The Qualitative Descriptive Approach in International Comparative Studies: Using Online Qualitative Surveys

Document Type : Perspective


1 School of Population and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

2 Centre for Clinical Epidemiology & Evaluation, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada


International comparative studies constitute a highly valuable contribution to public policy research. Analysing different policy designs offers not only a mean of knowing the phenomenon itself but also gives us insightful clues on how to improve existing practices. Although much of the work carried out in this realm relies on quantitative appraisal of the data contained in international databases or collected from institutional websites, countless topics may simply not be studied using this type of methodological design due to, for instance, the lack of reliable databases, sparse or diffuse sources of information, etc. Here then we discuss the use of the qualitative descriptive approach as a methodological tool to obtain data on how policies are structured. We propose the use of online qualitative surveys with key stakeholders from each relevant national context in order to retrieve the fundamental pieces of information on how a certain public policy is addressed there. Starting from Sandelowski’s seminal paper on qualitative descriptive studies, we conduct a theoretical reflection on the current methodological proposition. We argue that a researcher engaged in this endeavour acts like a composite-sketch artist collecting pieces of information from witnesses in order to draw a valid depiction of reality. Furthermore, we discuss the most relevant aspects involving sampling, data collection and data analysis in this context. Overall, this methodological design has a great potential for allowing researchers to expand the international analysis of public policies to topics hitherto little appraised from this perspective.


Main Subjects

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  • Receive Date: 27 September 2017
  • Revise Date: 03 November 2017
  • Accept Date: 12 December 2017
  • First Publish Date: 01 September 2018