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Coding qualitative data

Coding—using labels to classify and assign meaning to pieces of information—helps you to make sense of qualitative data, such as responses to open-ended survey questions. Codes answer the questions, “What do I see going on here?” or “How do I categorize the information?” Coding enables you to organize large amounts of text and to discover patterns that would be difficult to detect by reading alone.

Coding steps

1. Initial coding

It’s usually best to start by generating numerous codes as you read through responses, identifying data that are related without worrying about the variety of categories. Because codes are not always mutually exclusive, a piece of information might be assigned several codes.

2. Focused coding

After initial coding, it is helpful to review codes and eliminate less useful ones, combine smaller categories into larger ones, or if a very large number of responses have been assigned the same code, subdivide that category. At this stage you should see repeating ideas and can begin organizing codes into larger themes that connect different codes. It may help to spread responses across a floor or large table when trying to identify themes.

Example

table

Additional information

Lofland, J. & Lofland, L. H. (1995). Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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