Making Sense of Qualitative Data

Table of Contents


According to Coffey & Atkinson (1996), data analysis is the “systematic procedures applied by a researcher in order to identify any essential features and relationships in data being considered” (p. 9). Data analysis procedures depend on whether it is qualitative or quantitative.

Quantitative data analysis tends to employ deductive data analysis whereas qualitative data analysis will tend to employ inductive techniques in coming up with theories to describe any phenomena. Quantitative analysis procedure includes two processes namely; preparing research data for analysis; and secondly the description of data using descriptive statistics. Qualitative data analysis will include research techniques such as ethnographic, phenomenological and grounded theory.

Phenomenological, Grounded theory and Ethnographic approaches

Ethnographic data analysis methods tend to employ a holistic approach to data analysis. They are based on cultural alignments of various people who share beliefs, traditions, values and religion. They focus entirely on relatively complex social dynamics, systems and sub-systems that bring about common behaviors among various people in society. The procedure for coming up with such a holistic description of the people sharing a common culture will entail the use of both emic and epic terms.

Grounded theory as a qualitative research design employs a data analysis procedure where the various phases in research procedure overlap. Thus, the theory is developed throughout the research process. It employs coding techniques in order to classify the collected data into categories.

According to www.essortment.com, these are; “open coding, axial coding and selective coding”. Open coding refers to the identification of interrelationships among data identifiable on the face. Axial coding involves the reorganization of identified relationships to identify more abstract and unique ones. Selective coding finally involves the focusing of research attention on major relationships identified beforehand.

The procedure followed in grounded theory approach entails; the collection of data; identification of the relationships present in the collected data; identification of the core category, one where other subcategories are hinged, and the development of a theory that is ‘grounded’ on the data collected, and based on identified categories. Phenomenological research approach involves a descriptive study of how various people experience a particular phenomenon.

It studies perceptions and feelings towards the phenomenon. Phenomenological research starts with the formulation of the research question, then, a description of where the participants in the research are located is made followed by stating the data collection and storage methods. Finally, the researcher will give an explication of the data (p. 6).


A number of discrepancies are bound to arise in any research exercise and as such, the researcher should endeavor to reduce such discrepancies to the bare minimum and acceptable levels. This will help to increase data integrity and reliability of the conclusions and interpretations of the research outcomes, which the researcher will arrive at after his or her analysis of the data.

He or she should be able to ensure that all the participants are given a chance to listen to recordings of all their audio interviews, in order to validate the information being recorded. The research environment should be located as far away as possible from any disruptions that are likely to interfere with or influence, in any undesired manner, the research outcomes. It should be comfortable by being properly ventilated and away from noisy places, preferably in secluded locations.


Coffey, A., & Atkinson, P. 1996. Making sense of qualitative data: Complementary research strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (Grounded Theory, 2012)

Grounded Theory. (2012).

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