Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA)
So, you have gathered armloads of data. What now?
With qualitative research, expect to begin your analysis as soon as your first data is collected. This process of collection and data analysis will continue in a cyclical fashion until your study is complete.
When we talk about ‘analysis’ we’re referring to the way the qualitative researcher makes sense of what they identify to be significant or interesting in the data. This analysis process is where it becomes exciting as it generates understandings and insights about people, social behaviour, social processes and settings.
Data analysis involves asking questions as well as looking for patterns and links in your data. From there, your goal is to make invisible or taken-for-granted experiences, meanings and processes clear and obvious.
It’s important to note, the approach to analysis does depend on the methodology you have chosen and you’ll find researchers use different words to describe the way they develop categories of meaning – depending on their methodology. For example, they may refer to:
- discourses, etc.
Regardless of the language used to describe the process, data must be systematically labelled and organised, before you can analyse it.
Computer based analysis
These days, most qualitative data analysis is done with the help of a computer based data analysis program, such as NVivo. The software allows you to classify, sort and arrange information and then examine relationships in the data. The programs will require you to first manually enter or import your raw data. A range of formats can be used, including audio, written, photographic, spreadsheet or video data sources.
So the software does the analysis for me?
Unfortunately, no. Using a computer-based program is very useful, but it does not do the analysis for you. It will help you organise your data, but you still need to uncover the themes yourself. Most researchers complement their computer-based analysis with a manual method to double-check their analysis.
Using coding schemes
As the analysis proceeds and groupings are made, a coding scheme develops:
- Similar units are clustered into groups that identify one idea only.
- Units may be phrases, sentences or whole paragraphs.
- Units are labelled as ‘categories’ or ‘minor themes’.
- Similar categories or minor themes are then put into a larger group, and the groups are labelled.
- These larger groupings are often termed ‘themes’.
Initially, many codes are developed during the first ‘sweep’ of the data. As you return to your data for a second (third and fourth….) sweep, the number of codes will reduce as you begin to merge them into common themes. This process continues until you’re confident all themes have been captured.
For a practical demonstration of data analysis in action, watch Kent Löfgren in the video below, as he leads you through the basic steps of general qualitative data analysis.
This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.
Visit the NVivo website to explore one example of software that’s available. What do you see as being the benefits and drawbacks of such a program? Share your thoughts in the comments section along with any other suggestions or software examples you have discovered.
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