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February 21, 2019
I apologise for the lateness of the continuation of the reflective posts, where I reflect over the past year’s progress. With this final blog post in the series of reflective posts, I shall focus on the thesis.
I find myself in an interesting position when it comes to the order in which the thesis chapters are being written. Typically, the chapters of a thesis are written in order: introduction, literature review, research design, findings and discussion of findings (I accept this is a very simplistic overview!). I appear to find myself switching between chapters at different times, that writing sections in later chapters help to further develop previous chapters, and that I appear to be writing the findings and discussion of findings chapter (albeit in very rough form) at the same time as engaging with data analysis.
Most influentially, the engagement with the data analysis process has shaped the development and direction of the literature review, the use of the literature, as well as the direction of the research design and the construction of the research design chapter. This is probably to do with the nature of the research: I am adopting an inductive approach to qualitative analysis, and I am coming to realise that inductive research shapes our understanding of not just the data but also the wider literature landscape. Additionally, the changes to philosophical and methodological stances, as has been reported in the two previous blogs, have occurred through engagement with the data. Furthering this, it is the process of critical engagement with the data e.g., the act of asking questions about the data, about what I was perceiving and interpreting from the data, that led to alterations of my philosophical and methodological stances. Ultimately this has led to the reworking of the research design chapter’s philosophical sections.
Reflecting further, I did attempt to write the research design chapter prior to data analysis, as is typically the case, but I found this difficult. I found this difficult because I had to predict what methods I was going to use, but because I was experimenting with different ideas I could not rationalise the decision making at that time. Therefore, I found it better to write the research design chapter (particularly writing about the application of the data analysis methods) at the same time as actually performing data analysis. I have found this to be very beneficial because not only have I detailed the different steps that I took (and as I continue to take) to analyse the data, I also detailed reasons why and justified every phase, every step, and every method of data analysis, and continue to do so. I do believe that I made the right choice in writing about the data analysis at the same time as actually engaging with data analysis.
Every stage and every phase have been carefully documented, related, and justified, with every data analysis method used also being justified. In addition to all of this, I have been writing continuous theoretical memos to document the analysis insights, observations, etc. that shall go towards the findings chapter and the chapters related to each identified theme.
Essentially, engaging with the data has not only added to my literature review chapter, but also added to the research design chapter and, as mentioned, impacted upon the directions of the research design including my ontological position as previously discussed. What I am saying is, yes you can begin with an ontological or / and epistemological stance with various research methods, and as much as you might get on well with those methods it does not mean that they are the correct approaches. I was using Grounded Theory for a while and I was getting on well with it till I started to perceive the data differently. These changes entailed a shift in ontological understanding of the data, which led to changes in the methods used.
Have some ideas to begin with but be prepared to be flexible and changeable in terms of your ontological and even epistemological positionality. What’s interesting is that my epistemological positioning hasn’t changed much: it’s the ontological position that has changed. This might sound a bit odd given that ontological concerns impact the epistemological level. Some writers argue that epistemological concerns logically entail ontological positioning. Whilst this is true, what I am arguing for is that there does not have to be a strict adherence to this relationship. A realist ontology should not always necessitate an objectivist epistemology, for example.
In summary, try not to trap yourself in the idea that you simply must write a thesis in a particular order and in a particular way. It’s best to be adaptable and dynamic and allow yourself to be guided by your thinking, your observations and your analyses rather than what could be perceived to be a set institutionalised approach to your writing. Of course you have to get the chapters completed in good time to be reread, proofread, etc, but not in such a restrictive way. If you find, like me, that your research is naturally guiding you towards writing more about the research design at least initially than the literature review then so be it. Be guided by what you do and what you observe. Seek advice and clarification yes, but be true to who you are and what you believe is right for your thesis.
Remember: you are the author of your thesis. No one else can write your thesis in the way and order that you believe shall bring out the best in yourself, and your thesis!
January 25, 2019
The relationship between our philosophical beliefs and methodological approach to our research is, as far as I am concerned, a complex relationship. Not only can there be a sense of fluidity between the ontological and epistemological beliefs, but also fluidity between the philosophical beliefs and the methodological approach. As I have spoken about on this blog, what I found during the year was a shift in my conceptualisation of the phenomenon of interest, which led to a change in what I wanted to explore in the data, and, therefore, changes to the directions of my research interest. The changes to the conceptualisations, concepts, and directions of what I wanted to explore and why I think they are important led to me changing methodological approach.
