From NIH Guidelines:

"Does this study address an important problem?  If the aims of the application are achieved, how will scientific knowledge or clinical practice be advanced?  What will be the effect of these studies on the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services or preventative interventions that drive this field?"

To be important or relevant a qualitative grant, just like a quantitative grant, must address an important problem? 

Quantitative grants tend to articulate a narrow problem and identify a series of hypotheses that will be answered, if the research study is funded and conducted.

A different set of expectations is needed when evaluating qualitative grants, and include the following:

  • Qualitative applications often address broad and complex problems.  Qualitative methods are often used when little is known about a topic, area, issue or phenomenon.
  • It is probable that a qualitative proposal will NOT include proposed hypotheses that will be tested over the study's duration.  Reviewers should understand that it may be completely inappropriate (based on what is currently known about the phenomenon of interest) to propose a series of hypotheses to be tested.  The researcher should, however, explain in the application why hypotheses are not included.

  • Reviewers should expect a thorough review of the literature in a qualitative grant proposal.  This literature review should:
    • Demonstrate an awareness of the literature on a subject, including research in other disciplines as appropriate
    • Demonstrate the import of the proposed research question by showing that there is a gap in our knowledge that the proposed study will address or begin to fill-in
    • Provide an analysis of relevant concepts and theories
    • Provide a conceptual framework for the study
    • Articulate the study's theoretical underpinnings (if appropriate).  Click here for more on theoretical underpinnings or paradigms
    • Place the study in a theoretial context and develop a theoretical framework

The tension between a priori knowledge and inductive approaches

  • Reviewers shoud NOT expect the researcher to take any steps that might, prior to analyzing data, overly influence or determine how the data will be viewed and understood (e.g. highly detailed coding templates, overly restrictive observational guides).  Steps such as these would constrain the inductive nature of the qualitative process and, therefore, reduce the likelihood that something new would be learned from the study and potentially compromise the study's validity
  • Reviewers should expect that the grant application will include:
    • some indication of how a priori knowledge will be used
    • how the research team will reflect on and attempt to reveal their a priori assumptions during the study
    • a description of the steps that will be taken to avoid compromising validity.  We say more about this below.

There is a tension between constructing a persuasive, critical and concrete literature review and proposing an inductive study.  This is a balancing act.  Morse (2003) offers three very good suggestions for how to accomplish this:

    • use the existing literature to identify characteristics or attributes of a phenomenon that need to be better understood or defined by the proposed study
    • use the existing literature to identify conceptual boundaries, and propose that the current study will fill-in missing knowledge inside these boundaries
    • Use the existing literature to build a theoretical framework or an approach to addressing the proposed question or problem

Click here to return to Guidelines page