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How to...

analyse qualitative data


Introductory considerations
"Researchers need to focus on ways in which the actors order their own world, and avoid counting
everything." (Silverman, 2004, p. 11!
This sums up two ways in which the approach to data differs in qualitative research from that generated by
quantitative investigation. The researcher is not dealing with numbers which can be crunched; neither is he or
she dealing with an absolutely literal interpretation of the world. Instead, the researcher needs to use intuition,
imagination and interpretation.
How qualitative and quantitative data differ
The process of quantitative research is linear: the researcher will start out with a theory, design a research
process, collect data, analyse it and then review findings to see whether or not they support the hypothesis
suggested by the theory.
In qualitative research, the process is much more iterative and inductive. The researcher will start out with a
question or issue, collect data, analyse the data they have collected, start to formulate theory, go back and look
at, or even collect, more data.
With quantitative research, the researcher will normally decide on the method of analysis, including statistical
technique, before even data collection starts. In qualitative research, however, the process is a lot more messy,
and its common for the theory, design, collection and analysis phases to overlap.
""n #ualitative research, stic$ing with the original research design can %e a sign of inade#uate data
analysis, not consistency." (Silverman, 2004, p. 1&2!
!or can everything be transformed to numbers, as with quantitative data. There is no common ground, and the
researcher will amass large amounts of data in many different forms. "nalysis therefore needs to begin with the
data in its raw state, acknowledging that it may have come from various different methods of collection such as
interviews, focus groups, documents, or images.
#ach piece of data, then, needs to be approached in its own terms, and meaning e$tracted % which may need
to be negotiated throught the lens of the cultural conte$t in which the author is operating.
An ethnographic view of data: negotiation of meaning
In the scientific view, which is the dominant paradigm for quantitative research, reality e$ists independently and
data can be collected to represent it. The researchers task is to structure the data collection process so that
the data represents the truth. &or e$ample, if the researcher wants to find out the most important factors sought
in a washing powder, they need to formulate the questions in such a way that all the possibilities are catered
for.
The collection and analysis of qualitative data, however, is dominated by the ethnographic paradigm.
#thnographers are concerned to interpret data according to the social world of their participants. 'rgani(ations,
for e$ample, have their own value systems which will be reflected in the language and the images used both by
individuals and in collective statements. &or this reason, it is not always possible to take data at face value.
)ilverman *+,,-, p. -./0 gives a couple of e$amples here:
1!otes on candidates for 2ob interviews are grouped according to a number of headings %
name, appearance, acceptability, confidence, effort, organi(ation, motivation % omitting
ability.1
13roupings of statistics often reflect a way of organi(ing information that in turn reflects
cultural perceptions % for e$ample, at some times, men are more likely to have their deaths
regarded as unnatural than are women.1
References
)ilverman, 4. *+,,-0, Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction, )age
5ublications, Thousand 'aks, 6".
)ilverman, 4. *+,,/0, Doing Qualitative Research, +nd #dition, )age 5ublications, Thousand 'aks, 6".
Data collection
In this section
Interviews
&ield notes
)ome general principles for managing data
"nalysing as you collect
The main methods of data collection have already been covered elsewhere on this site, e.g.:
7ow to ... conduct interviews
7ow to ... conduct a focus group
7ow to ... use ethnographic methods and participant observation
7ow to ... use secondary data and archival material
7owever, it is useful to briefly remind ourselves here, before we go on to look at the detail of data analysis, of
the principles covering data collection.
8ualitative data divides broadly speaking into two main categories:
-. That which is collected by the researcher, through interviews, focus groups, or ethnographic field
observation.
+. That which e$ists in data form prior to the research % for e$ample, public documents, statistics, e9
mails, etc.
The second category of data will have already been recorded so will not present ma2or challenges with regard
to collection and management. We therefore concentrate here mainly on issues with regard to the former
catagory.
Interviews
There are two views of interviews, and which you take will depend upon, and affect, the status of the data
which you end up with % whether you believe you have ob2ective facts about the world, or sub2ective
perceptions or narratives. Which view you take will affect how you structure the interview:
The positivist view maintains that interviews give data which are facts about the world. To collect this
sort of data, it is best to ask questions in standard format, worded in the same way, which will enable
you to quantify the responses.
The constructionist, emotionalist view maintains that interviewees construct their own, more
sub2ective view of reality, their own narrative of events. This type of data is best collected by
unstructured, open ended interviews.
It is almost always better to record interviews and to work from transcripts, for two reasons:
-. It is not always possible to rely on ones memory of conversations.
