An audit trail is a transparent description of the research steps taken from the start of a research project to the development and reporting of findings. These are records that are kept regarding what was done in an investigation.
Lincoln and Guba (1985, p. 319-310) cite Halpern's (1983) categories for reporting information when develop an audit trail:
- Raw data - including all raw data, written field notes, unobstrusive measures (documents)
- Data reduction and analysis products - including summaries such as condensed notes, unitized informaiton and quantitative summaries and theoretical notes
- Data reconstruction and synthesis products - including structure of categories (themes, definitions, and relationships), findings and conclusions and a final report including connections to existing literatures and an integration of concepts, relationships, and interpretations
- Process notes - including methodological notes (procedures, designs, strategies, rationales), trustworthiness notes (relating to credibility, dependability and confirmability) and audit trail notes
- Materials relating to intentions and dispositions - including inquiry proposal, personal notes (reflexive notes and motivations) and expectations (predictions and intentions)
- Instrument development information - including pilot forms, preliminary schedules, observation formats
Importance of creating and reporting one's audit trail
There are a range of approaches that can be utilized in qualitative analysis.
It is important to have a clear description of the research path. This should include research design and data collection decisions and the steps taken to manage, analyze and report data.
This should include information about sampling, clarification of the role of different research team members as well as the role of different data sources.
Reporting should also include a rationale for these decisions.
With regard to data analysis, Malterud (2001) underscores the need for one to provide a detailed report of the analytical steps taken in a study when she write:
"Declaring that qualitative analysis was done, or stating that categories emerged when the material had been read by one or more persons, is not sufficient to expalin how and why patterns were notice... the reader needs to know the principles and choices underlying pattern recognition and category foundation." (p. 486)
Halpern, ES. (1983). Auditing Naturalistic Inquiries: The Development and Application of a Model. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Indiana University.
Lincoln, YS. & Guba, EG. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Malterud, K. (2001). "Qualitative research: Standards, challenges and guidelines." The Lancet. 358: pp. 483-488.
Schwandt, TA. Halpern, ES. (1988). Linking Auditing and Metaevaluation: Enhancing Quality in Applied Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
1. Williams V, Price J, Hardinge M, Tarassenko L, Farmer A. Using a mobile health application to support self-management in COPD: A qualitative study. Br J Gen Pract. 2014;64:e392–400.[PMC free article][PubMed]
2. Wackerbarth SB, Tarasenko YN, Joyce JM, Haist SA. Physician colorectal cancer screening recommendations: An examination based on informed decision making. Patient Educ Couns. 2007;66:43–50.[PMC free article][PubMed]
3. Egbunike JN, Shaw C, Porter A, Button LA, Kinnersley P, Hood K, et al. Streamline triage and manage user expectations: Lessons from a qualitative study of GP out-of-hours services. Br J Gen Pract. 2010;60:e83–97.[PMC free article][PubMed]
4. Khandaker GM, Gandamaneni PK, Dibben CR, Cherukuru S, Cairns P, Ray MK. Evaluating care pathways for community psychiatry in England: A qualitative study. J Eval Clin Pract. 2013;19:298–303.[PMC free article][PubMed]
5. Mangione-Smith R, Schiff J, Dougherty D. Identifying children's health care quality measures for Medicaid and CHIP: An evidence-informed, publicly transparent expert process. Acad Pediatr. 2011;11:S11–21.[PubMed]
6. Hess R, Santucci A, McTigue K, Fischer G, Kapoor W. Patient difficulty using tablet computers to screen in primary care. J Gen Intern Med. 2008;23:476–80.[PMC free article][PubMed]
7. Sanders C, Rogers A, Bowen R, Bower P, Hirani S, Cartwright M, et al. Exploring barriers to participation and adoption of telehealth and telecare within the Whole System Demonstrator trial: A qualitative study. BMC Health Serv Res. 2012;12:220.[PMC free article][PubMed]
8. Dixon-Woods M, Shaw RL, Agarwal S, Smith JA. The problem of appraising qualitative research. Qual Saf Health Care. 2004;13:223–5.[PMC free article][PubMed]
9. Lincoln YS, Lynham SA, Guba EG. Vol. 4. Sage Publications; 2011. Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences, revisited. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research; pp. 97–128.
10. CASP. CASP Qualitative Checklist: Critical Appraisal Skills Program. 2013. [Last cited on 2015 Mar 01]. Available from: http://www.media.wix.com/ugd/dded87_29c5b002d99342f788c6ac670e49f274.pdf .
