A Content Analysis of Qualitative Research Published in Top Criminology and Criminal Justice Journals from 2010 to 2019


With the growth of qualitative research within the fields of criminology and criminal justice (CCJ) it is important to examine discipline standards and expectations of how to collect and analyze qualitative data and to present research findings. Our aim here is to assess qualitative research published in 17 top CCJ journals during the period of 2010 to 2019. We found that the number of qualitative articles published in these years increased over the previous two decades; however, the relative percentage of all articles remained relatively stable. During this period, 11.3% of all articles in the 17 CCJ journals used qualitative methods. In addition, we provide general patterns related to methodology and to presentation of findings. The results give insights into discipline standards and expectations and points to substantive areas that are under-studied (e.g., victims) and to issues relating to methodological transparency.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    For the current analysis we include only articles that used interviews or observations with participants. We exclude content analysis of existing documents (including online forums) and qualitative responses to questionnaires.

  2. 2.

    Only articles listed as “Research Articles” were included in the total number count. We excluded those listed as Editorials and Policy Responses.

  3. 3.

    We included only those articles that explicitly addressed crime, victimization, and criminal justice processes or actors in determining the overall article count and total qualitative articles. We excluded articles that focused solely on non-criminal or non-criminal justice topics (e.g., sexual deviance, student cheating, etc.).

  4. 4.

    We only included articles that appeared in the Criminology, and not the Criminal Law, Comments, or Symposia sections.

  5. 5.

    We included articles published in general issues as well as special or thematic issues, some of which involved a guest editor. None of the special issues revolved around themes that precluded or prescribed articles based on qualitative data collection.

  6. 6.

    We make no claim as to whether these articles are “better” or more deserving of this attention. We simply state that because of their high profile they may influence authors more than articles in other journals.

  7. 7.

    This sampling threshold was chosen to allow for a robust yet manageable number of articles to be included in the analysis.

  8. 8.

    When determining sample size for focus groups we included the total number of participants who were included in all focus groups.

  9. 9.

    We only coded an article as not recorded if the authors specifically mentioned that they chose not to record interviews

  10. 10.

    We recognize that including these five as top tier is an artificial ranking and that others (i.e., criminologists in non-US countries) likely have different assessments of top tier journals.

  11. 11.

    For victims who experienced both sexual and physical victimization we classified them as “sex crimes.”


  1. Armstrong, E. K. (2020). Political ideology and research: How neoliberalism can explain the paucity of qualitative criminological research. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0304375419899832.

  2. Boeri, M., & Shukla, R. K. (Eds.). (2019). Inside ethnography: Researchers reflect on the challenges of reaching hidden populations. University of California Press.

  3. Bourke, B. (2014). Positionality: Reflecting on the research process. The Qualitative Report, 19(33), 1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Buckler, K. (2008). The quantitative/qualitative divide revisited: A study of published research, doctoral program curricula, and journal editor perceptions. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 19, 383–403.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Clear, T.R. (2006). 2006 Survey Report. http://www.adpccj.com/documents/2006survey.pdf .

  6. Copes, H., Brown, A., & Tewksbury, R. (2011). A content analysis of ethnographic research published in top criminology and criminal justice journals from 2000-2009. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 22, 341–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Copes, H., Hochstetler, A., & Brown, A. (2013). Inmates’ retrospective experiences of prison interviews. Field Methods, 25, 182–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Copes, H., & Miller, J. M. (Eds.). (2015). eThe Routledge handbook of qualitative criminology. Routledge.

  9. DeJong, C., & St. George, S. (2018). Measuring journal prestige in criminal justice and criminology. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 29(2), 290–309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Kleck, G., Tark, J., & Bellows, J. J. (2006). What methods are most frequently used in research in criminology and criminal justice? Journal of Criminal Justice, 34, 147–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Lane, J., Myers, D.L., Koetzele, D. & Armstrong, G. (2019). Association of Doctoral Programs in Criminology & Criminal Justice (ADPCCJ) 2019 Survey Report. http://www.adpccj.com/documents/2019survey.pdf.

  12. Miller, J., & Palacios, W. R. (Eds.). (2015). Qualitative research in criminology. Transaction Publishers.

  13. Panfil, V. R., & Miller, J. (2014). Beyond the straight and narrow: The import of queer criminology for criminology and criminal justice. The Criminologist, 39(4), 1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Rice, S., & Maltz, M. (2018). Doing ethnography in criminology: Discovery through fieldwork. Springer.

  15. Roche, S. P., Fenimore, D. M., & Jennings, W. G. (2019). Trends in top journals in criminology and criminal justice. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 30(4), 551–566.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Sorensen, J. (2009). An assessment of the relative impact of criminal justice and criminology journals. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37, 505–511.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Sorensen, J., Snell, C., & Rodriguez, J. J. (2006). An assessment of criminal justice and criminology journal prestige. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 17, 297–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Tewksbury, R., Dabney, D., & Copes, H. (2010). The prominence of qualitative research in criminology and criminal justice scholarship. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 21, 391–411.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Tewksbury, R., DeMichele, M. T., & Miller, J. M. (2005). Methodological orientations of articles appearing in criminal justice’s top journals: Who publishes what and where. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 16(2), 265–279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Tewksbury, R., & Mustaine, E. E. (2011). How many authors does it take to write an article? An assessment of criminology and criminal justice research article author composition. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 22(1), 12–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Topalli, V., Dickinson, T., & Jacques, S. (2020). Learning from criminals: Active offender research for criminology. Annual Review of Criminology, 3, 189–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Woodward, V. H., Webb, M. E., Griffin, O. H., & Copes, H. (2016). The current state of criminological research in the United States: An examination of research methodologies in criminology and criminal justice. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 27(3), 340–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Heith Copes.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Copes, H., Beaton, B., Ayeni, D. et al. A Content Analysis of Qualitative Research Published in Top Criminology and Criminal Justice Journals from 2010 to 2019. Am J Crim Just (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-020-09540-6

Download citation


  • Qualitative research
  • Ethnographic research
  • Content analysis