The social care evidence base reveals a distinct preference for qualitative methods covering a broad range of social care topics. This review provides an introduction to the different ways in which qualitative research has been used in social care and some of the reasons why it has been successful in identifying under-researched areas, in documenting the experiences of people using services, carers, and practitioners, and in evaluating new types of service or intervention. Examples of completed research on a selection of topics are chosen to give an understanding of some of the differing underpinning approaches to qualitative research, including grounded theory, case studies and ethnography. These are used to illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of the methods of data collection used most frequently in qualitative research, including in-depth interviews, focus groups and observation as well considering issues such as sampling and data analysis. The review ends with a discussion on how qualitative social care research might be improved in terms of its quality and in extending the repertoire of research methodologies on which it draws.
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