Software and Qualitative Analysis

4. The Qualitative Research Process

Retrieving and Summarizing Text

The next step in reducing the data is often to retrieve the chunks of text associated with particular codes, reading these passages to refine the analyst’s understanding of that conceptual category. It may also be desirable to retrieve text according to combinations of codes-for example, to see where a concept having to do with a particular caregiver attitude, say, “empathizes with patient,” coincides with a particular context, say, “extended one-on-one caregiver-patient contact.” The researcher would then be able to read all of the chunks (text passages) where both of these codes had been applied, to see what, if any, relationship might exist between the two. Depending on the nature of the study, it might also be desirable to identify all of the cases where both of these codes apply, even if the two concepts do not happen to emerge from the same text chunk.

In this way, the researcher begins to be able to write summaries of the main conceptual issues that appear in the data. These preliminary write-ups have the virtues of being much smaller in physical length than the original transcripts, and of representing a move from the original concrete data to a more conceptual level. They also have the disadvantage of being one step removed from the original data, with the danger that some original meaning and context may be lost. It is therefore important for the researcher to have the ability to examine and re-examine the underlying data as analysis and write-up proceeds, in order to continually check interpretations against the data.

Figure 1c

Diagram of the qualitative research process discussed in this section highlighting reducing data.