+. Tapes constitute a public record, which cannot be disputed, and which can if necessary be reanalysed
by others, with different questions:theories in mind.
Field notes
6ollecting data in the field, for e$ample in the course of participant observation, is a highly skilled business.
;ou are not merely making a record, but interpreting what you can see and hear, so that you are collecting and
analysing data at the same time:
;our notes made at the time, which will necessarily be brief
#$panded notes made as soon as possible after the observation
" field work 2ournal which looks at problems and ideas
" running record of analysis and interpretation
)ilverman *+,,/0, based on )pradley, states:
1<emos or contact sheets made after each observation, covering people, events, situations,
themes, interpretations, research questions, hypotheses, and suggesting the focus of the
ne$t observation.1
)ilverman *+,,/0, based on )pradley and <iles and 7uberman, states:
1It is common for researchers to record what they hear and not what they see, although the
latter is very important % the layout of a shop or restaurant, the si(e of workspace in an office,
the care taken *or not0 to avoid ha(ards in a factory etc.1
ome general principles for managing data
;ou need to record all your data in an organi(ed way so that you have an audit trail of:
When it was collected
In what form, i.e. document, interview, etc.
What it refers to, i.e. person, company, etc.
4ata should also be relia!le: it should form an accurate a record as possible. )ee above notes on using
transcripts, and also making notes as you observe *short0 and as soon as possible afterwards.
&inally, you need to retain all your notes, transcripts etc. so that you have a complete record of all your
research. This is important whether you are preparing an undergraduate student dissertation, a doctoral thesis,
or a report for funded research.
Analysing as you collect
"s we saw in the section on introductory considerations, qualitative research differs from quantitative in being
non linear, with the activities of data collection and analysis intertwined. <ost researchers advocate starting
some coding before all the data comes in, for two reasons:
;ou avoid drowning in data % qualitative research can generate voluminous data, and the researcher
can be faced with literally -,,s, even -,,,,s of pages.
;ou get to develop your analysis % concepts and themes start to emerge, and if you have decided to
use a particular method, such as content or discouse analysis, you have a chance to see how that will
work, and whether it might be better to adopt another approach.
Thus when you get a certain way through your collection, say after the first few interviews or first ma2or site
visit, you could make your initial analysis. The ne$t section, 6arrying out the analysis, goes into more detail on
methodology.
Reference
)ilverman, 4. *+,,/0, Doing Qualitative Research, +nd #dition, )age 5ublications, Thousand 'aks, 6".
"arrying out the analysis
In this section
6oding
Theory building
=sing software
"ssessing your analysis
In this section, we shall look in general terms at the process of analysis, and the techniques used. 8ualitative
researchers often use specific methods, such as content analysis, narrative analysis, grounded theory, etc.,
and we shall be e$amining these in greater detail in the ne$t section.
"oding
6oding is the heart of the analysis process % once you have your codes, you can start to mark up the te$ts,
transcripts, or whatever you are using, look at emergent themes and subthemes and begin to build theory.
These are the main issues you need to be concerned with:
Sampling
;ou need to decide on some sort of way of obtaining a sample of your te$ts. ;ou could use either random or
purposive sampling; if the latter, then you could choose samples that are typical, atypical or deviant, or that
illustrate a ma$imum number of variables.
'%taining a unit of analysis
The first task when you have your sample is to consider how you are going to break the te$t down: what will
your unit of analysis be> There are a number of possibilities:
research sections: whole interviews, responses to interview questions
grammatical: sentences, paragraphs, etc.
formatting: lines, page
thematic: themes, ideas
#$ample
16orporate self9presentation on the WWW: strategies for enhancing usability, credibility and utility1 *5ollach,
Corporate Counications: An International !ournal, ?ol. -, !o. /0 uses the 1"bout us1 page as their unit of
analysis *see their section ..+, 1=nit of analysis1, on how they 2ustify this0.
(inding themes and concepts
&irst of all, you will need to become thoroughly familiar with your material. 6ertain key ideas, patterns, themes
etc. will probably begin to emerge as you collect your data % remember, collecting and analysis can be parallel
activities.
;ou can familiari(e yourself with the material by studying it in different ways % for e$ample, not 2ust reading it
line by line, but also dipping in and out, looking at what isnt there % for e$ample, pauses, questions avoided
etc.
The process of coding occurs when you translate the key ideas into more abstract concepts, which will become
your coding variables, or the labels for the phenomena occuring in the te$t. &or e$ample, you may be
interviewing people about their response to a restructuring, and a recurrent theme may be fear of an increasing
workload. ;ou will need to give these variables code names, whilst remaining aware of subtle but significant
differences, and distinguishing them in the coding *for e$ample, fear of increased workload could be 1fear
work1, fear of longer hours could be 1fear hours10.
