Chapter 10: Qualitative Data Collection & Analysis Methods

10.6 Qualitative Coding, Analysis, and Write-up: The How to Guide

This section provides an abbreviated set of steps and directions for coding, analyzing, and writing up qualitative data, taking an inductive approach. The following material is adapted from Research Rundowns, retrieved from

Step1: Open coding

At this first level of coding, the researcher is looking for distinct concepts and categories in the data, which will form the basic units of the analysis. In other words, the researcher is breaking down the data into first level concepts, or master headings, and second-level categories, or subheadings.

Researchers often use highlighters to distinguish concepts and categories. For example, if interviewees consistently talk about teaching methods, each time an interviewee mentions teaching methods, or something related to a teaching method, the researcher uses the same colour highlight. Teaching methods would become a concept, and other things related (types, etc.) would become categories – all highlighted in the same colour. It is valuable to use different coloured highlights to distinguish each broad concept and category. At the end of this stage, the transcripts contain many different colours of highlighted text. The next step is to transfer these into a brief outline, with main headings for concepts and subheadings for categories.

Step 2: Axial (focused) coding

In open coding, the researcher is focused primarily on the text from the interviews to define concepts and categories. In axial coding, the researcher is using the concepts and categories developed in the open coding process, while re-reading the text from the interviews. This step is undertaken to confirm that the concepts and categories accurately represent interview responses.

In axial coding, the researcher explores how the concepts and categories are related. To examine the latter, you might ask: What conditions caused or influenced concepts and categories? What is/was the social/political context? What are the associated effects or consequences? For example, let us suppose that one of the concepts is Adaptive Teaching, and two of the categories are tutoring and group projects. The researcher would then ask: What conditions caused or influenced tutoring and group projects to occur? From the interview transcripts, it is apparent that participants linked this condition (being able to offer tutoring and group projects) with being enabled by a supportive principle. Consequently, an axial code might be a phrase like our principal encourages different teaching methods. This discusses the context of the concept and/or categories and suggests that the researcher may need a new category labeled “supportive environment.” Axial coding is merely a more directed approach to looking at the data, to help make sure that the researcher has identified all important aspects.

Step 3: Build a data table

Table 10.4 illustrates how to transfer the final concepts and categories into a data table. This is a very effective way to organize results and/or discussion in a research paper. While this appears to be a quick process, it requires a lot of time to do it well.

Table 10.4 Major categories and associated concept

Step 1 Open Coding
  • Major category or concept: Adaptive teaching.
  • Associated concepts: Tutoring; group projects.
Step 2 Axial Coding Themes Our principal encourages different teaching methods.
Step 3 New Category Supportive environment.
Step 4 Add concepts that relate to supportive environment.
Step 5 Continue on until you have undertaken an exhaustive analysis of the data.

Step 4: Analysis & write-up

Not only is Table 10.4 an effective way to organize the analysis, it is also a good approach for assisting with the data analysis write-up. The first step in the analysis process is to discuss the various categories and describe the associated concepts. As part of this process, the researcher will describe the themes created in the axial coding process (the second step).

There are a variety of ways to present the data in the write-up, including: 1) telling a story; 2) using a metaphor; 3) comparing and contrasting; 4) examining relations among concepts/variables; and 5) counting. Please note that counting should not be a stand-alone qualitative data analysis process to use when writing up the results, because it cannot convey the richness of the data that has been collected. One can certainly use counting for stating the number of participants, or how many participants spoke about a specific theme or category; however, the researcher must present a much deeper level of analysis by drawing out the words of the participants, including the use of direct quotes from the participants´ interviews to demonstrate the validity of the various themes.

Here are some links to demonstrations on other methods for coding qualitative data:

When writing up the analysis, it is best to “identify” participants through a number, alphabetical letter, or pseudonym in the write-up (e.g. Participant #3 stated …). This demonstrates that you drawing data from all of the participants.  Think of it this way, if you were doing quantitative analysis on data from 400 participants, you would present the data for all 400 participants, assuming they all answered a specific question.  You will often see in a table of quantitative results (n=400), indicating that 400 people answered the question.  This is the researcher’s way of confirming, to the reader, how many participants answered a particular research question.  Assigning participant numbers, letters, or pseudonyms serves the same purpose in qualitative analysis.


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