Our Centre for Trials Research qualitative team are a group of experienced qualitative researchers and PhD students with varied backgrounds in fields such as social science, psychology and linguistics.
We design and carry out both stand-alone qualitative studies, and process evaluations of trials using the Medical Research Council (MRC) guidance.
Our group also works with qualitative researchers based in:
- the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer)
- the Division of Population Health in the School of Medicine
- the Public Health Improvement Research Network (PHIRN).
Qualitative research methods
Doing research using qualitative methods allows us to look below the surface. We are able to focus more closely on ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions relating to trials research, and we are able to both examine and highlight the trial research participants’ point of view. In order to gather the kind of information we need to do this, we use a wide range of data gathering methods including, for example:
- observations, conducted as a participant or non-participant observer
- interviews, conducted via telephone or face-to-face, sometimes using visual methods
- focus group discussions
- audio or video-recorded interactions
- diaries, blogs and forum contributions
- public discourse, as available on TV and radio, newspapers and magazines, or policy documents.
Qualitative data can be analysed in various ways, with the particular method depending on the aim of the study and the specific research questions we are trying to answer. Below is a small selection of the approaches used in current and planned Centre for Trials Research trials and studies:
- content analysis
- framework analysis
- grounded theory
- narrative analysis
- discourse analysis.
These are often combined with quantitative data analysis within the same study, using a mixed methods approach.
Benefits of qualitative methods
We use qualitative methods in trials because they allow us to “reach the parts that other methods cannot reach” (Pope and Mays 1995). They can help us to address questions which are not easily or not completely answered by quantitative methods.
Qualitative methods can enhance, elaborate or clarify trial findings and help us address questions relating to issues such as:
- unusual or unexpected trial results
- participants’ refusal to enrol in a trial
- participants’ early withdrawal from a trial
- non-compliance to a trial methodology.
When used within process evaluations, they allow us to develop a more complete picture of what went on during a trial, enriching our understanding and bringing greater credibility to trials research.