Reflections on a recent qualitative project…

Lyn Lavery Having just finished analysing and writing up some really interesting interview and focus group data, I thought I’d stop and reflect on some of the things I learned (or was reminded of) from this recent project. One of the things I love about research is that it doesn’t matter how experienced you are as a researcher, you learn something new in each project.

  1. It always pays to write down your thinking. I used the memos function in NVivo quite heavily for this recent project (more so than usual). I kept a memo constantly open on my second screen and as I coded, I jotted down ideas as they came to mind. I also colour coded the ideas within the memo, using different colours for things that needed changed in the coding framework, ideas for writing the report, possible linkages between codes etc. This became invaluable at the writing up stage as I didn’t need to rely on my somewhat awful memory – everything was recorded for me.
  2. Mind-mapping is incredibly useful when analysing and writing-up qualitative data. We used the ‘Mind Map’ function in NVivo to brainstorm ideas for the coding framework (instant node creation – yay!), and then when I was thinking through the structure of my writing, I used XMind to map out the main ideas from each node. This also enabled me to easily communicate my key findings from the analysis to the colleague I was writing with, and this was really helpful for bouncing around ideas. Speaking of which…
  3. It always helps to talk it through with someone else. Having wrestled with one particular section I was writing (and tied myself into knots several times over), I decided to sit down and discuss the problems I was having with a colleague. Within a very short period we had restructured the writing and it all fell into place immediately.
  4. Tables and models really do make for more interesting reading, particularly when they’re used to break up rather dense text. The catch though is that they do take a bit more time to create (particularly models). I suspect this is why despite the fact most qualitative textbooks recommend the use of tables and models in qualitative, it’s rare to find them in published journal articles. Allow a little time to be creative and see what you can come up with – once again, talking through with a colleague can be helpful here.
  5. If you’re constantly referring to sections in your writing, it may mean that you don’t quite have the structure right. It’s quite frustrating for a reader to be constantly told “This will be discussed in more detail in Section X”. They’re just getting into the wonderful gems you’re imparting, and then they’re told they need to wait until later. Occasional references like this are fine, but if you’re using cross-references often, take a look at the structure that you’re writing within.
  6. Because qualitative analysis and writing was something I initially struggled to get to grips with myself, I do enjoy sharing the things I’ve learned with other researchers. If you’d like to hear more, join me online at Analysing Qualitative Data and Writing Up Qualitative Research, being held on Friday September 29th and Friday October 6th respectively. Hope to see you there!