Reading Qualitative Studies

  • Margarete Sandelowski University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Julie Barroso University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


In this article, the authors hope to shift the debate in the practice disciplines concerning quality in qualitative research from a preoccupation with epistemic criteria toward consideration of aesthetic and rhetorical concerns. They see epistemic criteria as inevitably including aesthetic and rhetorical concerns. The authors argue here for a reconceptualization of the research report as a literary technology that mediates between researcher/writer and reviewer/reader. The evaluation of these reports should thus be treated as occasions in which readers seek to make texts meaningful, rather than for the rigid application of standards and criteria. The authors draw from reader-response theories, literature on rhetoric and representation in science, and findings from an on-going methodological research project involving the appraisal of a set of qualitative studies.