All major qualitative methods employ coding techniques to help organize and analyze the overwhelming amount of data that are frequently collected during qualitative research. Advanced qualitative researchers understand that there are significant differences in qualitative methods. An ethnographer writing field notes and gathering objects amasses a different type of data than a researcher conducting a case study. A grounded theorist is searching for a different type of conclusion than a phenomenologist.

       Regardless of the qualitative method, coding is the process of focusing a mass amount of free-form data with the goal of empirically illuminating answers to research questions. Coding moves in a stepwise fashion progressively from unsorted data to the development of more refined categories, themes, and concepts. The number of steps required to complete the coding process varies between research methods and the amount of raw data, but qualitative coding commonly utilizes three or four steps.

       The multidisciplinary approach of Doing Qualitative Research Using Your Computer embraces and encourages the differences between various qualitative methods, but it also recognizes core similarities. No attempt is made in the book to blend or homogenize different qualitative methods into a single method, nor is there an attempt to resolve all of the differences in terminology; however, broadly universal terminology was developed to describe similar coding steps.

       Qualitative coding Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 are descriptive terms to broadly represent core procedures used by the major qualitative research methods. These levels of coding do not precisely correspond with any existing method, but experienced researchers should be able to see the parallels between the coding levels described in the book and the coding steps in their preferred method. You are encourage to creatively use the concepts presented on this page and adapt them to your research needs.

       After transcribing text data, including field notes, recordings from interviews, public documents, and descriptions of physical objects, the data are formatted for coding in Microsoft Word. Level 1 coding takes place in Word. Level 2, 3, and 4 coding procedures are done in either Access or Excel. These successive levels of coding provide researchers with documented and well organized answers to research questions. The coding results can be efficiently integrated into the final report.

Copyright, Christopher Hahn, 2008

Return to Home Page for more Qualitative Research Tips