Using circular questions as a tool in qualitative research
Intended for healthcare professionals
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Using circular questions as a tool in qualitative research

Nicola Evans Senior lecturer in mental health nursing, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
Steve Whitcombe FHEA lecturer in occupational therapy and healthcare sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

Background Circular questions are used within systematic family therapy as a tool to generate multiple explanations and stories from a family situation and as a means to stimulate the curiosity of the therapist while avoiding their temptation to seek a one definitive explanation.

Aim To consider the potential for using this approach in qualitative research, with researchers using carefully crafted questions to invite respondents to provide information about the meanings behind a phenomenon or consider how relationships between people contribute to it.

Discussion Drawing on examples from a study into children’s mental health services, this paper discusses the application of the technique of circular questioning from systemic family therapy to qualitative research.

Conclusion The use of circular questions is a technique that qualitative researchers could employ in the field when conducting interviews with individuals or groups, or when engaged in participant observation as a means to obtain rich sources of data.

Implications for practice Circular questioning can help to promote curiosity in the researcher and invite responses that illuminate relational issues between participants in a study.

Nurse Researcher. 23, 3, 26-29. doi: 10.7748/nr.23.3.26.s6

Peer review

This article has been subject to double-blind review and checked using antiplagiarism software

Conflict of interest

None declared

Received: 15 April 2015

Accepted: 10 June 2015

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