By Sila Rogan

This blog post will help you understand what qualitative research is, how it can be used in rural health research, and how to decide if qualitative research is right for answering your rural health research question.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research involves taking exploratory approaches to collecting and analyzing information on phenomena such as people’s experiences, or cultural concepts. Examples of qualitative data include text, video, or audio(1). Qualitative approaches are well suited for rural health research projects that aim to capture the experiences and/or cultures of rural communities.

How can qualitative research be used in a rural health research context?

Qualitative methods put to use: Building blocks to sustainable rural maternity care

In this study, data gathered from focus groups was used to determine the challenges North Island women had accessing maternity care, the challenges healthcare providers and administrators had in providing that care, and supports that would help to overcome these challenges. Taking a qualitative approach allowed the researchers to accurately and thoroughly capture the experiences of rural women and physicians in the North Island. To read the full report, click here.

Other examples of qualitative research being used in a rural health setting can be found in these rural health research databases.

Centre for Rural Health Research

BC Rural Health Network

The Rural Health Research Network of British Columbia

Should I use qualitative methods in my research?

You will have to ultimately decide whether or not qualitative research methods are right for answering your research question. To help, we have outlined a list of pros and cons of qualitative methods, as well as considerations specific to a rural health context(2).

Qualitative research pros Qualitative research cons

Qualitative approaches can be adapted to a changing research environment. As rural health research is often dynamic and may need to respond to the needs of the community, this may be particularly useful.


Qualitative research is generally unable to control for variables that may impact the data collected. As such, the validity of the data and research may be compromised.

Real world setting

Qualitative research can be done outside the lab and in the community. As such, insights may be reflective of the real world rather than a controlled setting. As rural health research is often community-focused, being able to have data reflective of a community setting is a huge advantage.

Not always generalizable

Qualitative research is generally conducted with a small sample size and does not control for certain variables. As such, the findings may not be generalizable to the entire populations studied. This is of particular concern to rural health research as there is immense diversity and context-dependence involved in the health of rural communities. As such, rural health researchers using qualitative methods should be very careful validating their qualitative research.

Emergence of new ideas

Because there are fewer constraints in the nature of data collected, using qualitative research approaches can lead to the generation of new ideas. For rural health research that aims to create innovative ideas and solutions, this attribute of qualitative methods may be favourable.

Rigorous analysis

Analyzing qualitative data properly requires methods like transcription of interviews, coding, and thematic analysis. These methods can be time- and labour- intensive, and most of the analysis cannot be done by software.

Exploratory data

Qualitative methods allow researchers to dive deep into issues impacting a community, especially in areas pertaining to culture, social issues, and experiences; types of data may be difficult to capture using different forms of data collection. For many research projects, qualitative data can be a used to complement and provide context for other forms of data collection as it explores these kinds of phenomena so well.

Validating qualitative methodologies

Validating qualitative research methods can be challenging. Whereas quantitative methods can be validated using tools like statistical analysis and replicability, the subjective, context-dependent, and descriptive nature of qualitative research methods means that there is not a single way to validate all qualitative approaches(3). While researchers should ultimately consider which approach works best for their particular research method and question, we have listed some general principles for validating qualitative research below.

Tip 1: Carefully develop a research procedure

Before your data collection begins, make sure that you have a clearly defined research question, have a well-developed procedure that addresses how data will be collected, managed, and analyzed(4).

Tip 2: Choose an appropriate sample

As the experiences and knowledge of research participants are the basis for the data collected in a qualitative study, it is critical that the right people are asked to participate(3).

Tip 3: Be very descriptive when collecting data

One of the major advantages of qualitative research approaches is the depth with which researchers are able to investigate an issue of interest. By being very descriptive while collecting data, researchers are able to get a full picture of the issue they are investigating, and are able to have more confidence in the conclusions they draw from the data (3). This may entail gathering a large volume of data, gathering multiple different forms of data (for example, text, video, interviews, written statements, data from different participants), and/or taking a more in-depth approach to certain issues.

Tip 4: Triangulate

Triangulation is when the data is analyzed in different ways, such as by having different researchers independently analyze the data or looking at data from multiple different sources, and then identifying convergent findings(3). While triangulation doesn’t always validate qualitative data it is a valuable tool for strengthening findings drawn from a qualitative data set.

For more information qualitative validation, check out these other resources:

Qualitative research methods: when to use them and how to judge them (Hammarberg, Kirkman, and De Lacy, 2015)

Validation in Qualitative Research: General Aspects and Specificities of the Descriptive Phenomenological Method (Sousa, 2014)

Validation of qualitative research in the “real world”

Has your research team used qualitative methods or planning a qualitative research study? We would love to hear about it.

 Please comment below!


  1. What is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples [Internet]. Scribbr. 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 21]. Available from:
  2. What is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples [Internet]. Scribbr. 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 21]. Available from:
  3. FitzPatrick B. Validity in qualitative health education research. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2019 Feb 1;11(2):211–7.
  4. Hammarberg K, Kirkman M, de Lacey S. Qualitative research methods: when to use them and how to judge them. Hum Reprod. 2016 Mar 1;31(3):498–501.