Challenges and Pitfalls in the Design and Reporting of Qualitative Research in the Health Sciences: Reflections from a Referee and Reviewer

  • Carl Abelardo T. Antonio Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong; Department of Health Policy and Administration, College of Public Health, University of the Philippines Manila
Keywords: qualitative research, data collection, data analysis, research report, journal article


This paper aims to highlight some of the common areas of concern in qualitative research proposals and manuscripts, gleaned from the authors’ first-hand experience as an external referee and peer-reviewer. The purpose is to provide broad guidance to researchers who are contemplating on writing a research proposal or journal manuscript using a qualitative approach. The three issues are (1) application of the generic label “qualitative” when proponents or authors describe the study design; (2) overreliance on, and even misuse of, interviews and focus groups for data collection; and (3) misconceptions on the process of qualitative data analysis. Practice points are offered on how researchers can avoid these missteps.

Research has been characterized as a quest for knowledge, and it has been proposed that both qualitative and quantitative approaches uncover different dimensions of “truth”. The predominance of a positivist ontology in health research in the Philippines and elsewhere, coupled with intense methodological training in quantitative approaches, however, has relegated qualitative research to second-class status. Improving the quality of qualitative research work by addressing some of the issues outlined in this paper is one way of moving past this situation.