Data Analysis (Coding) of Dissertation Transcripts 

William G. Wargo, Ph.D.

© 2016

Data analysis (coding) of transcripts can be summarized with these procedures:

  1. Read each transcript carefully to become familiar the participant’s views.
  2. Identify natural meaning units which are singular points or ideas from each transcript. You can shade these for easy reference.
  3. Assign idiographic themes to all natural meaning units for each transcript. An idiographic theme is a label the researcher gives which is the essence of each point made by the participant.
  4. All idiographic themes for each participant are entered on a Theme Spread Sheet.
  5. All idiographic themes recurring more than once on the Theme Spread Sheet are referred to as nomothetic themes.
  6. From the Theme Spread Sheet the researcher can easily see the strength of all recurring themes as well as clusters of two or more similar themes.


Note: If you are doing a number of interviews, I recommend that you conduct a data analysis (coding) of each of the first two before continuing with subsequent interviews. This way you and your outside evaluator/auditor (if you are doing triangulation) can see the quality of the interviewing process to identify possible leading comments and/or incomplete participant responses. This pause in conducting interviews will give you greater confidence that your interviews are complete and accurate.  

When transcribing interviews, I suggest the following format in order to ensure ease of analysis: (a) at the top of the first page, enter the code name of the participant; (b) at the top of the first page, enter the date the interview was conducted; (c) create a one inch margin on the left; (d) create a two and a half inch margin on the right; (e) double-space throughout the text; (f) number all lines consecutively throughout the transcript; and (g) number all pages.

Here are some guidelines that will help you increase the accuracy and confidence of your data analysis (coding):

  1. Type the transcripts double-spaced, with consecutive line numbers for the whole manuscript. Include the interviewer’s dialogue as well as the participant’s dialogue. Include page numbers. Make the right margin two to two and a half inches wide, if you are doing manual coding.
  2. Assign a fictitious name or number at the top of all transcripts.
  3. Listen to the recordings (tape or CD) as you read the transcripts. This will confirm the accuracy of the transcripts and give you a deeper sense of the “natural meaning units” of the participants.
  4. Identify each “natural meaning unit” (these are self-definable and self-delimiting expressions in the words of the participants) in the transcripts with shading or blocks or bold type. Take your time and focus on the words and thoughts of the participant. You are searching for the truth as expressed by those in your study. Be careful that each natural meaning unit conveys one singular thought or idea. Stay alert when a participant uses the words “and” and “or.” This may indicate more than one meaning unit and therefore more than one theme.
  5. In the right column adjacent to each meaning unit, assign idiographic themes that represent the essence of what was said. Try to make these themes as concise as possible, but avoid one-word themes such as “difficult.” There is no context for “difficult.” These themes should represent the core of the participants’ meaning units and are generally not exactly the same. Converting natural meaning units to idiographic themes is the most critical part of your data analysis. You need accurate and appropriate themes that convey and represent your findings. For more detailed information, you may want to consult Johnny Saldana’s The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers.
  6. In order to analyze the idiographic themes from each participant and discover the nomothetic themes (which are frequent and recurring), it is best to create a Theme Spread Sheet. On the spread sheet you want to transfer all the idiographic themes from each of the transcriptions.

Here are Theme Spread Sheet common labels for the columns:

Column 1, Theme Number,

Column 2, Theme Name (this one should be wide enough to enter phrases and sentence fragments),

Column 3, Name/code number of the first participant,

Columns 4 through xx, Names/code numbers of subsequent participants.

  1. On the spread sheet in column 1, enter #001 for the first idiographic theme from the first participant. Do this for all subsequent themes.
  2. On the spread sheet in column 2, enter the names of each of the idiographic themes from the first participant.
  3. On the spread sheet in column 3, enter the page number/line number for each theme from the transcript of the first participant.
  4. When analyzing the themes from all other participants, first look at the prior themes. If the themes already exist, just enter the page number/line number under the participant’s name.

If you discover a new theme, enter it at the end of columns 1 and 2. Also enter the page number/line number under the column for the appropriate participant.

  1. Transfer all themes to a Theme Spread Sheet.

When your Theme Spread Sheet is completed, you will have all the data necessary to report your findings in the Results Chapter. You will also have a paper trail of exactly the location (by page and line number) of each meaning unit for each theme. This should give you some comfort knowing that you can validate all themes from the transcripts.

Recommended citation:

Wargo, W.G. (2016). AIC Article #3, Data Analysis (Coding) of Transcripts. Menifee, CA: Academic Information Center.