Qualitative research collects non-numerical data that explores human behaviour, attitudes, beliefs and personality characteristics unamendable to quantitative research. The qualitative research questions are open-ended, evolving and non-directional. The study design is flexible and iterative. Purposive sampling is commonly used. The sample size is determined by theoretical saturation. Data collection is generally through in-depth interviews, focus groups and observations. Qualitative research commonly uses thematic analysis and framework analysis, although there is no consensus on analysing qualitative data. The reporting format can be comprehensive, a summary, developmental or selective, subject to the research question. Qualitative research’s potential functions are to describe the form or nature of what exists (contextual), to examine the reasons for or associations between what exists (explanatory), to appraise the effectiveness of what exists (evaluative), and to aid the development of strategies (generative). Qualitative research can be time consuming to conduct because it explores evolving questions; difficult to generalise because it recruits limited participants; and arduous when it comes to making systematic comparisons because responses are subjective. However, qualitative research can provide depth and detail, create openness, simulate people’s individual experiences and avoid pre-judgements. This concise review provides an overview and suggestions for dental researchers when conducting a qualitative study.
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