Focus and methodological adaptations of qualitative research during the COVID-19 pandemic: a scoping review and textual narrative synthesis


  • Aminu Ango Haruna School of Public Health, Glasgow University, Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • Stephen Chukwuma Ogbodo Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, Canada



COVID-19, Qualitative research, Methods, Ethnography


Research is a vital driver of the response to health emergencies. This scoping review aimed to characterize the application of qualitative research during the COVID-19 pandemic, with two primary objectives: identifying the qualitative research methods and adaptations applied, and summarizing the research questions which the studies sought to answer. CINAHL and PsycINFO were systematically searched for qualitative studies relating to COVID-19 and published between January 2020 and November 2021. Articles were screened and included in the review using pre-defined eligibility criteria. A total of 535 articles met the inclusion criteria, mostly from North America and Europe. An observed methodological adaptation was a surge in virtually conducted research – most studies collected data through interviews, 52% of which were conducted virtually using telephone or teleconferencing technology. Similarly, 27% of the focus group discussions and 20% of the ethnographies were conducted virtually. A textual narrative synthesis of all reviewed studies identified four major groups: health-related studies, education-related studies, studies about vaccine acceptance, and studies in specific population groups, such as the elderly, ethnic minorities, and working-class women in patriarchal contexts. There was a seeming neglect of the experience of youths, and insufficient attention has been paid to the dynamics of medical distrust with regard to vaccine hesitancy. Qualitative research has been applied to extensively explore people’s perceptions and experiences of the pandemic. The progressive improvement of virtual research methods will be beneficial for future pandemic preparedness. More representation of research from under-resourced regions of the world is also needed.


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