The above process is known as open coding % the categories are allowed to emerge from a detailed scrutiny
of the data. The ne$t stage is to look at the relationships between the codes that label the categories, for
e$ample, you could look at cause and effect. Thus in the above e$ample, the cause of fear *of increasing
workload:longer hours0 may be belief that the restructuring may involve fewer staff. This is known as a$ial
coding. *;ou can also use graphical techniques, for e$ample, mind maps, influence diagrams, or logic
diagrams, to look at relationships between codes.0 &inally comes selective coding % when the researcher tries
to find the story, and looks for core categories and fits other things round them.
#$amples
1" grounded theory for resistance to change in a small organi(ation1 *<acr@ et al", !ournal of #rgani$ational
Change Manageent, ?ol. -A !o. .0, contains a detailed account of the coding process, using the approach
described above.
1=sing grounded theory to model visitor e$periences at heritage sites: methodological and practical issues1
*4aengbuppha et al", Qualitative Market Research: An International !ournal, ?ol. B !o. /0 contains a number of
diagrams *&igures .9C0 which illustrate the different ways of coding and the process of deriving categories.
)ometimes, researchers prefer to use a more structured approach than that outlined above, taking a particular
set of concepts from the literature, particularly if they are up against time pressures *as in a student pro2ect0.
6ontent analysis is one e$ample of where this is done.
)uilding a code %oo$
This is an organi(ed list of codes, as a reference. There are a number of ways of developing this; one is to
include:
a detailed description of each code
inclusion and e$clusion criteria
e$amples, with real te$t *if a code is particularly abstract, you could include e$amples of what it does
not include0
!eedless to say, if there is more than one researcher on the pro2ect, the codes need to be agreed between
them.
*ar$ing the te+t
'nce you have your codes, you are ready to start marking the te$t. ;ou can tag *which can be done with
software % see =sing software section0 particular bits of te$t for later inde$ing. ;ou can also mark the codes
manually against your transcript, for e$ample having a separate column for the codes.
%heory !uilding
'nce you begin to see the relationships between codes, you begin to identify of a pattern, which can form the
basis for a theoretical model.
'nce the model is constructed, it should be constantly tested, particularly against cases which disprove it. This
is the essence of the iterative, cyclical nature of qualitative research. <any researchers use a method derived
from Dolbs learning cycle, where refle$ion, conceptuali(ation and e$perimentation follow e$perience, i.e. data:
"s you get ideas on the theory, write memos to yourself % these could be 2ust keywords on postits or longer
documents outlining a particular thesis.
#$amples
In 1)trategic marketing planning: a grounded investigation1 *%uropean !ournal of Marketing, ?ol. .E !o. .:/0,
"shill et al" describe a three9stage analysis phase:
-. Freaking down interview transcripts into 1thought units1, which 1ranged from a phrase to several
sentences1.
+. The organi(ation of thought units into categories in an attempt to 1capture the perceived communality
or shared message amongst the thought units1, with disagreements between researchers being
resolved by use of an independent researcher who was not familiar with the literature to do a content
analysis which was compared.
.. The categories emerged into 1seven unifying themes or core categories that provide a summary of
what is going on in the data1.
1'nline learning dialogues in learning through work1 *)ara Fosley and 4avid ;oung, !ournal of &orkplace
'earning, ?ol. -C !o. G0 describes the process of developing and reforming categories from codes as the
analysis proceeds.
&sing software
Hesearchers have been using software for qualitative analysis since the -BC,s, with specific programmes
being developed by the mid9-BB,s and rapidly becoming more and more sophisticated. The difference between
this software, known as 6omputer9"ssisted 8ualitative 4ata "nalysis )oftware *6"84")0 and the software
programmes used in quantitative research % )5)) etc. % is that they cannot actually carry out the analysis.
7owever they can help you manage the data more efficiently, and it is here that they are probably most
valuable.
)ome of the most well9know programmes are: #thograph, 8)H !?ivo, win<"I, "TJ"):ti, and !=4.I)T.
These are some of the things that 6"84") software can help you with:
<aking notes, writing up, editing, and writing reflective commentaries *memos0.
)toring data % it can be very helpful, given the amount of data which you will probably collect, to have it
all brought together.
Inde$ing and retrieving % themes are identified, grouped so that categories emerge, then you can tag
the relevant te$t, and compare same9tagged te$ts.
