60 Presenting Your Findings

Before unpacking relationships in the data, you should first highlight the characteristics of your sample. If the sample is people, you will likely highlight demographic information; however, for non-human units of analysis, you will likely provide an overview of types (e.g., types of newspapers, types of brewery etc.) and any other characteristics that distinguish your cases. The characteristics of the sample is discussed either at the beginning of the findings or in the methods section. For quantitative and larger qualitative studies, this part can be highly summative (see Box 9.7.1). In that case, you should consider using tables to demonstrate characteristics such as “gender,” “nationality,” and “ethnicity” of the sample. For smaller and more intimate studies, you may provide demographic details of each case or respondents, provided it adds value to the analysis and does not compromise confidentiality. Note that this should only be done if the risk of disclosure is extremely low or if the sample are well-known public figures who do not wish to withhold their identities.

Furthermore, in interview or ethnographic research, demographics and other characteristics are central to your analysis. Life history reports often present detailed descriptions of participants as well. A qualitative interview researcher will typically sparsely describe the interviewee as they introduce them to their analysis. It can go something as follows, “Louisa, a second generation Canadian immigrant and lawyer, was adamant about her loyalty to the parliamentary system,” before an excerpt from your interview with ‘Louisa’ is used. Be sure to return to key points of the demographic if they are relevant to your analysis. Say you want to compare how social class alters the views of Canadian immigrants to the U.S. on the Canadian vs. the American governing system, then the fact that Louisa is a) a lawyer (likely of middle-class), and b) a second generation immigrant, will be relevant to her interpretation of the viability of the parliamentary system.

This kind of research often also asks the researcher to present their positionality with respect to the group they are interpreting. This is because the researcher’s perspective takes on greater value in qualitative and interpretive research. As a consequence, the researcher should attempt to briefly describe the existence of any relationship or commonality with their participants by attending to questions such as: Do I have the same class background? Nationality? What brought me research their lives? While the answers to these questions should not become the focus of your study, brief coverage of these questions allows your reader to understand how your point of view influences your interpretation of the evidence at hand.

Box 9.7 – Personal Description and Summary Tables

Qualitative researchers present demographic descriptions in multiple ways: summary tables, brief descriptions or detailed descriptions. Often, qualitative researchers use a combination of summary table(s) and either brief or detailed descriptions of each participant in the text of their findings. We provide some practical examples below:

Summary Tables

Robinson (2020) interviewed 20 educational elites from 7 different Caribbean countries to understand their lived experiences in other Caribbean countries. Because disclosure risk was extremely low, he presented a descriptive table with the following four columns: nationality, gender, profession/Industry, and other Caribbean countries lived in (see Robinson, 2020, p. 76).

Brief Descriptions

Researchers often chose to provide summary descriptions of each participant when referring to them in the findings. When this is done, one must be careful to ensure that the same characteristics are mentioned. For example, if the key variable interests are gender, class and age, you need to ensure that you provide these details for each participant. Bowen, Elliot and Brenton (2014) exemplified this as follows: “Leanne, a married working-class black mother of three, is in her cramped kitchen” (p. 20) “Marquan, working-class black parents of two young girls, were constantly pressed for time” (p.22); “Greely, a married middle-class white mother of one child” (p.23). Notice that Bowen et al (2014) were consistent in highlighting pseudonyms, class, ethnicity and number of children. Please note that providing brief descriptive texts does not preclude the presentation of summary tables. Researchers often use both (see Robinson, 2020).

Detailed Descriptions

Life histories, ethnographic research and some feminist studies focus on individual participant as unit of analysis and might present detailed descriptions. For example, Myrie (2017, p.123) described a participant, Daisy, as follows: “She never once looked at me for the 2 hours and 14 minutes we spoke…Daisy is 17 years old and lives with her mother and other siblings. Before recently, moving in with her mother, she moved around frequently and lived with a number of different family members and strangers.” Myrie (2017) went on to describe her mother, siblings, other relatives and personal life history. Myrie (2017) provided detailed life histories of all her participants as well as summary tables with characteristics of each of her participants.

Presenting quotations: In-text and Block Quotations

There are two main ways in which quotations from interviews, surveys, and textual data are presented in qualitative write-ups: in-text and block quotations. In-text means to quote the participants within the sentence and must work with smaller fragments of data when weaving its arguments. For example, Robinson (2020, p. 173) in reporting the lived experiences of migrants in Caribbean countries provided this in-text citation: “​​Leon, a St. Lucian, stated that he heard his own countrymen yelling insults to other CARICOM nationals such as ‘go and leave our country, or you come to take drugs, or you all come here because you are hungry” [respondents’ quote italicized]. In-text quotes are, hence, suitable for shorter sentences or a mere word.

