APA Style

Qualitative Research in APA Style

For the first time ever, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association [APA], APA Publication Manual2020) now includes relevant discussions pertaining to qualitative research. In the 7th (most recent) edition, the APA manual now integrates definitions and explanations of qualitative articles along side quantitative articles, gives a description and outlines approaches to qualitative meta-analyses in addition to quantitative meta-analyses, offers the reader unique data-sharing considerations associated with qualitative research, and presents a lengthy, detailed section on the “Reporting Standards for Qualitative Research.”

Even if you are not a devotee of the APA referencing style, qualitative researchers will benefit from reviewing the considerations found in the manual. For instance, the APA reporting standards stipulate five main areas for the Method section of a qualitative research article: 1) overview of the research design; 2) research participants and/or other data sources; 3) participant recruitment; 4) data collection; and 5) data analysis. It is noteworthy that in the Method area pertaining to research participants, APA recommends that the author go beyond discussing the number and demographic or cultural characteristics of the study participants to include “personal history factors” (e.g., trauma exposure, family history) “that are relevant to the specific contexts and topics of their research” (p. 100). With their emphasis on specific contexts, APA cites Morse (2008) and her discussion on the importance of reporting relevant details of the participants, which may or may not include demographic information — “Some demographic information may be pertinent: If it is, keep it; if not, do not report it” (p. 300). Morse goes on to remind researchers that “in qualitative inquiry, the description of the context is often as important as the description of the participants” (p. 300).

In addition to these characteristics, the APA style also states that, in the spirit of transparency, authors of a qualitative research article should discuss the researcher-participant relationship. Specifically, the manual asks authors to “describe the relationships and interactions between researchers and participants that are relevant to the research process and any impact on the research process (e.g., any relationships prior to the study, any ethical considerations relevant to prior relationships)” (p. 100).

These and other discussions on reporting standards — e.g., pertaining to the participant recruitment process and sampling, data collection strategy, and data analysis, along with a discussion of methodological integrity — are useful reading to not only the researcher who hopes to publish their work but also to qualitative researchers who are looking for a condensed version of qualitative research design considerations.

It has been a long time coming but hats off to APA for acknowledging qualitative methods and for giving careful thought to the unique attributes associated with qualitative designs in adapting their style standards.

American Psychological Association. (2020). The publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington, DC.

Morse, J. M. (2008). “What’s your favorite color?” Reporting irrelevant demographics in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 18(3), 299–300. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732307310995