)eeing the bigger picture % it can provide pictoral representations of data.
Jinking % connecting relevant data.
7owever, the drawback is that it takes some time to learn the software, so you need to ensure that your
research pro2ect is large enough to 2ustify the opportunity costs, not to mention the actual cost of the software.
#$ample
1"nalysing qualitative data: computer software and the market research practitioner1 *5auline <aclaran and
<iriam 6atterall, Qualitative Market Research: An International !ournal, ?ol. A !o. -0 provides a description of
6"84") software and its main features. It concentrates on !=4KI)T and provides an e$ample of its graphic
display capability.
Assessing your analysis
7ow do you know when you have completed your analysis, and then how do you know that it is reliable, valid
and generali(able>
,ompletion
Fecause of the more open ended nature of qualitative analysis, it can be more difficult to know when analysis is
complete. The main *and unquantifiable0 ways of knowing are:
when analysis no longer adds anything new
when you have answered the question you set out to ask.
Relia%ility
It would be hard to repeat conditions e$actly, and no two researchers would, for e$ample, have the same
conversations or observe the same issues. 7owever, the main points to emerge should be the same if you
were to repeat the research or if someone else were to tackle it.
-alidity
6an you show evidence of rigour in your data analysis, including how you got from your data to your
conclusions> 7ave you eliminated bias, in particular that which those you are observing want you to see> Is the
evidence sufficient>
.enerali/a%ility
What you have seen may not apply universally, but are there other pieces of work which show similar findings>
ome specific analytic techniques
In this section
3rounded theory
6ontent analysis
4iscourse analysis
!arrative analysis
6onversation analysis
"nalytic induction
)emiotics
7ermeneutics
In this section we shall look at some of the specific techniques which researchers use to analyse qualitative
data. !ote that these methods are not mutually e$clusive and can be combined.
'rounded theory
"s its name implies, grounded theory involves grounding the analysis in the e$perience that provides the data,
whether this originates from interviews, participant observation, or other method. " sample of te$t of transcripts
or notes are read closely, and emergent themes noted in a process known as open coding *see earlier0, with a
view to understanding the issues which are most important to the research sub2ects. The data is approached
with the minimum of preconceptions and the literature is often only studied after initial theory building has
begun.
"s categories emerge, these are built into theoretical models, more data may be collected, and the findings
compared with the literature. " variety of methods are used including the constant comparison method, which
involves comparisons between individual sources of data, and between the data and the literature. This
provides useful triangulation.
3rounded theory is thus classic inductive research, in that data collection, analysis and theori(ing is iterative.
#$amples
"ccounts of grounded theory can be found in the following #merald articles, some of which also describe
research informed by the method:
1" grounded theory for resistance to change in a small organi(ation1, <acr@ et al", !ournal of #rgani$ational
Change Manageent, ?ol. -A !o. ., pp. +B+9.-,.
1Intransivities of managerial decisions: a grounded theory case1,
4avid 4ouglas, Manageent Decision, ?ol. // !o. +, pp. +AB9EA.
1=sing grounded theory to model visitor e$periences at heritage sites: <ethodological and practical issues1,
4aengbuppha et al", Qualitative Market Research: An International !ournal, ?ol. B !o. /, pp. .GE9CC.
13rounded theory, ethnography and phenomenology: a comparative analysis of three qualitative strategies for
marketing research1, 6hristina 3oulding, %uropean !ournal of Marketing, ?ol. .B !o. .:/ pp. +B/9.,C.
13rounded theory in sales research: an investigation of salespeopleLs client relationships1, )usi 3eiger and
4arach Turley, !ournal of (usiness ) Industrial Marketing, ?ol. -C !o. G:E, pp. AC,9B/.
13rounded theory methodology and practitioner refle$ivity in T8< research1, 4enis Jeonard and Hodney
<c"dam, International !ournal of Quality ) Relia*ility Manageent, ?ol. -C !o. +, pp. -C,9B/.
"ontent analysis
6ontent analysis analyses te$ts by reducing them to a unit by variable matri$, according to a set of variables
which have already been isolated. It is particularly useful if a great deal is known about the sub2ect already, and
the categories already established. In some instances, themes are quantified and the results e$pressed
statistically.
#$amples
!ote that the following e$amples of use of content analysis in #merald articles all take the web as their
research field, where evaluation methods are well established.
