Using critical incident technique (CIT) to capture the voice of the student

Jacqueline A. Douglas (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)
Robert McClelland (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)
John Davies (Salford University, Salford, UK)
Lyn Sudbury (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)

The TQM Journal

ISSN: 1754-2731

Publication date: 12 June 2009



The aim of this paper is to compare the use of critical incident technique (CIT) for gathering student feedback in higher education (HE) with the more traditional and commonly used questionnaire survey method.


The investigation involved a critical evaluation of the standard self‐completion, multi‐question “tick‐box” quantitative survey questionnaire traditionally employed to collect student feedback in HE, against the more qualitative critical incident technique that was tested within the HE context. This evaluation was supported by a review of the extant literature to determine the advantages and disadvantages of both feedback methods and a comparison of the data gathered from university students using both survey instruments. Conclusions were then drawn regarding the value of both methods. The criteria used for the comparison were the design and administration of the survey instruments, analysis and quality of the data collected, and finally, the potential usefulness of the data to HE managers.


The main issue regarding suitability of approach is resource utilisation. The CIT questionnaire is much quicker and easier to design than the traditional questionnaire, asking only a small number of questions. However, completion, input and analysis of the CIT questionnaire take longer than the standard tick‐box questionnaire. The richness of the data more than compensates for these drawbacks. In principle, the qualitative critical incident technique should be used to complement the existing methods of gathering student feedback in order to find out what is significant to students. However, in practice, it is more likely that managers within HE will continue to use the more traditional survey questionnaire, because of the limited resources available to them.

Research limitations/implications

Not only is CIT a method that can be used by researchers in the education sector nationally and internationally, to gather rich and useful data about the student experience but it may also be useful for gathering information from other stakeholders.


The paper is the first to use CIT to gather feedback from students on their university experience. It proposes that, in order to obtain valid and reliable data on which to base service provision decisions, university management should consider using this qualitative technique in combination with more traditional quantitative methods of gathering student feedback.



Douglas, J.A., McClelland, R., Davies, J. and Sudbury, L. (2009), "Using critical incident technique (CIT) to capture the voice of the student", The TQM Journal, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 305-318.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below

You may be able to access this content by logging in via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.
If you think you should have access to this content, click the button to contact our support team.