Researchers’ Corner

Processing and Analysis of Qualitative Data
Having addressed the correlation between qualitative variables in the last issue, it may be appropriate to note few issues relating to processing and analysis of qualitative data. Methods used in the analysis of data depend on the fact whether research is qualitative or quantitative coupled with personal and methodological preferences and the background of the researcher. For quantitative data analysis, measurements have to be stable, consistent as well as error and bias-free. For qualitative analysis, how participants are influenced by taking part in the research process together with an awareness of researcher’s own experience and preferences are necessary. Qualitative data analysis is a very personal process and two researchers might analyse the same transcript in two different ways. It is not fair to criticize qualitative approach as ‘unscientific’ or ‘unreliable’. Qualitative approach is necessary in some areas. On the other hand, quantitative studies also have their own limitations. Ideal is to explore the possibility of making qualitative approach/ data becoming complementary to quantitative approach/ data.
Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research Qualitative Research involves quality or kind and helps in having insight into problems or cases with the understanding of event or behavior from actor’s perspective using less structured instruments and convenience or purposive (non random) samples. On the other hand, Quantitative Research seeks precise measurement and expression of a property in numerical quantitative terms using highly structured instruments and random samples leading to objective explanation by statistical description and manipulation like knowing trends/ changes overtime and comparing trends or individual units.

Whenever feel and flavour of the situation are important, researchers resort to qualitative data. More time and efforts are needed to collect and process qualitative data that usually describe attributes of a single or a group of persons recorded as accurately as possible though cannot be measured in quantitative terms. The scaling techniques do help converting some qualitative data into quantitative data, but generally qualitative data are less amenable for statistical rules and manipulations. Usual data reduction, synthesis and plotting trends differ substantially in case of qualitative data and extrapolation of finding is difficult. Hence sensitive interpretation and creative presentation are required in qualitative analysis. The qualitative data referred here is not only nominal, but also non-quantitative, descriptive, explanatory in nature and not subjected to random sampling. Transcripts from interviews, open remarks in questionnaires, case histories bringing evidence, content analysis of verbatim material, etc. are some examples of qualitative data.

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Processing and analysis of qualitative data require researcher to (a) think about the data (b) judge its value (c) interpret to gain understanding and (d) process quantifiable part. The steps involved are: (i) Initial formalisation with issues arising (i.e. building themes and issues)

(ii) Systematically describing the contents (producing a list of key themes) (iii) Indexing the data (noting reflections for patterns, links, etc.) in descriptions, interpreting in relation to objectives and checking the interpretation (iv) Charting the data themes (v) Refining the charted material (vi) Describing and discussing the emerging story

Qualitative research is basically data intensive/ heavy with notes, photos, audio, video/ digital recordings, etc. A wide variety of data recordings, coding (first as well as axial) and organising codes with equally diverse muti-realities happen. Qualitative research is rarely replicable. Rich data together with recorded personal reflections enable building the aha moments and gain serendipity. The intensive unstructured data call for better cataloging of data recordings. Unlike quantitative data where the analysis of data has to wait till the data collection is complete, analysis of qualitative data can commence when the research is in progress with provision for continuous reforming and reorganizing the data in the light of emerging results. Personal coding rather than computerized coding offer close understanding, lot of insight/ serendipity. Use of statistical software makes it easy and efficient for large data (like survey) though the data input process is quite long and laborious.

Computer and Qualitative Analysis Generally, use of computer may prevent researcher from becoming familiar with data. However computer enables researcher to locate words or phrases, make lists of words, alphabetize, insert keywords or comments, count occurrences of words or phrases, attach numeric codes, etc. Softwares do help retrieving and analyzing texts to build theory (like sentiment analysis). Yet mechanical process cannot think about, judge or interpret qualitative data. Using computers in qualitative analysis has the advantage of saving time, alleviating monotony, searching and coping with numerous/ multiple and over-lapping codes, making complex searches, locating items of predetermined category, etc.

As a preparation for qualitative analysis of data, it is necessary to produce what are called ‘summary sheet / form’ for interviews, focus group discussions and other data recordings. The summary sheet should invariably contain details like time, place, duration, participants, etc in addition to contents and emerging themes. In addition, answers to open-ended questions, field notes, memos written (as and when data is collected) by self, etc have to be produced in a format that can be easily analysed. Identifying and coding recurring answers to open ended

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questions help categorising key concepts and behaviour for limited quantitative processing. Such counting and cross analysis presuppose pattern discerning skills. Even unstructured

depth interviews can be coded to summarise key concepts and present in the form of master charts.
Types of qualitative data analysis Thematic analysis involves analyzing data by theme and is highly inductive. That is the themes emerge from the data and are not imposed upon it by the researchers. Thus obviously data collection and analysis take place simultaneously. Even background reading can be there after some analysis is done. In this process, it is also possible that the data collection tools like interview schedule get refined / modified. Comparative analysis is closely related to thematic analysis and both of them can be used in the same project. In this type of analysis, as the name indicates, data from different people is compared and contrasted. The process continues until the researcher is satisfied that no new issues are arising. Qualitative coding is concerned with classifying data, which are not originally created for research purpose, and having very little order. As such, very less of statistical processing and analysis are applicable to qualitative data. Yet statistical techniques can be applied to processing and analysis of quantitative part of the data. Content analysis is based on coding the qualitative data and counting after all the data is collected. Each transcript of qualitative data is systematically assigned alphabetic, numeric or alpha-numeric codes to specific characteristics within the text. For this purpose either predetermined categories can be listed or let the categories emerge (like on the fly classification) from the data. This is a typical analysis for answers to open-ended questions of large surveys. Discourse analysis or conversational analysis falls somewhere on the middle of the continuum of qualitative analysis. Here transcripts are examined for patterns of speech to discuss how people talk about particular subject (similar to sentiment analysis), what metaphors are used, how they take turns in conversation, and so on. In this process speech is seen as a performance, i.e, how it performs an action rather than describes a specific state of affair or specific state of mind. Much of this analysis is intuitive and reflective, but, it may also involve some form of counting, such as counting instances of turn taking and their influence on the conversation and the way in which people speak of others.

A wide variety of qualitative approach, theory and methodology as well as statistical techniques and softwares for qualitative analysis are in use across disciplines. Types of qualitative data analysis can be thought of as a continuum with highly qualitative reflexive type of analysis as an on-going process at one end and qualitative data treated on a quantitative way, by counting and coding data. Thematic and comparative analysis is an example for highly qualitative data analysis. Generally, the qualitative analysis is a reflective and intuitive analysis carried out throughout data collection. However, content analysis involves mechanical processes like coding and counting can be done only after completion of data collection and hence it is more close to quantitative analysis in the spectrum of qualitative data analysis. M S Sridhar sridhar@informindia.co.in

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