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Organizational access in qualitative research

Benjamin Nathan Alexander (Orfalea College of Business, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California, USA)
Anne D. Smith (Department of Management, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 23 July 2018

Issue publication date: 23 May 2019




While organizational access is central to much qualitative research, little is known about how researchers secure it. The purpose of this paper is to provide a systematic assessment of this critical methodological step.


A systematic review was conducted to establish how researchers gained access to organizations for qualitative research. Access type was identified and explanatory indicators were inductively developed to illuminate how access was obtained in a sample of 216 qualitative articles published in Administrative Science Quarterly and Academy of Management Journal between 1986 and 2013. A supplemental review of 306 articles published in Organization Studies over the same period augmented the primary analysis with a broader view of published accounts of access.


Learning prior to entering organizations, researchers’ backgrounds, organizational insiders, and outside contacts facilitated access. The role of these factors, which served as indicators of legitimacy, varied with the type of access. In addition, the authors found that many articles provide little information about how the researchers gained access, regardless of a publication’s domicile.


This study furthers the understanding of how researchers gain access to organizations to conduct qualitative research and discusses the implications of the limited access accounts in published studies. In addition, this research provides practical guidance for authors, editors, and reviewers.



Alexander, B.N. and Smith, A.D. (2019), "Organizational access in qualitative research", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 172-193.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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