Over time I came to realise that Grounded Theory was no longer working for me for various reasons that I shall explain in the thesis. I came to realise that, out of the various analytical approaches I was then experimenting with (grounded theory, discourse analysis, content analysis, and thematic analysis) thematic analysis revealed itself to be the most appropriate. The type of thematic analysis of most use appears to be a mix of Braun and Clarke’s version along with Guest’s Applied Thematic Analysis approach, with some concepts and ideas loosely based on aspects of Grounded Theory. All this shall of course be explained in the thesis.
Those are the changes made in a nutshell: if you want to know more about these changes feel free to read through my previous blog posts and also read the thesis when it’s written!
Upon reflection, what can be learnt from qualitative research is that it is near enough impossible to know what you are going to be exploring at the very beginning. This is relevant claim to qualitative research that adopts an inductive approach to exploring data, where you are essentially allowing your interpretations and observations of the data to guide your thinking and the directions that you take.
All changes to the research have been recorded with great detail. It is important to record everything. Even the smallest, slightest change to your philosophical beliefs, methodological approaches and the way you perceive and interact with the data can lead to even bigger changes in the future, so it is important to record these small changes and reflect upon their implications, impacts, and meanings to your research. Record them either through your own blog, through theoretical memos that you right as part of your data analysis, or even on a scrap piece of paper that is stored correctly for easy retrieval later.
All these observations and interpretations that you record can be logically ordered, expanded, discussed and reflected upon at a later time as you write your thesis. Remember that a qualitative thesis is a reflexive exercise and you as the researcher become part of the data analysis, so do ensure that you record appropriately, store as logically as you can, and reflect deeply and comprehensively during your thesis write up as part of telling the story of the way in which you approached your research, why, and what changes were made.
Record and detail absolutely everything!
December 31, 2018
A key change enabled me to understand the data in ways that I had not previously considered. This new philosophical understanding paved the way for changes at the methodological level (my approach to coding and interpreting the data: discussed in the next blog post). These changes are as a result of carefully thinking about the nature, structure, source, and origin of the data. All of this shall be discussed in the thesis.
In a nutshell, several years ago initial thoughts about the social learning phenomenon led me to consider different kinds of texts that could represent the social learning process of interest. Putting the research questions and research issues central enabled me to decide which type of text best represented the possibility for a real understanding (reality, or as close to reality as possible) of the social learning process. Essentially, it came down to deciding between investigating the beliefs and experiences that participants had of the learning process, and the investigation of the learning process itself and bypass beliefs and experiences of the process. Because my research revolves around the search for what is real instead of what is perceived, I decided to investigate the process itself. Thinking back, I know I made the right choice. In order to better understand the process of learning you have to explore the process itself or so I shall argue in my thesis.
The problem I had at the time, even as recent as earlier this year, was this idea of what is “real,” what is “truth,” and the extent to which the particular body of text produced by the participants demonstrated a truthful representation of the process. In a nutshell, my observations during the year, so I came to realise, enabled the transition from a more realist (particularly subtle realist) perspective to a post-structuralist perspective of the data. In a nutshell, this closer, but not necessarily absolute, leaning towards post structuralism came about because I found myself beginning to interpret certain data segments and their relationships or logical connections with other data segments in different ways, and I had not previously expected this. My previous thinking was that I expected myself to perceive or interpret data segments and connections between data segments in a specific (I suppose I could say linear) way. I had previously thought that these patterns of occurrences would be quite common and, therefore, discovering (interpreting?) that “real” essence of a particular process of social learning. What I found, unexpectedly, was something different: I was able to perceive or interpret the same data segment, and the same pattern of segment interactions, in different ways. So, not only did my understanding of the data change in terms of seeking specific characteristics and structures relevant to my research project, but the way that I perceived and interpreted the data changed.
This is not the conclusion of the story, however, and I have a lot of issues, questions, and challenges at the philosophical level with regards to the data, and the phenomenon itself. Some papers suggest that post structuralism does not reduce itself to relativism. In other words, from what I can currently understand, a post structuralist perspective does not necessitate the idea of there being multiple realities. I suppose what could be suggested is that post structuralism acknowledges and enables the possibility of multiple interpretations and perspectives of the same data set. But what does this mean ontologically? What ontological claims could be made? Is there really a form of reality that does exist beyond the text, but it ultimately has to be accepted that we can never truly acquire absolute knowledge about this reality? Is it a case that we can only slowly progress towards the truth of reality without completely attaining it? Is post structuralism, at least as is relevant and appropriate for my research, an epistemological perspective? If post structuralism is an epistemological perspective, then I cannot make any absolute claims of knowledge or knowing about the process of social learning; that, therefore, the segments and patterns relevant to the social learning process of interest can be interpreted in different ways. In other words, different sets of understanding and different threads of knowing can be established from the same set of data. I have been able to identify and interpret different sets of understanding from the same data set, but I have to stick with a “single” set of interpretations that best suit the research questions and the general research agenda, whilst, of course, acknowledging the potential for multiple interpretations. This is where post structuralism, from my current understanding, comes into play. Additionally, all this is, of course, accompanied with the relevant concerns and ways in which interpretations, etc, can be validated, verified, made more accurate, credible, etc. as discussed in a recent blog post. This is quite a topic to get your head around!
