Skip to content
Journal article

Finding qualitative research: an evaluation of search strategies

Rachel S, Andrew B, Alex S, Tina M, Jonathan S, Bridget Y, David J, Mary D ...see all

BMC Medical Research Methodology, vol. 4, issue 1 (2004) p. 5 Published by BioMed Central

  • 1

    Readers

    Mendeley users who have this article in their library.
  • N/A

    Citations

    Citations of this article.
  • N/A

    Views

    ScienceDirect users who have downloaded this article.
Sign in to save reference

Abstract

Background Qualitative research makes an important contribution to our understanding of health and healthcare. However, qualitative evidence can be difficult to search for and identify, and the effectiveness of different types of search strategies is unknown. Methods Three search strategies for qualitative research in the example area of support for breast-feeding were evaluated using six electronic bibliographic databases. The strategies were based on using thesaurus terms, free-text terms and broad-based terms. These strategies were combined with recognised search terms for support for breast-feeding previously used in a Cochrane review. For each strategy, we evaluated the recall (potentially relevant records found) and precision (actually relevant records found). Results A total yield of 7420 potentially relevant records was retrieved by the three strategies combined. Of these, 262 were judged relevant. Using one strategy alone would miss relevant records. The broad-based strategy had the highest recall and the thesaurus strategy the highest precision. Precision was generally poor: 96% of records initially identified as potentially relevant were deemed irrelevant. Searching for qualitative research involves trade-offs between recall and precision. Conclusions These findings confirm that strategies that attempt to maximise the number of potentially relevant records found are likely to result in a large number of false positives. The findings also suggest that a range of search terms is required to optimise searching for qualitative evidence. This underlines the problems of current methods for indexing qualitative research in bibliographic databases and indicates where improvements need to be made.

Get free article suggestions today

Mendeley saves you time finding and organizing research

Sign up here
Already have an account ?Sign in

Find this document

Authors

  • Shaw Rachel

  • Booth Andrew

  • Sutton Alex

  • Miller Tina

  • Smith Jonathan

  • Young Bridget

Cite this document

Choose a citation style from the tabs below