Reading Qualitative Educational Policy Research

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Key New NEPC Brief Takeaway: Look for key indicators to determine a research report’s quality and usefulness.

Qualitative research, which is primarily based on a variety of observational and interview techniques, seeks to add a deeper understanding of the program, policy or intervention being studied. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods have strengths and weaknesses, and each answers different yet important questions.

In a new brief released today, Reading Qualitative Educational Policy Research, William Mathis concisely identifies key elements in evaluating a qualitative study. Paired with last week’s brief by Holly Yettick, Five Simple Steps to Reading Policy Research, this brief is designed to provide straightforward guidance for policymakers and other readers about how to determine a research report’s quality and usefulness.

Readers should ask the following questions, Mathis concludes:

  • Was the study conducted with rigor? That is, is it defined by truth value (credibility), applicability (transferability), consistency (dependability), and neutrality (confirmability)?
  • Are the data sources appropriate for its conclusions?
  • Was the study placed within the larger body of research?
  • Does the study show signs of quality such as independent peer-review, source integrity, and absence of obvious bias?
  • Are the methods clearly explained?

Dr. Mathis is Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. This brief is one in a series of concise publications, Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, that take up a number of important policy issues and identify policies supported by research. Each focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations to policymakers are based on the latest scholarship.

Find William Mathis’s brief on the NEPC website at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

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William J. Mathis