Background Before beginning any research project, novice researchers must consider which methodological approach will best address their research questions. The paucity of literature describing a practical application of naturalistic inquiry adds to the difficulty they may experience.
Aim To provide a practical example of how naturalistic inquiry was applied to a qualitative study exploring collaboration between registered nurses and general practitioners working in Australian general practice.
Discussion Naturalistic inquiry is not without its critics and limitations. However, by applying the axioms and operational characteristics of naturalistic inquiry, the authors captured a detailed 'snapshot' of collaboration in general practice in the time and context that it occurred.
Conclusion Using qualitative methods, naturalistic inquiry provides the scope to construct a comprehensive and contextual understanding of a phenomenon. No individual positivist paradigm could provide the level of detail achieved in a naturalistic inquiry.
Implications for practice This paper presents a practical example of naturalistic inquiry for the novice researcher. It shows that naturalistic inquiry is appropriate when the researcher seeks a rich and contextual understanding of a phenomenon as it exists in its natural setting.