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Software and Qualitative Analysis

6. The First Stage

Reading, Interpreting, and Marking Up

Have a look back to Figure 1, from the section “The Qualitative Research Process”. You’ll see that there is a whole lot of work that goes on between collection of the data, and the drawing of conclusions. It is time now to dig into how that work gets done.

Now that we have collected our data, we have to begin the task of sorting the data into topics. Many people find it helpful to use the analogy of sorting paper into folders. Ultimately, we want to be able to look at all the statements people made (which become our data points) about a particular topic, so that we can make a faithful representation of what the participants are saying about that thing.

The notion of faithful representation is very important. This is not just our impression of what is being said. Our impressions are highly vulnerable. We may be subject to such cognitive biases as primacy effects—in which the first things we observe are remembered most clearly, and unduly shape our impressions—recency effects—in which the last things we observe are best remembered—as well as other salience effects, where, say, a particularly eloquent respondent, or one who is particularly emotional, or even who reminds us, say, of a family member, may stand out more strongly in our minds than other respondents. It is critical then that we look carefully and honestly at all the data, checking and re-checking our conclusions.