11. Barbour RS. Checklists for improving rigour in qualitative research: A case of the tail wagging the dog? BMJ. 2001;322:1115–7.[PMC free article][PubMed]
12. Popay J, Rogers A, Williams G. Rationale and standards for the systematic review of qualitative literature in health services research. Qual Health Res. 1998;8:341–51.[PubMed]
13. Sale JE. How to assess rigour…or not in qualitative papers. J Eval Clin Pract. 2008;14:912–3.[PubMed]
14. Meyrick J. What is good qualitative research? A first step towards a comprehensive approach to judging rigour/quality. J Health Psychol. 2006;11:799–808.[PubMed]
15. Kitto SC, Chesters J, Grbich C. Quality in qualitative research. Med J Aust. 2008;188:243–6.[PubMed]
16. Waterman AS. The humanistic psychology-positive psychology divide: Contrasts in philosophical foundations. Am Psychol. 2013;68:124–33.[PubMed]
17. Finfgeld-Connett D. Generalizability and transferability of meta-synthesis research findings. J Adv Nurs. 2010;66:246–54.[PubMed]
18. Palinkas LA, Horwitz SM, Green CA, Wisdom JP, Duan N, Hoagwood K. Purposeful Sampling for Qualitative Data Collection and Analysis in Mixed Method Implementation Research. Adm Policy Ment Health. 2013:1–12.[PMC free article][PubMed]
19. Coyne IT. Sampling in qualitative research. Purposeful and theoretical sampling; merging or clear boundaries? J Adv Nurs. 1997;26:623–30.[PubMed]
20. Becker PH. Common pitfalls in published grounded theory research. Qual Health Res. 1993;3:254–60.
21. Lincoln YS, Guba EG. Newbury Park, London: Sage Publications; 1985. Naturalistic Inquiry; p. 416.
22. Rodgers BL, Cowles KV. The qualitative research audit trail: A complex collection of documentation. Res Nurs Health. 1993;16:219–26.[PubMed]
23. Kahn DL. Reducing bias. In: Cohen MZ, Kahn DL, Steeves RH, editors. Hermeneutic Phenomenological Research: A Practical Guide for Nurse Researchers. Newbury Park, London: Sage Publications; 2000. pp. 85–99.
24. Carcary M. The research audit trail – Enhancing trustworthiness in qualitative inquiry. [Last accessed on 2015 Mar 03];Electron J Bus Res Methods. 2009 7:11–24. Available from: http://www.ejbrm.com .
25. Jansen H. The logic of qualitative survey research and its position in the field of social research methods. Forum Qual Soc Res. 2010;11:2.
26. Miles MB, Huberman AM. Newbury Park; London: Sage; 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook.
27. George M, Apter AJ. Gaining insight into patients’ beliefs using qualitative research methodologies. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004;4:185–9.[PubMed]
28. Grossoehme DH. Overview of qualitative research. J Health Care Chaplain. 2014;20:109–22.[PMC free article][PubMed]
29. Silverman D. 3rd ed. Newbury Park, London: SAGE Publications Ltd; 2009. Doing Qualitative Research; p. 472.
30. Patton MQ. Enhancing the quality and credibility of qualitative analysis. Health Serv Res. 1999;34:1189–208.[PMC free article][PubMed]
31. Allmark P. Popper and nursing theory. Nurs Philos. 2003;4:4–16.[PubMed]
32. Kvale S, Brinkmann S. Newbury Park, London: Sage; 2009. Interviews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing.
33. Trochim WM. Cincinnati, Ohio: Atomic Dog Publishing; 2005. Research Methods: The Concise Knowledge Base.
34. Zimmer L. Qualitative meta-synthesis: A question of dialoguing with texts. J Adv Nurs. 2006;53:311–8.[PubMed]
35. Glaser BG, Strauss AL, Strutzel E. The discovery of grounded theory; strategies for qualitative research. Nurs Res. 1968;17:364.
36. Van Manen M. New York: SUNY Press: Suny Press; 1990. Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for An Action Sensitive Pedagogy.
37. Noblit GW, Hare RD. Newbury Park, London: Sage; 1988. Meta-Ethnography: Synthesizing Qualitative Studies.
38. Gadamer HG. Truth and Method. In: Weinsheimer J, Marshall DG, editors. New York: Continuum; 1989.
39. Thompson J. Advancing Nursing Science Through Research. Vol. 2. Newbury Park, London: Sage Publications; 1990. Hermeneutic inquiry; pp. 223–86.
40. Toye F, Seers K, Allcock N, Briggs M, Carr E, Andrews J, et al. Trying to pin down jelly – Exploring intuitive processes in quality assessment for meta-ethnography. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2013;13:46.[PMC free article][PubMed]
41. Rolfe G. Validity, trustworthiness and rigour: Quality and the idea of qualitative research. J Adv Nurs. 2006;53:304–10.[PubMed]
42. Porter S. Validity, trustworthiness and rigour: Reasserting realism in qualitative research. J Adv Nurs. 2007;60:79–86.[PubMed]
43. Guba EG, Lincoln YS. Newbury Park, London: Sage Publications; 1989. Fourth Generationm Evaluation; p. 296.
44. Sparkes AC. Myth 94: Qualitative health researchers will agree about validity. Qual Health Res. 2001;11:538–52.[PubMed]