What do I do with all of this qualitative data!?!

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Tips and Tricks for Qualitative Data Management

(Part 2 in 4 part series)
By Eileen Dryden, PhD & Julie Carpineto, MFA

You are sold on the benefits of using qualitative methods.  You have started using them.  Now you find yourself drowning in data. Does this sound familiar?

People who are new to using qualitative methods may quickly get overwhelmed by the amount of data these methods can generate. Here are some tips and tricks to help you manage your qualitative data:

Tip: Record data in a form that makes it amenable to analysis.

  • Trick: For focus groups, create a diagram of the table around which participants are sitting, with identifying initials or a number for each person. Add that identifier next to each person’s comments when taking notes.

  • Trick: Record participants’ responses near the questions to which they refer, not necessarily when they occurred during the interview/focus group.
  • Trick: Use templates for recording data when possible.


  • MS Excel template for focus group responses
Participant Q1: Barriers to Physical Activity
P1 Time & money
P2 Money
P3 No bike lanes
P4 Motivation
P5 Sidewalks; streetlights
  • Data abstraction template (e.g. a table of information you want to make sure you collect) for transcript review
Unique ID Family Situation Issues Addressed with Case Manager
A0154 -Single mother with 1 son

-Recently divorced

-Son’s father not living in the country

-Trouble finding childcare

-Cannot find full-time job

  • Observation templates
Date Time of Day Site # of Adults Present # of Children Present Activities
8/4/2013 10-11 AM City Park A 2 6 Rollerblading, Biking
  • Interview/focus group guide itself as a template (record notes in spaces following each question)
  • Use an online tool like SurveyMonkey to distribute diary log ‘templates’ to respondents if looking for similar information over time from same people (minimizes unnecessary re-entry of data)

Tip: Always audio-tape if possible. Useful for:

  • Verbatim transcription
  • Writing detailed summary notes
  • Verifying you captured important points
  • More rigorous analysis at later date

Tip: If you are unable to audio-tape an interview for any reason (e.g. the participant is not comfortable being taped), although not typically done, it is helpful to have two research team members attend the interview: one responsible for facilitation and the other for note-taking. (Note: for focus groups, it is common and recommended practice to always have two team members present.)

Tip: Align the level of audio recording transcription with the overall purpose of the evaluation – it is not always necessary to transcribe interview or focus group content verbatim, and notes can often suffice. You can go back to the audio recording for clarification or specific quotes as needed.

  • Verbatim transcription = Expensive!
  • With a professional service: 1 hour tape = ~4 hours transcription = ~$150-$200 (or more!)

Tip: For large amounts of data (either length of transcripts or number of transcripts), it is helpful to use qualitative data management software.  Examples:

Tip: Small amounts of data may be easier to manage/code/analyze by hand.

These are just a few ideas to help you organize and manage your qualitative data from the moment you collect it.  While this may make you feel a little more confident with qualitative data collection, even well organized data can feel overwhelming just by the sheer quantity of it!  The next post in this series will hopefully help you tackle the next step: qualitative data analysis.

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 data management 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.