Block quotations, on the other hand, are used to express larger testimonies of data (typically greater than 40 words, APA, 2020). Block quotations then place extra emphasis on the discursive commentary of the researcher (Holliday, 2007). They provide the reader a more contextualized account from the participant. They may even allow the reader to get a sense of the difference in voice and accent of the participant, as opposed to the homogenization of voice that tends to ensue when the researcher conforms other voices to their own. However, be careful not to over-use block quotations because they may draw attention away from the main argument of the paper, and may indicate a lack of analysis. Block quotations are usually indented; see the example from Elliot and Bowen (2018, p.507):

They treat you like you’re dumb as dirt. You’re doing something wrong, the kids are fat, they’re in the upper 95 percentile or the top 100 percentile, way above some of the other kids. They tell you they’re too fat, but you let them lose a pound, your next visit they chew you out because they lost a pound. But they’re telling you the visit before they’re fat. Don’t give them the whole milk. First give them whole milk, then don’t.They treat you like you’re dumb as dirt…

Both in-text citations and block quotations require contextualization and analysis. The researcher is expected to unpack each fragment of data that makes it into their final account. Block quotations require more unpacking because they have taken the reader away from the argument for longer. The attention of the reader must be steadily brought back to the argument through awareness of the meaning of the quotation for the statements prior. This is what discursive commentary means, it is commentary which responds to the discourse of the quotation. Data analysis of participants is no different from the literature review, it also involves evaluating and analyzing the evidence that is present, synthesizing them into a coherent point for your reader.

At each point of in-text citation, a small statement can be proffered to support the meaning of the argument.  In-text citations allow you to quickly allude to evidence which supports your argument. Putnam and Phelps (2017, p. 114) argue that in-text citations “ostensibly serve as evidence for a claim, which justifies using them as a basis for the judgment of the truth.” However, in-text citations, can reduce the authenticity of your account. If the participant’s voice is featured only in brackets (participant 1) the depth of their expression risks being reduced to fit a narrow and incomplete argument. The goal of providing thick description cannot be achieved without connecting a network of complicated expressions into a coherent point or topic. In-text citations should therefore find some way of communicating the context of your participants and situating the speaker before analyzing them. Box 9.8.2 below provides an example of in-text citation by anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ (2005, p. 59) ethnographic experience of a Balinese cockfight.

Box 9.8 – Example In-Text Citation

The following is an encounter of Balinese villagers teasing Geertz and his wife for running from the police after attending an illegal cockfight:

They asked us about it again and again (I must have told the story, small detail by small detail, fifty times by the end of the day), gently, affectionately, but quite insistently teasing us: “Why didn’t you just stand there and tell the police who you were?” “Why didn’t you just say you were only watching and not betting?” “Were you really afraid of those little guns?” As always, kinesthetically minded and, even when fleeing for their lives (or, as happened eight years later, surrendering them), the world’s most poised people, they gleefully mimicked, also over and over again, our graceless style of running and what they claimed were our panic-stricken facial expressions. But above all, everyone was extremely pleased and even more surprised that we had not simply “pulled out our papers” (they knew about those too) and asserted our Distinguished Visitor status, but had instead demonstrated our solidarity with what were now our co-villagers.

Notice how Geertz uses the quotes as part of the larger context of the situation, the speakers, and himself. This encounter helps explain to the audience the instinct of Geertz and his wife to run once the police arrived (despite being protected by their foreign research status). It very quickly situates the villagers, Geertz, his wife, and the police in the larger story that Clifford is trying to tell.

Source: Geertz, C. (2005). Deep play: Notes on the balinese cockfight. Daedalus (Cambridge, Mass.), 134(4), 56-86. https://doi.org/10.1162/001152605774431563

We encourage you to find a model in-text and block quotations that is effective for you. Notice what reports on the evidence work, note those that do not, and incorporate their strategies into your writing.


Robinson, O. I. (2020). Migration, Social Identities and Regionalism within the Caribbean Community. Springer. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-47745-5

Elliott, S., & Bowen, S. (2018). Defending motherhood: Morality, responsibility, and double binds in feeding children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80(2), 499-520.

Holliday, A., SAGE Research Methods Complete A-Z List, & SAGE Research Methods Core.

(2007). Doing and writing qualitative research (2nd ed.). SAGE.

Geertz, C. (2005). Deep play: Notes on the balinese cockfight. Daedalus (Cambridge, Mass.), 134(4), 56-86. https://doi.org/10.1162/001152605774431563

Putnam, A. L., & Phelps, R. J. (2017). The citation effect: In-text citations moderately increase belief in trivia claims. Acta Psychologica, 179, 114-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2017.07.010

Myrie, S. C. (2017). An Exploration of Factors that Contribute to Drug Use among Dropout Girls in Inner City Communities in Kingston and St. Andrew, Jamaica (Doctoral dissertation, University of Saskatchewan).


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Practicing and Presenting Social Research Copyright © 2022 by Oral Robinson and Alexander Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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