Skip to Main Content

Qualitative Research Resources: Finding Qualitative Studies

Find sources of qualitative training & support at UNC. How to search for and evaluate qualitative research, integrate qualitative research into systematic reviews, report/publish qualitative research. Includes some Mixed Methods resources.

Created by Health Science Librarians

About this Page

Why is this information important?

  • Electronic databases for health science literature, such as PubMed or CINAHL, often do not index qualitative health studies very clearly.
  • Authors also do not always identify their methods using the word "qualitative" in their titles or abstracts; in some cases they may use terminology for a specific qualitative method instead.
  • Often, that means that it is hard to find qualitative studies in common health science databases like PubMed

On this page you'll find:

  • articles that describe and evaluate search strategies for finding qualitative research
  • articles that provide search strategies for specific databases
  • web resources on search filters and finding qualitative articles in databases
  • links to sets of search terms to use when searching for qualitative research

Ready-Built Sets of Search Terms

Database-specific Search Strategies

A Few Articles on Search Strategies for Specific Databases


Wilczynski NL, Marks S, Haynes RB.2007. Search strategies for identifying qualitative studies in CINAHL. Qualitative Health Research 17(5):705-10.


Walters LA, Wilczynski NL, Haynes RB; Hedges Team. 2006. Developing optimal search strategies for retrieving clinically relevant qualitative studies in EMBASE. Qualitative Health Research 16(1):162-8.


Wagner M, Rosumeck S, Küffmeier C, Döring K, Euler U. A validation study revealed differences in design and performance of MEDLINE search filters for qualitative research. J Clin Epidemiol. 2020 Apr;120:17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2019.12.008. Epub 2019 Dec 18. PMID: 31862229.

Wong SS, Wilczynski NL, Haynes RB, Hedges Team. 2004. Developing optimal search strategies for detecting clinically relevant qualitative studies in MEDLINE. Medinfo  11: 311-316.


McKibbon KA, Wilczynski NL, Haynes RB. 2006. Developing optimal search strategies for retrieving qualitative studies in PsycINFO. Evaluation and the Health Professions  29: 440-454.


Rosumeck S, Wagner M, Wallraf S, Euler U. A validation study revealed differences in design and performance of search filters for qualitative research in PsycINFO and CINAHL. J Clin Epidemiol. 2020 Dec;128:101-108. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2020.09.031. Epub 2020 Sep 26. PMID: 32987157.

MEDLINE, CINAHL, Social Science Citation Index (SSCI):

DeJean D, Giacomini M, Simeonov D, Smith A. Finding Qualitative Research Evidence for Health Technology Assessment. Qual Health Res. 2016 Aug;26(10):1307-17. doi: 10.1177/1049732316644429. Epub 2016 Apr 26. PMID: 27117960.


Rogers M, Bethel A, Abbott R. Locating qualitative studies in dementia on MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and PsycINFO: A comparison of search strategies. Res Synth Methods. 2018 Dec;9(4):579-586. doi: 10.1002/jrsm.1280. Epub 2017 Nov 27. PMID: 29080334.

General Qual Search Strategies

A Few Articles on General Search Strategies for Qualitative Literature

Booth, A. (2016). Searching for qualitative research for inclusion in systematic reviews: A structured methodological review. Systematic Reviews, 5 doi:

Cook, A., D. Smith, and A. Booth. 2012. Beyond PICO: the SPIDER tool for qualitative evidence synthesis. Qualitative Health Research 10: 1435-1443.

Evans, D. 2002. Database searches for qualitative researchJournal of the Medical Libraries Association, 90(3): 290-293.

Flemming K, Briggs M. 2007. Electronic searching to locate qualitative research: evaluation of three strategies. J Adv Nurs. 57(1):95-100

Gorecki CA, Brown JM, Briggs M, Nixon J. 2010. Evaluation of five search strategies in retrieving qualitative patient-reported electronic data on the impact of pressure ulcers on quality of life. J Adv Nurs. 66(3):645-52

Grant MJ. 2004 How does your searching grow? A survey of search preferences and the use of optimal search strategies in the identification of qualitative research. Health Info Libr J. 21(1):21-32

Littleton, D, S Marsalis, D Z Bliss. 2004. Searching the literature by design. Western Journal of Nursing Research 26(8): 891-908.

Methley, A.M., S. Campbell, C. Chew-Graham, R. McNally, and S. Cheraghi-Sohi. 2014. PICO, PICOS, and SPIDER: a comparison study of specificity and sensitivity in three search tools for qualitative systematic reviews. BMC Health Serv Res 14: 579.

Pearson, M., Moxham, T., & Ashton, K. 2011. Effectiveness of Search Strategies for Qualitative Research About Barriers and Facilitators of Program DeliveryEvaluation & the Health Professions, 34(3), 297–308.

Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. 2008. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. Chapter 4: How to Find the Studies: The Literature Search. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, UK.

Shaw RL, Booth A, Sutton AJ, Miller T, Smith JA, Young B, et al. 2004. Finding qualitative research: an evaluation of search strategies. BMC Med Res Methodol 4:5

Web Resources