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Keywords:

  • Generalizability;
  • qualitative;
  • quotations;
  • reporting criteria;
  • research methods;
  • theory and concepts

Addiction encourages the submission of high-quality qualitative research. This editorial sets out the journal's position and provides a set of criteria to guide researchers when submitting or reviewing qualitative reports.

The fact that Addiction publishes very few qualitative studies has raised the question of whether the journal is inclined against such research [1]. This editorial clarifies the journal's support for qualitative work, announces some positive changes that will affect those submitting qualitative manuscripts to the journal, and provides basic criteria to guide researchers who are considering sending their best qualitative work to us.

Qualitative research explores phenomena in their natural settings, the aim being to understand people's actions, as well as how they account for their experiences and manage their day-to-day lives [1, 2]. Thus, qualitative researchers seek to comprehend the meanings that individuals attach to their behaviours, as well as the social or structural processes by which such meanings are created, reinforced and reproduced [3]. Qualitative studies are typically less structured than quantitative ones, involve the collection of much larger volumes of data from fewer participants and deploy analytical techniques that are explicitly interpretive, creative and personal [4]. Sample size is sacrificed in order to obtain deeper, more contextualized understandings of people's values, actions and situations [1].

Within the addictions, qualitative research provides an essential mechanism for understanding substance use, diverse forms of dependence and associated harms [1, 3]. None the less, qualitative research—like quantitative research—can be designed inappropriately, conducted poorly, analysed weakly and reported badly. Our editorial team has identified the following common shortcomings in recent qualitative submissions to Addiction: poor awareness of, and engagement with, key existing literature; lack of clarity regarding core concepts; unclear research questions or aims leading to a lack of focus in the paper; insufficient detail on the sample, methods or analytical processes; descriptive analyses that lack depth, nuance or appropriate engagement with theory or relevant concepts; lack of advancement of understanding or original contribution to the field; and conclusions that do not follow directly from the study findings.

Addiction's goals are to aid international and interdisciplinary scientific and clinical communication, strengthen links between science and policy and stimulate and enhance the quality of debate. Qualitative research is well placed to contribute to these goals. For example, it can identify, and provide important insights into, unexpected or previously unknown addiction-related phenomena; help to demystify, refine or challenge widely used addiction-related concepts; produce valuable typologies and models of addictive behaviours; explore associations between particular phenomena, population groups and health outcomes; evaluate intervention and treatment programmes designed to reduce drug-related harms; generate new theory or test and develop existing theory; and contribute to the formulation and evaluation of drug policy (c.f. [1, 3]).

Qualitative research is a rapidly evolving field, with researchers demonstrating ever-increasing levels of methodological skill and sophistication. There are many accepted types of study design, methods of data collection, data sources, sampling strategies and analytical techniques. Furthermore, those conducting qualitative research have diverse epistemological, philosophical and theoretical orientations. Reflecting this, qualitative researchers often debate methodological issues relating to, inter alia, sample size, the use of verbatim quotations, the role of the researcher in co-producing data with study participants, the importance of engagement with social theory and the generalizability of findings. Consequently, qualitative research is unlikely to be executed well by someone who has not undertaken formal study and apprenticeship. It also requires a peer-reviewing process that combines rigour with flexibility.

Differences of opinion and approach are not, in themselves, weaknesses (indeed, quantitative researchers also often disagree with each other). However, they highlight the need to think carefully about the kind of qualitative research that is most likely to be relevant to Addiction. The journal's international profile and readership sets the scene. For example, the findings of any manuscript need to speak beyond the immediate research participants and study setting, and ideally beyond national boundaries. This is clearly easier with a large sample size, but can still be accomplished by small-scale studies if data are linked to broader policies, practices, processes, concepts or theory. When this is achieved successfully, authors may claim that their findings are theoretically—as opposed to empirically—generalizable, and thus relevant to other contexts.

