All entries for November 2018
November 19, 2018
Writing is a continuous, ongoing task in qualitative research but the question is, what do you write? Obviously, many qualitative methodological textbooks and my own experiences suggest that it is very important to document what you observe and begin to interpret very early in the qualitative process. Typically, quantitative research is fairly set in nature and the writing of the research findings usually take place following the analysis phase. With qualitative research, you begin to write about your findings and interpretations at the very beginning of the analytical process. Your writings, interpretations and coding schemes, etc. all change and evolve over time, and it is always wise to write about these changes as they occur.
Reflect on these changes and alternatives, explain the way in which these changes have impacted your research, compare the changed approach to the previous approach, and evaluate these changes. All these reflections shall form a part of your analysis and overall production of the research design chapter and later thesis chapters.
Typically in qualitative research, data analysis and writing of the interpretations and findings occur simultaneously. What I am finding that is in addition to the norm is that I am writing about the research design as I go through each data analysis stage and phase. I have found that my analytical lens and general analytical approach have changed as I have progressed through the data analysis and as I have reread the data several times. With this, I am not just writing and contributing towards the findings and discussion related chapters simultaneous to data analysis, but also various aspects of the research design chapter.
Trust me, this can be quite mind boggling. But for me, it’s an approach that works as I have always viewed little sense in writing the research design chapter before the data analysis began. I did attempt this before, but as I progressed through the data analysis I found that what I found was challenging what I thought, and continues to do so. It made sense for me from that point to write about the design as I progressed through the data analysis.
It was more than a couple of years or so ago that I started the qualitative journey after moving away from mixed methods approaches to investigating the phenomenon of interest. I suppose back then I was aware of the need for writing about the data itself and what I was to observe, but I had no idea that at the time I would effectively be writing about the research design AND the data observations and thematic development simultaneously but this is the way that my research appears to have been worked out.
Qualitative research is nuanced and there really is no set path towards the way you are to write your qualitative thesis! Plus do remember that it is an ongoing process: you cannot write about an observation once and then leave it. It’s a long running, complex, detailed, deep process of understanding and comprehending what it is you are observing.
'till next time, keep applying that pen to paper! Or hands to keyboard! Or both!
As mentioned in the previous blog post I am pretty much there with the coding scheme. That’s not to suggests that revisions and adjustments are not going to occur, but it is to suggest that I am in a happier place with the coding; I feel that the coding scheme now better represents the aims and objectives of the research. New codes and adjustments of the existing codes are likely to occur as I continue with the development of categories and themes and their verification and validation. Never ever hold anything as absolute and complete especially when you are engaged with qualitative research.
Along with refining the codes, etc. another task I am involved with is the rechecking of the coding of data characteristics. By this I mean, ensuring that the data segments have been interpreted consistently according to their characteristics, and coded accurately. There is a relationship here between interpreting consistently and coding accurately, because accurate coding can only arguably occur with consistent interpreting. A deeper question here, however, is to ask about the accuracy of interpretation, or, in what way data segments could be interpreted accurately and this is a challenging question, which I suspect is related to validation and verification. A part of this involves ensuring that the segments have been coded using the most appropriate code that best describes the activity expressed in the data segment.
I am also double checking what I call the “code memos.” These are theoretical memos, a concept from Grounded Theory, which documents my approach to developing the code, and explaining the meaning of the code, and why the code is most appropriate for each recorded data segment. All coded segments are placed in the code’s appropriate memo, and this assists with observing and documenting the capturing of variation within the code, and therefore, assists with understanding the variation of themes. These memos, therefore, shall come part of the identification and development of themes.
I have identified initial sets of themes and these themes have been / are continuing to be refined but this is a continuous process and will be for the foreseeable future.
The key is, it is my belief that my core ideas of the coding scheme are in place: I just need to validate and refine the codes as necessary. The refinement and checking of the coding scheme as explained in the previous blog post is ongoing.
November 02, 2018
It has been quite a while since I wrote the previous blog post as I have been steeped in data analysis with the sole purpose of developing the coding frame. There is too much detail to cover in an update blog post so I shall simply focus on the core accomplishment, and that is the development of the coding framework!
