UMMS Affiliation

Graduate School of Nursing

Publication Date


Document Type



Community-Based Research | Health Services Administration | Health Services Research | Nursing | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies


This guide is based on multiple presentations we have given to doctoral students about the use of qualitative description (QD) and our own work using QD over the past 21 years. We were motivated to make this guide widely available due to the lack of adequate resources (manuscripts and textbooks) that cover QD. It is our hope that others will be open to this pragmatic approach, which is both creative and rigorous and can be useful for exploring phenomena from a qualitative perspective.

Many published articles claim to use QD (e.g., approximately 3,600 in PubMed). However, guidelines for conducting a QD study are lacking. Kim et al. (2016) expressed a similar sentiment in their systematic review of studies that used QD. The lack of a rigorous systematic approach leads to inconsistencies in sampling procedures, inadequate sample sizes, and lack of theoretical or conceptual orientations to build knowledge.

Research that uses QD is not intended to find underlying interpretive meanings or to describe the culture of a group; it is designed instead to describe the rich, truthful perspectives of those experiencing a specific and focused situation or phenomenon. The results of a QD study are expressed in common, easy-to-understand language. Therefore, it is especially useful when working with clinical populations, communities, and across different cultural groups. The QD approach provides rich description and makes an important contribution to knowledge development. We hope that this guide will become an essential reference for those interested in using this specific qualitative approach.


qualitative description, qualitative research, research methods, research design

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Copyright © 2021 Sullivan-Bolyai and Bova. This is an open access document distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License, which permits copying and redistributing in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.

DOI of Published Version


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Graduate School of Nursing Publications

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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