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Qualitative study design



Looking at the past to inform the future.



Describing and examining past events to better understand the present and to anticipate potential effects on the future. To identify a need for knowledge that requires a historical investigation. Piecing together a history, particularly when there are no people living to tell their story.  


  • Documents
  • Oral recordings
  • Interviews


strengths Strengths

  • Can provide a fuller picture of the scope of the research as it covers a wider range of sources. As an example, documents such as diaries, oral histories and official records and newspaper reports were used to identify a scurvy and smallpox epidemic among Klondike gold rushers (Highet p3).

  • Unobtrusiveness of this research method.


limitations Limitations

  • Issues with validity – can only use the historical information that is available today.

  • Primary sources are hard to locate.  

  • Hard to triangulate findings (find other resources to back up the information provided in the original resource). 


iconExample questions

  • What caused an outbreak of polio in the past that may contribute to the outbreaks of today? 
  • How has the attitude to LGBTQIA+ changed over the past 50 years?


iconExample studies


  • Godshall, M. (2016). Fast facts for evidence-based practice in nursing: Implementing EBP in a nutshell (2nd ed.). New York: Springer Publishing Company. 

  • Highet, M. J. (2010). "It Depends on Where You Look": The Unusual Presentation of Scurvy and  Smallpox Among Klondike Gold Rushers as Revealed Through Qualitative Data Sources. Past Imperfect, 16, 3-34. doi:10.21971/P7J59D 

  • Saks, M., & Allsop, J. (2012). Researching health: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods (2nd ed.). London: SAGE. 

  • Taylor, B. J., & Francis, K. (2013). Qualitative research in the health sciences: methodologies, methods and processes. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.