This paper examines the ways that qualitative inquiry can be especially useful for gathering relevant descriptive data that can provide a deep understanding of health communication issues and processes, as well as to provide evidence-based guidance for addressing key challenges of health care delivery and promotion. This article promotes methodological diversity in research designs and illustrates the value of employing qualitative methods such as ethnography and grounded theory in health communication research. It is also provides calls for the application of less-used, unfamiliar qualitative methods such as phenomenology. Our careful bibliographic review of health communication research studies published over the past twenty years was conducted using the Google Scholar search engine (employing key search terms that included “health communication, qualitative, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, and multimethod”) to guide our analysis of the uses of qualitative inquiry in health communication inquiry. Our analysis identified a breadth of qualitative research applications and opportunities for future inquiry. This article concludes with an analysis of challenges in qualitative research and a discussion of the usefulness of multimethodological research to address complex health communication challenges.


Health Communication, Ethnography, Grounded Theory, Phenomenology, Multimethodological

Author Bio(s)

Liza Ngenye is an Assistant Professor of Communication at La Sierra University. She is a qualitative researcher who specializes in topics such as cancer communication, female and reproductive health, minority population health and social support. She and Kreps have worked together on several projects including her dissertation that investigated caregiving relationships between cancer survivors and their family members. Correspondence can also be addressed directly to: lizabngenye@gmail.com.

Gary Kreps is a University Distinguished Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University. He serves on the national FDA Risk Communication Advisory and a scientific adviser to the NIH, CDC, VA, HRSA and many international health agencies, research firms and foundations. His research is cited in more than 450 publications and has received major research honors including the Research Laureate Award from the American Academy of Health Behavior. Correspondence can be addressed directly to: gkreps@gmu.edu.


We would like to thank the editorial team for their support in the publication of this manuscript.

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