Either way, these are some of the questions I am asking myself at the philosophical level. As can be understood and appreciated, this is a complex topic and my ideas and arguments are in continuous development. Indeed, I am coming to accept that there are questions that I simply will not be able to answer, but being unable to answer a particular question that I have should not mean that I cannot present the question and begin to formulate some relevant arguments and possibilities. After all, a Ph.D. is not only a completion of a particular research project but it should also represent the beginning of something exciting and the beginning of new discussion and analytical possibilities.
In general, some of the philosophical concerns expressed here (not an exhaustive list) are ongoing concerns and are a part of a wider ongoing debate in academia. As mentioned, I am not expecting or expected to provide any solid, definite answers to these philosophical questions, but I am expecting to be able to contribute appropriately to ongoing discussions and debate about these, and more, issues.
December 30, 2018
The other key task up to Christmas was the redrafting of the literature review. Whilst this redrafting is continuous, the literature review is really beginning to take shape where I believe that the structure and content of the chapter are aligning with the overall chapter goals and ambitions. I have increased discussions and expanded upon existing discussion directions in relation to social learning, relevant areas of technology enhanced learning, and concerns that are specific regarding the phenomenon of research interest. I am greatly expanding discussions to include not just formal learning pedagogies related to the phenomenon of interest, but also informal learning and informal learning approaches. I also continued, and continue, to check through to ensure that arguments and discussions flow logically, systematically, and are in an ordered fashion from general to more specific.
I think in all literature reviews it is important to discuss from the general to the more specific. This way, you can set the context layer by layer. Through this, you can help navigate your reader through the vast maze of concepts, characterisations, definitions, findings and perspectives in relation to your research project. Additionally, and further to the navigation of existing concepts, etc. you can introduce the reader to your critiques, leanings, characterisations and conceptualisations with reference to each layer, and integrate these across each layer to form a cohesive and coherent literature review.
The aim of the research itself is to create a new coding framework and to develop thematic understanding of the content and behaviour of the phenomena of interest. The literature review offers a context for the research; it offers a platform upon which I can explain what the current and relevant coding frames are, to offer critiques of these coding frames, and to explain why there is a need for a new coding framework to assist with the investigation and understanding of the phenomenon of interest. The literature review goes beyond the critiques and discussions of the coding frameworks, as the literature review shall explain, investigate, discuss and critique existing publications regarding the wider social learning and technological learning and communicative contexts within which the phenomenon of interest is being investigated. Further to all of this, I still have to explain why there is a need to further develop thematic understanding of relevant areas of the phenomenon. I still have to explain the aspects and characteristics of the phenomenon I am exploring, the context of this phenomenon, and why the aspects of the phenomena and its context of choice are valuable and important to explore.
I additionally have to explain the value and usefulness of the coding framework against other coding frameworks, and explain how and why it is different from other frameworks and to explain the way in which the coding framework can work with other frameworks. These discussions shall be left till later in the thesis.
At the moment, the word count of the literature review stands at over 10,000 words, though it is expected to have up to around 15.000 words by the time the final version is complete. Always remember though that quality is more important than quantity. With that, I aim to try to keep the first literature review chapter as short as I can whilst including all the meaningful arguments and discussions ordered in a logical fashion from the general to the specific.
In summary, the literature review work is ongoing but I am more confident in the direction that I am now taking the literature review, and the general plans that are in place to produce an engaging, cohesive and coherent chapter. At least, fingers crossed!
Wishing my blog readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I apologise for not writing any blog updates since the middle of November. There were a few tasks I wanted to complete before Christmas so had no spare time to complete any blog posts. Now that the New Year is approaching, I’m now planning what to do between January and Easter and there is a lot to complete but I shall get to that in a while. In the meantime, this blog post is one of two posts that shall provide an update of my most recent work: this blog post covers the development of the coding framework, and the next part shall cover the progress of the literature review.
