Malterud's Evaluative Criteria

Malterud believes that "qualitaitve methods are founded on an understanding of research as a systematic and reflective process for development of knowledge that can somehow be contested and shared, implying ambitions of transferability beyond the study setting. 

Drawing on these assumptions, the researcher must be prepared to use strategies for:

  • questioning findings and interpretations, instead of taking them for granted;
  • assessing their internal and external validity, instead of judging them obvious or universal;
  • thinking about the effect of context and bias, without believing that knowlege is untouched by the human mind; and
  • displaying and discussing the processes of analysis, instead of believing that manuals grant trustworthiness" (Malterud, 2001, p. 483).

Malterud operationalizes these beliefs by positing the following criteria for 'good' qualitative research:

  • Transferability (external validity) and thorough consideration of sampling issues
  • Adequate presentation of background or contextual material
  • Accurate and unexaggerated description of the material
  • Thorough well-documented analysis that distinguishes scientific approach from superficial conjecture
    • Declaring qualitative analysis was done or stating that categories emerged when materials had been read by more than one person is not sufficient to explain how and why patterns were noticed
  • Interpretation of knowledge never emerges from data alone, but from relations between data and theoretical models and perspectives.  Reports should describe empirical categories and report if these categories were identified in advance.
  • Research reports need to articulate and declare the researcher's standpoint. 
  • Researchers must provide a detailed description of the the principles and choices underlying data coding and pattern recognition.  It is inadequate to say material was coded for typical or emergent patterns (audit trail).
  • Application of numbers to qualitative data should be done with caution and the process for doing this should be clearly articulated.

Click here to see Malterud's (2001, p. 485) comprehensive guidelines for authors and reviewers of qualtative studies.


Malterud, K. (2001). "Qualitative research: Standards, challenges and guidelines." The Lancet. 358: pp. 483-488.

Click here to return to Evaluative Criteria