Thursday, 10 May 2012

Coding: Don't Forget the Forest

It’s a horrible but inescapable fact that it takes more
time to organise, write and present material well than
it does to gather it . . . The sensible researcher will
allow as much free time to write his [sic] report as he
spent in the field. If he is really astute and can get
away with it, he will allow more time. (Wax 1983,
193–4; in Cook and Crang 2007, 131)

I'm writing up a study at the moment and reflecting on the coding process. After wrestling with the data for a few years Im flabbergasted that its only really when Im writing it up that I have come to fully understand it....Ive looked carefully at every bloody leaf and branch, at every tiny free code as it becomes part of a larger set of thematic relationship, Ive even developed a lovely theory, cross checked it with participants but only now as I have nearly finished writing it did i finally get it.

Coding is a combination of paying close attention to every detail and simultaneously keeping your eye on the big picture...hopefully something bigger emerges than the data..call it 'higher order' themes....some that transcends the data and leads eventually to a creative product rather than just a research report.

Here's an interesting paper relating to this 

Coding then, if you are informed by Grounded Theory can go through the following steps:

1. Immerse yourself in the data by reading thru the transcript many times
2. Free code loosely, not every word but proper chunks of meaning
3. As interviews progress you'll start to commit to codes
4. The hierarchy of codes will start to emerge, ie, which are leaves, which are branches
5. You can then look for differences between participants
6. Complex relationships may then emerge between codes and between codes and attributes of participants
7. Your model emerges and you can fill gaps in through selective sampling of new participants
8. You could then augment your analysis through theoretical triangulation: ie..try and use a variety of theories
9. You can also use investigator triangulation and have a group of people help you code, preferably from other disciplines or orientations.
10. Then go for a walk, a run, have a bath, go clubbing, get drunk, go out for dinner, ride your bike and if your lucky all the higher order themes might emerge


  1. This post is SO useful! I had been coding not quite every word, but very superficially. At the most recent meeting of QRIP I was lucky enough to have one of my own transcripts subjected to step 9 (outlined above and affectionately known as "collaborative coding") and, lo an behold, the forest materialised right in front of me and the importance of the trees, although far from insignificant, started to fade. I think that a subset of emerging qualitative researchers tend to, as I did, become so focused on trying to avoid missing any little detail, that they do lose sight of the the all important research question and end up finding it hard to interpret the actual meaning of what participants say. Unless you've had the time to read REALLY widely, this is probably a common mistake of the uninitiated. I cannot recommend collaborative coding highly enough, even if you just do it for a page or two of one transcript simply to help you draw back enough to see the forest from the hill instead of the river.

    Thumbs up also to Step 10 and general thumbs up to the blog!

    1. thanx Loopy!!! why dont you send me a quick blurb on your research and your experience of doing it and ill create a post..cant resist guest post by someone called LoopyLou..p.rhodes@sydney.edu.au