Software and Qualitative Analysis

4. The Qualitative Research Process

Sorting/Coding Data

This whole process will in many cases give rise to modification of any a priori coding scheme, and many researchers follow an iterative process, making repeated coding passes through the data.

In most approaches, the researcher will begin by sorting the data by topic, and will begin this process by developing some sort of coding scheme: a set of tags or labels representing the conceptual categories into which to sort the data. These may be developed either a priori from the conceptual framework driving the study, inductively as the analysis proceeds and the analyst begins to identify issues in the data, or by some combination of the two. Next, segments of the data—often paragraphs or sentences—are marked with relevant codes (coded). This is the critical step in which the data are sorted into conceptual categories. In many cases, researchers write memos as they code, recording emerging ideas and early conclusions about both theory and methods. As insights accrue, it often becomes useful to search back through the data for places where specific words or phrases are used, and to locate related phenomena in the text, both in order to code these new chunks, and to check the validity of emerging conclusions. It may sometimes be useful to create pointers (or links) between different places in the text where the same issues arise, as, for example, when in one interview a patient describes an episode that is elsewhere also described by his or her caregiver.

Figure 1b

Diagram of the qualitative research process discussed in this section highlighting sorting and coding data.