School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Qualitative Research Methods (PHCM9120)

image - Qualitative Research Methods


Explores a range of qualitative research methods and techniques, including participant observation, in-depth interviews and focus groups and their application to public health and health promotion. The course aims to provide students with skills for documenting and understanding how people interpret health and illness and the contexts in which they occur. Recommended for students wishing to undertake their projects using qualitative methods.

Credit points

This course is an elective course for the Masters of Public Health, Health Management and International Public Health programs, comprising 6 units of credit. It is open to students doing other postgraduate programs at UNSW, or studying at other institutions by arrangement. There are no pre-requisites, however, the course assumes familiarity with basic public health research and prior studies in general research and evaluation methods or epidemiology are desirable.

Mode of study

External (Distance) and Internal (Face-to-Face) classes on campus.

Course aim

The overall aim of this course is to enable you to critically evaluate the use of qualitative methods in public health research – both research which informs practitioners’ work and research in which you may be involved in planning, designing, conducting and writing up for publication.

Course Outcomes

At the end of this course you should be able to:

  • Discuss and debate the contribution and characteristics of qualitative research in public health
  • Identify criteria by which to assess qualitative studies and apply these criteria in reviewing research
  • Demonstrate an understanding of a wide range of techniques for qualitative data collection and the ethical issues involved
  • Discriminate between different methods and their application
  • Demonstrate an ability to systematically collect, manage and analyse qualitative data
Learning and teaching rationale

The course is taught using a variety of teaching strategies matched to desired learning outcomes. Firstly, there is an emphasis on practical skills such as data collection and analysis in the classroom, and online (for external students) and through the written assignments. This will provide you with an introduction to a range of approaches employed by qualitative researchers. The overall course is designed to develop your capacity to make informed decisions about your own study designs and execution, as well as the chance to hone your skills in the critical analysis of others’ research.

Teaching strategies

Internal students: Teaching approaches include lectures, individual and small group activities in class, sometimes as pre-class preparatory activities and online activities. Lectures and pre-learning activities are intended to introduce you to some of the core concepts. Pre-learning activities may involve reading a journal article, watching a short video etc. prior to coming to class. Completion of these pre-learning activities is essential for meaningful engagement during lectures and tutorials. Tutorial sessions follow lectures and is intended to develop skills in applying core concepts and interviewing, field observation, reflexivity, and data analysis through individual and group activities. Tutorial sessions and online exercises also help you prepare for the two individual written assignments.

External students: The external course is fully online and there are three assessed online activities in Moodle spaced across the semester that are designed to consolidate and expand on individual learning and skills development. The online activities give you the chance to contribute to and learn from in-depth discussion of the distinct issues which arise in critiquing or conducting qualitative research with your peers. They also help prepare you for the two individual written assignments by providing opportunities to practice skills and debate and consider core concepts relevant to these assignments.


Assessment Task 1 - Paper critique
Weighting: 25%
Length: 1200 words

Assessment Task 2 - Interview assignment
Weighting: 40%
Length: 2500 words

Assessment Task 3 - Participation: Online or in-class activities
Weighting: 35%

Readings and resources
Learning resources for this course consist of the following (available in Moodle):
  1. Course notes and readings - available in Moodle
  2. Lecture slides - posted in Moodle
  3. Supplementary resources such as videos, podcasts - available in Moodle
Recommended resources

The core readings for each seminar are found in 1) the course notes and 2) the course textbook which is:

Liamputtong, P. (2013). Qualitative Research Methods. 4th Ed. Oxford University Press: Melbourne.