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Locating Qualitative Research

Guide to search strategies and filters for locating qualitative research, particularly in the health sciences.

PsycINFO via PsycNET or Ovid

At NYU, PsycINFO can be searched via Ovid, or via APA PsycNET.  (APA PscyNET also includes records from other APA databases, including PsycArticles, PsycTests, PscyExtra and more).

APA Index Terms

PsycINFO uses the APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms to describe the subjects of articles whose records are included in the database.  Some Index Terms in PsycINFO related to qualitative research would be:

  • Qualitative Methods
    • Can be exploded to include:
      • Focus Group
      • Grounded Theory    
      • Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis    
      • Narrative Analysis    
      • Semi-Structured Interview  
      • Thematic Analysis
  • Grounded Theory
  • Interviews
    • Can be exploded to include:
      • Cognitive Interview
      • Focus Group Interview
      • Intake Interview
      • Interview Schedules
      • Job Applicant Interviews
      • Psychodiagnostic Interview
      • Semi-Structured Interview
  • Observation Methods
    • Can be exploded to include:
      • Participant Observation
      • Direct Observation

Using Index Terms in PsycINFO 


For help using Index Terms in PsycNET, see this tutorial from APA Training


In Ovid, the APA Index Terms are found in the Subject field of the records.  As such, they can be searched using the "Map Term to Subject Heading" feature of the advanced search, or by adding the field tag .sh. or /.  For example, "Grounded Theory".sh. or "Grounded Theory"/

Filter by Methodology

The records in PsycINFO contain information about Study Methodology which makes it possible to limit to studies with qualitative study designs.  Try looking for methodology tags like:

  • Qualitative Study
  • Interview
  • Focus Group
  • Field Study

Directions for Filtering by Methodology


  1. On the results page for the search you wish to filter, select Edit Search
  2. Below the search bars, scroll down to filters 
  3. In the Filters menu, select Methodology is
  4. Select the criteria you wish to apply (you can select more than one option with CMD+click on a Mac, or CTRL+click on a PC)
  5. With the desired methodologies highlighted, Click Search 

PsycINFO via Ovid

Run the search you wish to filter

  1. Click Additional Limits
  2. Scroll to the box for Methodology
  3. Select the limits you'd like to apply (you can select more than one option with CMD+click on a Mac, or CTRL+click on a PC)
  4. Ensure that the search you wish to limit is selected
  5. Click Limit a Search

Clinical Queries

Clinical Queries are pre-formulated search strings that can be applied to a search to act as a filter.

In PsycINFO via Ovid, there is a pre-built Clinical Query for Qualitative Research.  

The queries are listed below, including the exact queries that are associated with each limit (see HIRU PsycINFO Search Strategies

Qualitative - Maximizes Sensitivity* OR OR

Qualitative - Maximizes Specificity OR

Qualitative - Best Balance OR OR

*Sensitivity vs. Specificity: A highly 'sensitive' query will attempt to retrieve all relevant documents, resulting in a broader search, with a greater likelihood of generating false hits.  A highly 'specific' query tries to retrieve only relevant documents in a smaller, more precise search. "Best balance" is a search that balances specificity and sensitivity.  Note that for a comprehensive literature search, it is important to err on the side of higher sensitivity.

Instructions: Applying a Clinical Query Filter in PsycINFO via Ovid

  1. Run the search you wish to filter
  2. Click Additional Limits
  3. Scroll to the box for Clinical Queries
  4. Select the query you'd like to apply (Qualitative - Maximizes Sensitivity, Maximized Specificity, or Best Balance*)
  5. Ensure that the search you wish to limit is selected
  6. Click Limit a Search

Silent 20 second video clip showing the steps for applying a Clinical Query filter in Ovid PsycINFO.

For a full tutorial (with sound and transcript) about applying filters in the Ovid platform, see this guide.

Use Text Words

When searching using only subject headings (and the field tags that look only in the subject field of records - e.g., Index Terms), it is possible to miss records that are not well described using the subject terms. 

As such, it is a good idea to also try using text words, or keyword searching, to look in the other fields of the records (e.g., the title and abstract).  The following search terms can be used across many different databases to try to locate records describing qualitative research:

(qualitative OR ethnograph* OR phenomenol* OR ethnonurs* OR grounded theor* OR purposive sample OR hermeneutic* OR heuristic* OR semiotics OR lived experience* OR narrative* OR life experiences OR cluster sample OR action research OR observational method OR content analysis OR thematic analysis OR constant comparative method OR field stud* OR theoretical sample OR discourse analysis OR focus group* OR ethnological research OR ethnomethodolog* OR interview*)

Locating Mixed Methods Research

APA Index Terms: Mixed Methods Research

The APA thesaurus has an Index Term that is tagged to records describing mixed-methods studies: "Mixed Methods Research"


You can also search your topic with the following suggested text words:

  • mixed model* OR mixed design* OR multiple method* OR multimethod* OR triangulat*