Because qualitative researchers tend to write at length about a wide range of methodological issues and often include verbatim quotations to illustrate or develop their arguments, their manuscripts have the potential to be extremely long. Overly complex methodological detail, unexplained technical jargon and lengthy theoretical expositions are likely to deter non-qualitative researchers, who currently form the majority of Addiction readers. Conversely, a paper that (i) provides a succinct account of the study population, data collection processes and analytical technique(s); (ii) weaves carefully selected verbatim quotations into the main text; and (iii) moves beyond simple local description by connecting skilfully to an overarching policy, practice or theoretical framework can capture the attention of readers who are not qualitative specialists, but might find the results interesting and useful.

Addiction is keen to receive and publish excellent qualitative research. With this in mind, we have recently made a number of changes at the journal. First, we have recruited three new Assistant Editors with expertise in qualitative research. This means that there is now a dedicated qualitative Senior Editor working with a team of six Assistant Editors with qualitative experience, as well as a Commissioning Editor with qualitative expertise. In addition, we have extended the maximum length of qualitative manuscripts from 3500 to 4500 words. The additional 1000 words are to facilitate the inclusion of direct quotations within the main text and are in lieu of tables or graphs. Lastly, we have compiled a set of criteria to be used as a guide when preparing and reviewing qualitative manuscripts for the journal. These are set out in Table 1, and should be read in conjunction with Addiction's priorities when evaluating submissions [5]. We also advise authors to check their manuscripts against one of the various reporting guidelines for qualitative studies (c.f. [6]).

Table 1. Criteria to be used when reporting and reviewing qualitative submissions to Addiction.
  • Manuscripts should refer concisely to, and engage with, key relevant literature
  • The research question(s), aim(s), or objective(s) should be specified clearly
  • Any core concepts should be defined
  • The sample, sample size and sampling strategy should be described fully and data collection processes documented
  • Brief details of any formal ethical approval granted and procedures for securing informed consent should be provided
  • Any limitations or idiosyncrasies in the data/data sources or methods should be discussed
  • The analytical approach should be explained and the analysis processes—including data coding—described concisely in a way that conveys transparency and trustworthiness
  • Relevant contextual information on the setting and participants should be reported, although people and places should be anonymized appropriately
  • Any quotations or fieldnotes should be presented in a way that enables the reader to assess the range of views expressed by the participants
  • Quotations and fieldnotes should normally be presented within the main text, and not listed in tables at the end of the manuscript (all quotations and fieldnotes must be included in the word count)
  • Distinctions between the data and the researchers' interpretation of the data should be evident
  • There should be consistency between the data presented, the findings documented and the conclusions articulated
  • Findings should be related to formal constructs, relevant theories or broader policies, processes or treatment practices (i.e. the paper should have an overarching framework that moves the data beyond simple local description)
  • Manuscripts should convey something original about processes, dynamics, concepts or phenomena that enhance understanding of addiction or addictive behaviours

Declarations of interest

JN has received honoraria from Addiction for her role as Senior Editor and some travel expenses and hospitality from the Society for the Study of Addiction in her role as Trustee. PM receives honoraria and some travel expenses from Addiction for his role as Commissioning Editor.

The other authors have no declarations of interest to report.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. References
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    Neale J., Allen D., Coombes L. Qualitative research methods within the addictions. Addiction 2005; 100: 15841593.
  • 2
    Miles M. B., Huberman A. M. Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Source Book, 2nd edn. London: Sage; 1994.
  • 3
    Rhodes T., Coomber R. Qualitative methods and theory in addictions research. In: Miller P. G. , Strang J. , Miller P. M. , editors. Addiction Research Methods. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010, p. 5978.
  • 4
    Walker R. An introduction to applied qualitative research. In: Walker R. , editor. Applied Qualitative Research. Aldershot: Gower; 1985, p. 326.
  • 5
    West R., Miller P., Babor T., Marsden J., Darke S., Humphreys K. et al. Addiction's priorities when evaluating submissions. Addiction 2011; 106: 463465.
  • 6
    Tong A., Sainsbury P., Craig J. Consolidated criteria for reporting qualitative research (COREQ): a 32-item checklist for interviews and focus groups. Int J Qual Health Care 2007; 19: 349357.