What do these findings mean and how do I communicate them?

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Tips and Tricks for Interpreting and Reporting Qualitative Data

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

Once qualitative data has been collected, coded and analyzed, it needs to be interpreted and packaged in a way that is meaningful to stakeholders.  Interpreting and communicating qualitative findings is essential for ensuring the results will be used – and this, really, is the ultimate goal!  Here are some tips and tricks for interpreting and reporting qualitative data.

Data Interpretation

Tip:  Begin by listing key points and themes:

  • What have your qualitative findings confirmed? This is especially important to consider if your qualitative research was part of a mixed-methods effort to learn more about a particular topic, community problem, etc.
  • What are the major lessons learned?
  • What, if anything, can be applied to other settings, programs, or studies?

Tip: Establish criteria for deciding what is considered a “major” or “common” theme.

  • A theme will usually be considered “major” or “common,” and therefore worth reporting or highlighting, if noted by at least 50% of a group or subgroup.
  • As appropriate, think about meaningful ways to categorize your themes (e.g. “suggestions for improvement”)
  • Depending on your research question, it may also be important to note minor themes or the absence of an expected theme.

Tip:  Stakeholders (e.g. program staff, participants, community members) can provide valuable insight into qualitative findings! Work closely with stakeholders to review findings and determine their significance and relative importance.

Data Reporting

Tip: Consider your audience(s) and determine the best report format and venue for communicating with them effectively.  Sometimes the best report is not a report at all!  Posters, videos, brochures, slide shows and oral presentations are all great options. Be creative!

Tip: If you do create a more traditional report, keep in mind that, in general, less is more. Again, consider your  audience(s) and stakeholders when determining appropriate report length.

Trick: Create an executive summary (‘1-pager’) that highlights main findings (qualitative reports can get very long!)

Tip: Use quotes and photos to illustrate themes throughout your report (whatever the format!).

Tip: Make the most of all the work you have done.  Qualitative findings can have multiple uses – think sustainability!  Compelling quotes and photos can be used for marketing initiatives, funding proposals, etc…

We’ve come to the end of this 4-part “Tips and Tricks” series for using qualitative methods.  While not all of these tips and tricks are appropriate for all your qualitative endeavors, we hope this series has given you a flavor of qualitative methods and encourages you to consider using them in your next research or evaluation project.

If you are interested in reading more about qualitative methods, there is a treasure trove of available books on the topic. One we highly recommend is Michael Quinn Patton’s book, “Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods”, SAGE Publications, Inc: 3rd edition (October 2001). It is a great end-of-summer page-turner!

Please see our Qualitative Methods page for more information on ICH’s qualitative methods approach & expertise.

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.