What the Heck is a COREQ?

If you’re a qualitative researcher, you may have heard of (or been asked to complete) a COREQ checklist. But what the heck is this ‘COREQ,’ and what does it mean for you as a researcher?

COREQ is short for COnsolidated criteria for REporting Qualitative research.

Put simply, it is a checklist to prompt qualitative researchers to be transparent and disclose certain things that could influence or bias the research: like their own characteristics, sampling methods, how data was analysed, and so on. This allows reviewers to quickly glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ of the research and identify any factors that they feel may contextualise the results.

The COREQ was developed in 2007 by a team of researchers who constructed it as a sort of ‘meta checklist’ from those already in use at the time. They gathered 22 published checklists used (often by journals) to assess qualitative studies. They pooled 76 different items from these checklists relating to the researchers, the study design, and data analysis and reporting. They then condensed these (removing duplicates and adding a couple of missing elements) into a 32-point checklist (Tong, Sainsbury & Craig, 2007) that is widely used today.

At AUT, COREQ checklists are not a standard requirement when submitting a piece of qualitative research. However you may be asked to complete a COREQ checklist when submitting to journals or in other contexts that require your research to be reviewed. Here’s what the checklist looks like in action (this one is for authors submitting to journals published by Elsevier).

The COREQ is not the only qualitative research checklist around. Given that it is designed for research involving interviews and focus groups, it is not a good fit for all types of qualitative research. Here’s our quick guide to some of the commonly-used alternatives:

NameStands forApplies to# Checklist items
COREQCOnsolidated criteria for REporting Qualitative researchInterviews / focus groups32
SRQRStandards for Reporting Qualitative ResearchAny qualitative methods21
PRISMAPreferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-AnalysesSystematic reviews / meta-analyses27
ENTREQENhancing Transparency in REporting the synthesis of Qualitative researchSynthesising qualitative findings21

There are even more alternatives available for specific uses; the EQUATOR Network (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) has a great search tool where you can find the one best-suited to your research.

Although these checklists are widely used, there are some who feel they can become tick-box exercises and even circumvent more nuanced discussions of research rigour. A survey of qualitative researchers found that over half felt “there is the risk of RGs [reporting guidelines] becoming minimum formal requirements leading to correct but insufficient reporting styles” (Hannes, Keyvaert, Slegers, Vandenbrande, & Van Nuland, 2015, p. 8).

However for many, the transparency encouraged by these checklists outweighs the downsides. Certainly with almost 20 years of use and many major publishers behind it, the COREQ appears to be here to stay.

References & further reading

Hannes, K., Heyvaert, M., Slegers, K., Vandenbrande, S., & Van Nuland, M. (2015). Exploring the potential for a consolidated standard for reporting guidelines for qualitative research: An argument Delphi approach. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 14(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406915611528

O’Brien, B. C., Harris, I. B., Beckman, T. J., Reed, D. A., & Cook, D. A. (2014). Standards for reporting qualitative research: A synthesis of recommendations. Academic medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 89(9), 1245–1251. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000000388

Page, M. J., McKenzie, J. E., Bossuyt, P. M., Boutron, I., Hoffmann, T. C., Mulrow, C. D., Shamseer, L., Tetzlaff, J. M., Akl, E. A., Brennan, S. E., Chou, R., Glanville, J., Grimshaw, J. M., Hróbjartsson, A., Lalu, M. M., Li, T., Loder, E. W., Mayo-Wilson, E., McDonald, S., McGuinness, L. A., … Moher, D. (2021). The PRISMA 2020 statement: An updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. PLoS medicine, 18(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003583

Tong, A., Flemming, K., McInnes, E., Oliver, S., & Craig, J. (2012). Enhancing transparency in reporting the synthesis of qualitative research: ENTREQ. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 12, 181. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-12-181

Tong, A., Sainsbury, P., & Craig, J. (2007). Consolidated criteria for reporting qualitative research (COREQ): A 32-item checklist for interviews and focus groups. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 19(6), 349-357. https://doi.org/10.1093/intqhc/mzm042

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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