16orporate self9presentation on the WWW: strategies for enhancing usability, credibility and utility1 *Irene
5ollach, Corporate Counications: An International !ournal, ?ol. -, !o. /0 uses content analysis *followed by
discourse analysis % see below0 to e$amine how companies use language and hyperte$t to create a favourable
image of themselves, using a framework from systemic functional linguistics. )ee analytical framework for how
they 2ustify their choice.
16orporate reporting on the Internet: audit issues and content analysis of practices1 *&isher et al", Managerial
Auditing !ournal, ?ol. -B !o. .0 describes use of content analysis to investigate corporate reporting against
certain criteria.
!ote, however, that the term 1content analysis1 can also be used generically to refer to the analysis undertaken
for qualitative data, which should more properly be referred to as discourse analysis or narrative analysis, and
which will be e$amined in more detail below.
Discourse analysis
This is one of the main methods used to analyse te$ts, and involves looking at language in its conte$t, the idea
being that particular communities, be they social, disciplinary, cultural or organi(ational, give language a
distinct meaning to describe their e$periences. 14iscourse1 is defined as 1MaN set of meanings, metaphors,
representations, images, stories and statements which together produce a particular version of the world1
*Fergland and Oohansson, +,,E, quoting &oucault *-BB.0, Jaclau and <ouffe *-BCA0 and Furr *-BBA0.
#$amples
1" discourse analysis technique for charting the flow of micro9information behavior1 *4iane !ahl, !ournal of
Docuentation , ?ol. G. !o. .0 uses discourse analysis to analy(e information behaviors according to 1the
three domains of behavior that have been investigated in psychology and education for several decades: the
affective domain, the cognitive domain and the sensorimotor domain1.
16onstructions of entrepreneurship: a discourse analysis of academic publications1 *Darin Ferglund and "nders
W. Oohansson, !ournal of %nterprising Counities: +eople and +laces in the ,lo*al %conoy, ?ol. - !o. -0
discusses discourse analysis and the reasons for its use under 1<ethodology1.
15airing information with poverty: traces of development discourse in JI)1, *Outta 7aider and 4avid Fawden,
-e. 'i*rary &orld , ?ol. -,E !o. B:-,0, looks at &oucaults ideas of discourse.
1Heporting 6)H % what and how to say it>1 *"nne !eilsen and 6hrista Thomsen, Corporate Counications:
An International !ournal , ?ol. -+ !o. -0 discusses &aircloughs model.
(arrative analysis
!arrative analysis looks at te$ts, conversations and interviews as narratives which describe sub2ects
e$periences, the idea being that these narratives are influenced % and modified % by social processes.
#$ample
1Intense, vigorous, soft and fun: identity work and the international <F"1 *!ic Feech, critical perspectives on
international *usiness , ?ol. + !o. -0 describes this method % see 1<ethodology1 section.
"onversation analysis
This method of analysis looks at dialogue and in particular, the roles and identities taken on by participants
*e.g. in student dialogue one student may teach another0, often working back from various outcomes such as
laughter or a request for clarification.
#$ample
1#mbodying e$perience: a video9based e$amination of visitors conduct and interaction in museums1 *4irk von
Jehn, %uropean !ournal of Marketing , ?ol. /, !o. --:-+0 uses this technique in relation to videos of peoples
behaviour in museums.
Analytic induction
This involves rigorous testing of a hypothesis. "s such, its importance in qualitative research is that it can
increase rigour, and is therefore valuable in theory building.
#$amples
=seful accounts of this method are found in:
1Towards rigour in action research: a case study in marketing planning1 *7ugh !. Wilson, %uropean !ournal of
Marketing , ?ol. .C !o. .:/0 % see 1The promise of analytic induction in action research1 section.
1Towards a map of marketing information systems: an inductive study1 *4aniel et al", %uropean !ournal of
Marketing , ?ol. .E !o. A:G0.
emiotics
" method which looks at the culturally determined meaning encoded in signs and symbols.
#$ample
1Thinking the thoughts they do: symbolism and meaning in the consumer e$perience of the Fritish pub1
*6larke et al", Qualitative Market Research: An International !ournal , ?ol. - !o. .0 describes this approach and
its use in consumer research.
Hermeneutics
" method, originally developed to study the Fible, used to analyse te$ts, often used to e$amine documents in
general.
#$amples
1<etaphorical mediation of organi(ational change across space and time1 *Oeff Waistell, !ournal of
#rgani$ational Change Manageent , ?ol. -B !o. A0 provides a description of this method and its use to study
te$ts.
17ermeneutics as a bridge between the modern and the postmodern in library and information science1
*Ooacim 7ansson, !ournal of Docuentation, ?ol. G- !o. -0 describes its role in JI).