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Qualitative Inquiry Group @ RMIT

The Qualitative Inquiry Group meets on the first Tuesday of each month, in the Accounting and Law boardroom – right next to my office. I’ve decided to start attending their meetings, though it’s causing a bit of trouble with desk space… I originally said I’d be in the uni on Wednesdays and Fridays, and my desk has been claimed during the rest of the week.

Today’s workshop was on coding qualitative data (using software like NVivo). A few people described their experiences during past or current projects, and the discussion evolved from there. It seems that there are only two real rules, as far as data coding goes:

1. You need to have (and know!) a reason for coding up the data – it’s a technique that can help to solve a problem. Otherwise it’s a rather masochistic exercise, and a great way of never finishing a thesis…

2. No two people follow the same methods, though hopefully two researchers would both use similar codes for the same bit of data.

Essentially, NVivo is designed to help analyse large amounts of qualitative data. In my case, that takes the form of interview transcripts: by the end of the research phase, I’ll hopefully have about forty interviews to analyse.

Codes are categories, topics or themes that you are interested in exploring. They aren’t always directly stated (so can’t be searched for using the transcript text) – they might be nebulous things like an interviewee’s attitudes towards management, or their motivation for making a decision.

Developing codes is an arcane art. Ideally, they “emerge” from the data – when reviewing the interviews, new themes and elements of interest are discovered. Many people start by assigning codes based on existing theories that (hopefully) explain your observations. That’s fine if you’re testing a theory, but it doesn’t work if you want to develop grounded theory of your own…

Multiple codes can be applied to any given bit of data, which is a good reason for doing this with software instead of coloured pens and post-it notes. Actually, a good interviewer should be getting statements that have multiple meanings: a statement about use of a specific technology might also allude to innovation, risk, etc.

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