Popay, Rogers and Williams's Evaluative Criteria

Popay, Rogers and Williams recognize that there are multiple approaches to developing evaluative criteria for qualitative research and that these approaches vary by epistemology.  Nevertheless, they identify the following as one set of criteria for evaluting qualitative research:

Does the research illuminate the subjective meaning, contexts and actions of those being investigated?

  • Does the report show how behaviors are understood from within the culture, social setting or group being studied?
  • Do the researchers find ways of giving lay knowledge equal worth to other forms of knowing?
  • Does the research study how people act, employ knowledge and experience and understand the phenomenon of interest?

Is there evidence of responsiveness to the social context and flexibility of design?

Is there evidence that the research design was flexible and the researcher was responsive and adapted to the social circumstances of the study (as needed)?

Evidence of theoretical or purposeful sampling

  • Does the sample produce the type of knowledge necessary to understand the structures and processes within which the individuals or situations are located?
  • Is the process by which individuals and cases are selected adequately described?  Is a rationale provided?  Does it make sense?

Evidence of adequate description - this is the richness of the findings and interpretation of data that the research produces

  • Is the description provided detailed enough to allow the researcher/reader to interpret the meaning and context of what is being described?
  • To what extent does the text show evidence of or support the description or interpretation the researcher provides?

Evidence of data quality

  • How are different sources of knowledge about the same issues compared and contrasted (triangulation)?  It is not expected that accounts will coincide, but that multiple data sources will help illuminate different facets of the reality under investigation.
  • Are participants' subjective experiences and local knowledge treated as knowledge in its own right?
  • To what extent has the researcher rendered transparent the processes by which data were collected, analyzed and presented (audit trail)?  This includes describing the time, extent and natures of the researcher's involvement in the social situation (reflexivity).

Evidence of theoretical and conceptual adequacy

  • Interpretive validity - how does the researcher move from a description of the data to quotation of examples, to analysis and interpretation of the meaning of data?  What kind of method is used (e.g. constant comparative method)?

Potential for assessing typicality

  • What claims are being made for the generalizability of the findings to either other bodies of knowledge or to other populations or groups?
  • Reports should provide enough background information to make judgments of typicality with regard to the features of a case or a sample


Popay, J., Rogers, A., & Williams, G. (1998). "Rationale and standards for the systematic review of qualitative literature in health services research." Qualitative Health Research. 8(3), 341-351.

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