I have such interesting qualitative data! Now how do I analyze it?

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Tips and Tricks for Qualitative Data Analysis

(Part 3 in a 4 part series)
By Julie Carpineto, MFA & Eileen Dryden, PhD

Qualitative data analysis and reporting can seem like a mysterious process for those new to it – but  it doesn’t have to be.  Here are some tips and tricks to help you simplify the process of analyzing qualitative data.

Getting to Know your Data: Focusing and Starting Your Analysis

Tip: Start thinking about your analysis from the moment you begin data collection! Reflect on and record themes, theories, and areas of interest throughout the data collection process.

  • Trick: Schedule an extra ½ hour after focus groups for the facilitator, note taker and any other assistants to document preliminary themes, areas of interest and great quotes.

Tip:  Decide how you will approach your analysis based on your resources and with the research goals in mind.  Consider:

  • What resources do you have? (personnel, time, money, skills)
  • What level of detail and rigor do the people who will use the information need?

Tip: Get to know your data by reading over notes and transcripts to assess the data’s quality, breadth and variability

  • Trick:  Again, document preliminary thoughts on main themes and points of interest.

Tip: Focus, focus, focus!!

  • Trick: Keep your questions of interest at the forefront during all phases of your analysis and create a list of interesting ‘asides’ elsewhere that you may want to look into further at a later date.
    –  Review the reasons you wanted to collect qualitative data
    –  Identify key questions you hope to answer or learn more about

Into the Thick of It: Developing a Codebook & Coding Your Data

After all your data is collected and you’ve identified some preliminary themes, the next step is to categorize your data into key themes, called “codes”.

To help organize this process, develop a “codebook” – or list of key themes – as a guide. This is essential for maintaining consistency if more than one analyst is coding, but can also be helpful for internal consistency and reporting transparency even if only one analyst is involved. Note: Your codebook will likely undergo changes. Emergent interests and insights may lead to adding or changing codes as you proceed.

Once you have developed a codebook, you can then start “coding” your data by labeling segments of text with the applicable themes/codes.

Tip: Use the focus group/interview guide to develop a preliminary codebook:

  • What do you think are the biggest strengths in your community?
    • Include the code “strengths”
  • How do you think the intervention could leverage these strengths to increase its likelihood of success?
    • Include the code “leveraging strengths”
  • Can you think of other key players—organizations, agencies, individuals, etc.—who could help increase the intervention’s likelihood of success?
    • Include the code “key players”

Tip: Have more than one person involved in analysis when possible. This increases reliability of findings.

  • Trick: Meet to review analysis periodically and resolve discrepancies in opinion.

Tip: Don’t rely on qualitative data analysis software to do the analysis for you. These software programs facilitate the analytical process by helping you manage large amounts of data – but you still have to do the analysis!

  • Trick: For smaller amounts of data you may find it’s easier to code ‘by-hand.’ When coding by hand, it can be helpful to use colors in MSWord or add extra code columns to MSExcel templates: for example:
How are you and your family getting along?
What are you doing differently since the program?
Yes I am more patient
Yes my son is talking to me
and working on family therapy.
Comm., Ther
I feel better about myself
I listen more and calmed down to try to take more time for myself.
Li, Skill, SN
Same most of the time
First I sit down with my kids than we talked about problems how to get rid of it
Yes , not so different from their past and present
Not really
I am happier so yes!
Feel pos
Meditate take space look @ problems vs solutions instead of just problems
SN, Skill
My husband and I are doing much better Its helpful to have the time without a child to reflect on parenting and on our own issues goals and needs
Sp, Rel, Intro, SN
think about son’s perspective and the values we want to convey instead of focusing just on good behavior. For example, think about how to model respect for others in daily behavior.

Tip: Take analysis up a level: summarize categories about a topic or question.

  • Trick: Note what is interesting/relevant (e.g. variability within and across groups; relative strength/commonality of themes). This will help you determine what is worth reporting on, or highlighting in your reports.

These are just a few ideas for focusing and implementing your analysis.  There are many ways to approach qualitative data analysis and some really great resources for learning more. One book we particularly recommend is “Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook”, 2nd ed. by M. Huberman and M.B. Miles, Sage Publications, 1994.

Now you’re ready for the final phase in this journey with qualitative data: interpreting your findings and communicating them to stakeholders.  Look out for our fourth and final blog in this series for tips and tricks on qualitative data reporting!

For more information about the Institute for Community Health, please visit our website https://icommunityhealth.org/. Examples of our work and collaborations involving qualitative research are described here.

Note: different projects require different methodological approaches. This is not an exhaustive list of qualitative analysis techniques. You may find other techniques fit your project’s aims more effectively and appropriately.


The views expressed on the Institute for Community Health blog page are solely those of the blog post author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICH, the author’s employer or other organizations with which the author is associated.