. Let’s try one by clicking on ‘education’…
…then on ‘educational planning’…
…then on ‘educational statistics’…
…and finally on ‘educational attendance’…
…and here we are. You can view a review by clicking on the ‘review’ button and downloading the PDF file.
Brief Activity 2: Identifying Qualitative Research from Abstracts This exercise is for you to work on in your own time- there is nothing to submit and your work will not be marked. Open the Word file entitled ‘Abstracts Exercise’ and read through the list of titles and abstracts. Then, try to work out which ones are qualitative studies by looking out for some of the key words, phrases and methods that we’ve looked at so far.