Preregistration of qualitative research

Haven, T., & Van Grootel, L. (2019). Preregistering Qualitative Research. Accountability in Research.


The threat to reproducibility and the awareness that current rates of research misbehaviour may only reflect the ‘tip of the iceberg’ sparked initiatives to better academic science. One such initiative is preregistration of quantitative research. We investigate whether the preregistration format could also be used to boost the credibility of qualitative research. A crucial distinction underlying preregistration is that between prediction and postdiction. In qualitative research data is used to decide which way interpretation should move forward, using data to generate hypotheses and new research questions. Qualitative research is thus a real-life example of postdiction research. Some may object to the idea of preregistering qualitative studies because qualitative research generally does not test hypotheses, and because qualitative research design is typically flexible and subjective. We rebut these objections, arguing that making hypotheses explicit is just one feature of preregistration, that flexibility can be tracked using preregistration and that preregistration would provide a check on subjectivity. We then contextualise preregistrations alongside another initiative to enhance credibility in qualitative research: the confirmability audit. Besides, preregistering qualitative studies is practically useful to combating dissemination bias and could incentivise qualitative researchers to report the constant development of their study. We conclude with some suggested modifications to the Open Science Framework preregistration form to tailor it for qualitative studies.