Themes, Sub Themes and Coding Framework
When I wrote about the continuous framework development back in mid November, the coding framework was, at least tentatively, complete. I was also in the middle of rechecking all previously coded data to ensure that I had been interpreting consistently and coding accurately. Since that time, the idea of interpreting consistently and coding accurately has become clearer along with understanding how interpretation consistency increases coding accuracy. This is especially an interesting point given that coding is subsequent to, and a reflection of, the act of interpreting.
Whether or not coding accuracy and interpretation consistency increased truth or progresses towards truth is highly debatable given the nature of qualitative research and the characteristics of inductive thematic analysis approach. I could argue for, and apply means to, increasing the validity, accuracy, consistency and credibility of my approach and the findings, but can I really argue that the findings represent truth and that my approach could lead people closer to the truth?
What I can argue in the thesis is for the importance of accurate coding and consistent interpretation leading to more valid and reliable findings, whilst at the same time accepting that different researchers shall interpret the data in different ways and, therefore, could view any data segment differently depending on various personal factors. Essentially, coding is an interpretation e.g., a code represents an interpretation of whatever action, event, etc. is appropriate and relevant to the research question. If you code a series of segments using the same code but the segments are not consistent then that code would represent an inaccurate or incorrect interpretation. I have some possible examples that I could think about in the thesis, but I have to give this some thought when I put the research design chapter together. I shall be going into a lot more detail in the thesis.
Just before Christmas, I had completed the rechecking of the previously coded data and can state that I am satisfied that my coding is accurate and that my interpretations are consistent at least in accordance with my own interests and research questions (again, I shall be talking about this more substantially in the thesis). What I had not expected to complete by Christmas is the categorisation and classification of codes into different sub themes and themes. Contrary to what appears to be the norm, I have been able to develop themes from codes that were not the most commonly occurring, but codes that represent what I consider to be important observations within the data. Important observations in reference to the research questions and the characteristics and aspects of the phenomenon of research interest that interests me the most. It has to be emphasised that the coding framework and the thematic development as currently stand do not represent the final product. The themes shall be developed and reformulated as time progresses. This shall be as a result of the processes of thematic validation and verification using a variety of different processes. These include a further examination of themes to identify similarities and possible opportunities to combine themes, as well as the possibility of identifying “super themes,” and conversations with other academics regarding the codes, sub themes and themes that I am using.
In all, I am pleased with the progress that has been made with the thematic analysis and development. The next stage of the analysis shall begin early next year and this shall involve not just the validation and verification of the themes, but also validation and verification of relationships between themes through both qualitative and quantitative means. The quantitative representation does not necessitate a mixed methods approach but does necessitate a multimodal design where the quantitative data simply supports and adds weight to what was identified and explained qualitatively. Working this out shall naturally take time!
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!
October 14, 2018
I am in no doubt that after the previous reading session it is difficult to pigeon hole my approach. Even the development of the coding scheme, I am finding that my approach consists of ideas from, though not limited to, inductive reasoning, thematic analysis and grounded theory. There is another idea that I have been working on for quite a while but now am in a position where I can make significant progress in this idea. Still plenty to do, but I am thinking that this research will become a multimodal project. It’s really a case of thinking about the way that is best to present this idea in the thesis, and to think more about the way in which the coding scheme relates to this idea. Now that the coding scheme is improving and I feel is beginning to take the form I want it to take, it is expected that there shall be some significant movement in developing this other idea in the coming weeks.
Along with that, another key current task is to continue to rework the coding scheme: reread the data segments, recheck the coding, and drop codes or amend them as necessary as well as combining data segments to present a complete meaning if I feel that I have divided them a bit too much. The idea also is to continue to go through the rest of the data and recode the data as necessary to reflect new meanings and new insights I am making whilst editing on paper, which is also a continuous process.
The process of rechecking everything, as just mentioned, is being carried out on paper. I have used computer software various times to amend the coding and to think about the data in various ways but sometimes for some objectives, it is best to simply use pen and paper. Print out all of your coding, relevant theoretical memos and other relevant documents and go through everything by hand. This approach I feel is especially relevant to mine because I am comparing a lot of data, within and across data sets, in order to develop the categories and themes, and also to develop an understanding of the behaviour of the phenomenon. This is not to suggest that there is no value in computer based analysis and I plan on using that further in the future.
I am pleased that I made the choice to do this, because I have found new insights and ideas that were not at all obvious when staring at the computer screen. Being at the computer screen and being concerned with navigating the software in order to find relevant pieces of data sometimes distracts you from your objectives and can cause you miss out on important insights. Simply doing things by hand sometimes can really help you find new insights that perhaps were not so obvious before. That being said however when I was editing everything on the computer following the edits by hand, there were some insights I made on paper that actually did not make sense when I really thought about what the particular pieces of data actually meant. It’s like a constant battle between colliding thoughts inside your mind with regards to the meaning of the data and what any particular data represents, but my experiences tell me that sometimes using pen and paper is best.