For the past few many months I have been developing a coding framework that is intended to assist qualitative researchers in the exploration of social learning phenomena (I am obviously not going to go into this in too much detail on here: more extensive details shall be found in the thesis and, fingers crossed, published papers). In developing this coding framework I have switched from a grounded theory methodology to a thematic analysis with concepts borrowed from grounded theory (e.g., the writing of theoretical memos, and the idea of theoretical saturation, and some ideas from constant comparisons, etc.), and also changed direction in coding (e.g., switched direction in coding for particular data characteristics and functions). Extensive notes have been written and continue to be written as to the reasons for the changes, the exact process and aspects of the analysis, and the relationship between the components and stages of analysis. As data analysis is continuous, I am effectively writing notes about the research design as the analysis progresses. In my view, there is no sense in doing the data analysis and then writing the research design chapter (even in rough note form) after that. It is really best to do both tasks simultaneously especially if it’s qualitative research.
Now I am in a position where I feel that I have developed a coding framework and I am beginning to identify themes that explain the core principles, characteristics, dynamics and forms of the phenomena of interest in relation to the research questions and the research context.
Even though I have developed the coding framework, the work is not complete.
The next stage is the process of refinement, verification and validation of the coding framework along with continuing to refine the themes that are developed from the codes, which themselves shall be going into the next stage of refinement and checking.
In a nutshell, the refinement and checking process shall involve a deeper examination and comparison of all the coded data segments. In line with the thinking of grounded theory (which I think should be a part of overall qualitative research thinking), I have been writing extensive theoretical memos on various aspects of the analysis process and this includes memos for each code.
With each code memo, I am placing each similarly coded segment into the document relevant to the particular code in order to document the location and content of each coded segment. The next step with these memos for each code is to closely compare each segment to ensure that they are similar enough in characteristics, function, purpose and features (all of these aspects of the data have been written extensively about on paper and continue to be) to be given the same code. Other tasks include the comprehensive comparisons of their similarities, to discuss and examine the way they are similar and which sub-group of the code they belong, based on their characteristics and features. I shall, again, be extensively documenting this process stage by stage. It is expected that this process shall lead to a refinement of some of the codes and understanding of the codes, and the continuous task of identifying more themes, and refine and develop existing themes. Again, I intend on extensively documenting this process.
Other processes of verification and validation shall include the potential use of a focus group where a group of graduates is being planned to apply the coded framework to test it (part of the inter rater process) and also I plan to situate the codes and most importantly the developing themes within existing literature. In other words, I plan to use existing literature to verify and validate the data, and to use the themes to expand on existing understanding of the phenomena, and to explain the way in which the coding framework can be used along with other frameworks for different purposes.
This blog post does not do justice the amount of work that is involved and what shall be involved in the future, seriously. I’ve written now well over four hundred pages perhaps nearer to five hundred pages or more, on both the computer and on paper, on the research design, the phenomena itself, and observations that I have made of the data so far. And I’m not done with it yet because I have not detailed the processes that are yet to come and that which I am just about to begin engaging with.
These pages are not formally drafted: they are a mixture of a series of quick thoughts or notes on a page, pages of extended thoughts and observations, reflections on the process so far, critiques of the research design, notes and extended thoughts on the problems I have come across, developments of philosophical and ethical groundings and justifications, critiques and explanations of the research process I am adopting, and much more.
Obviously there is not much in the way of cohesive or logical ordering to these notes: I am simply writing everything down as anything comes to me. That works for me and is the best approach; otherwise you’ll be so worried and focused on order that you’ll miss out on important details and the serendipity of it all.
I shall worry about the order and logic of everything in the future: the most important thing is that everything is being recorded in whatever order that occurs, using whatever medium I can get access to at the time either on the computer or on pen and paper (and sometimes both at the same time!).
That’s basically been the key activity since writing the blog post: developing the coding framework to a point where I am happy with it, and can move it forward to the next stage of refinement, verification and validation. The other tasks obviously have been to extensively and comprehensively document everything that I do: the what, how, why, when and where.
‘till next time!