Qualitative Research Services

Qualitative research seeks to understand people's experiences, emotions, actions and interactions in the social world. This can be at the level of the individual or with groups of people. It also examines how people engage with nonhuman aspects of the social world such as technologies, materials and specific spaces.

Qualitative research provides a depth of understanding, rather than studying issues as the researcher defines them. Data collection techniques allow for interaction with participants and opportunities to probe with follow-up questions to gain a deep understanding of the what, how or why of an experience or phenomenon.

By using open-ended questions, researchers can get information they don't anticipate. Qualitative data collection processes also allow researchers to observe, record and interpret nonverbal communication such as body language or voice intonation.

The Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery offers qualitative research support services to clinicians and investigators at Mayo Clinic and externally. The center provides specialized knowledge and experience for planning and conducting the four interconnected phases of qualitative research: research design, data collection, data analysis and dissemination of findings.

Areas of focus

The methodologies used in qualitative research depend on what questions researchers seek to answer. Examples of study questions using qualitative research include:

  • What is meaningful communication between patient and provider during end-of-life care?
  • How do patients experience tube feeding at home?
  • Why hasn't telemedicine been adopted in neonatal intensive care practice?

The qualitative research services team has expertise in a variety of methodologies, such as ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, discourse analysis, and participatory or action research.

Once the appropriate methodology is chosen, researchers decide how to collect data. Potential tools include observations, in-depth interviews, focus groups and document analysis. Researchers are then guided through the four research phases:

  • Research design. The Qualitative Research Services team offers consultations to assist investigators with planning and design of rigorous qualitative research projects. During this phase, the team refines the research aims and questions, ensures scientific rigor, determines the amount of qualitative research team involvement required, and provides a budget estimate.
  • Data collection. Data collection methods are driven by research questions and appropriately selected methodologies. The Qualitative Research Services team can assist with data collection in a variety of settings, including the clinical environment and in patients' homes.
  • Data analysis. Qualitative data analysis is informed by the chosen research methodology, which is often grounded in social science theory. The Qualitative Research Services team provides expertise in data analysis to prepare results for publication.
  • Dissemination of findings. Qualitative research is published in a variety of scientific outlets and can be presented to patients, clinicians and other health service providers.

Qualitative research services at Mayo Clinic are charge-out resources available to researchers from all areas of health care and health care delivery, both within and external to Mayo Clinic.

Begin by reviewing the pre-consultation checklist. Then, email Mayo Clinic's Qualitative Research Services to request a consultation.


Joan M. Griffin, Ph.D.

Dawn M. Finnie