When you have these colliding thoughts and when you are able to perceive and interpret any date segment or segments in various different ways, remember to think about the context within which the segment is situated and remember that whatever you observe and interpret must be relevant to your research questions.
Regardless of what methods are used to explore the data, as always the key idea is to keep asking questions about the data. Remember that the data is a representation of the phenomenon of interest, and what you observe and place meaning upon might not be the same between multiple researchers. Here, you have to try to make sure that what you observe and what you interpret is as close to the data and as close to some sense of objectivity as is possible, if that is a desire of your research. Therefore, I am continuously asking questions about the data and also about my own observations and interpretations, and the quality of those observations and interpretations.
The only way you can progress is to ask questions. Making an observation or an interpretation of something within the data is fine, but you have to be sure of what it is you are really observing or interpreting. This is a process that I am only just scratching the surface of describing the process here (seriously, it’s taking up pages of my research design chapter!), but it is a process that is worth investment and engagement with. You need to make time and effort in ensuring that your observations and interpretations are as sound as possible, regardless of their ultimate subjective nature.
Just keep asking questions about the data and your own interpretations. You learn and develop only through asking, rechecking, reconfirming, and asking again! And when you are sure you are done with everything and have all the answers (quite frankly, I doubt claims of this sort), then ask more questions again!
Keep asking questions and keep going!
‘till next time!
During the first couple of weeks of returning to my Ph.D. following a summer break, marking the fifth and final year of the Ph.D., I engaged with qualitative methodological literature and continued to develop my philosophical beliefs and methodological approach. After a couple of weeks of reading through appropriate chapters of qualitative methodological textbooks, I have been inspired and fascinated by the fact that I am better able to understand qualitative research concepts and contexts presented compared to three or four years ago. This awareness has enabled me to better explain and argue the relevance of qualitative research for my Ph.D. project and indeed for the general research context and type of data I am exploring. As ever, as always, there is always a lot more to say and what can be said, but I do believe I am at the point where I can produce methodological arguments regarding the relationship between qualitative concepts and the general research context. These ideas can only be further improved and developed as I continue to write the research design chapter.
What is interesting is my developing understanding has occurred not necessarily through constant rereading of the qualitative textbook literature, which can help, but through active engagement with the data, through testing out various methodologies and methods, and documenting their effectiveness and comparisons in their effectiveness and usefulness in exploring the phenomena of interest. Perhaps more specifically and importantly, what has impacted my understanding the most is the active engagement through coding and really exploring the data: breaking data down into segments and giving them meaning (codes) and being able to visualise links between these segments. This has really helped me to understand more what my data is about; to think about the nature and context of the data and its characteristics; to think about the way in which the data represents the phenomenon of interest, and, therefore, has assisted in developing my understanding of the relevance of qualitative methodologies particularly the approach I am developing. It’s not just about active data engagement: you have to be able to provide methodological and philosophical reasoning and justifications of your approach and it has to make logical and reasonable sense. This is what I am continuing to strive and achieve. Not an easy task by all means, it can take a long, long time, but it can happen and you can achieve. You just have to believe!
It is engaging with the data and the phenomenon at an embedded, detailed level that has assisted with that understanding of qualitative concepts and methodology. It is like an evolving relationship: you read the methodology textbooks, you actively engage with the code for a period, and that in turn increases your understanding of the methodological textbooks. Additionally, being actively engaged with the data increases your understanding of the data and the way in which the data represents the phenomenon of interest. I realised that my engagement with the data increased my understanding of the data and its representation, but finding out that it helped significantly in developing my understanding of qualitative textbooks is an interesting observation. It’s impossible to claim to know everything, that is not possible, but in the thesis I can detail the way in which engaging with the data has enabled me to better understand the purposes and objectives of qualitative data, and the way that I can argue that qualitative data could serve another purpose relative to the data and context of my research. Fascinating!
The key message to take away from this blog is, sometimes you just have to jump in and engage with the data. If it takes weeks or months to really understand the data as it has done with me, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you are able to return to the textbooks and be able to better understand the concepts of qualitative research and be able to begin to argue the concepts most relevant to your own research, whilst being able to argue which are not, and perhaps attempt to extend the scope and definitions of qualitative research.
It’s a journey, and it’s a journey of continuous improvement.
Keep going! You can get there! Believe in yourself and your capacity and capability to produce your thesis and promote your research!