Before discussing codes or coding, let me give you the most comprehensive definition of “code” by Saldaña (2009). He states:
“A code in qualitative inquiry is most often a word or short phrase that symbolically assigns a summative, salient, essence-capturing, and/or evocative attribute for a portion of language-based or visual data.” (p.3)
Note: If you are doing a number of interviews, I recommend that you conduct a data analysis (coding) of each of the first two participants 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 you are conducting complete and accurate interviews. An excellent coding resource is Johnny Saldaña’s book, The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers.
As I noted in my book, Secrets and Tips for Dissertation Completion, the use of computer software programs have limited value for analyzing qualitative data. These programs are good for tabulating words and phrases, but the programs cannot substitute for your own ability to identify specific meaning units in transcripts that are concepts, ideas, and beliefs. Therefore the following sections offer a more precise way of analyzing transcripts. I stated in my book:
“There are a number of software programs available designed to analyze qualitative data. These are probably useful for simple tasks like tabulating words and phrases. However, meaning units identified in the transcripts/text are often complex strings of words and sentences that convey idiographic themes.
You, the researcher, are far more competent at seeing these complex ideas and perspectives in the text than the software. You conducted the qualitative interviews and you read the literature. Therefore, your own logical rational reasoning is superior. A simple spreadsheet will easily allow you to keep tract of meaning units and themes” (p. 46).
When transcribing interviews, I suggest the following format in order to ensure ease of analysis:
- at the top of the first page, enter the code name of the participant
- at the top of the first page, enter the date the interview was conducted
- create a one inch margin on the left column
- create a two and a half inch margin on the right column
- double-space throughout the text
- number all lines
- number all pages
Here are some guidelines that will help you increase the accuracy and confidence of your findings:
- Type the transcripts double-spaced, with consecutive line numbers included 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 so there is plenty of space to enter the idiographic themes.
- Assign a code name or number at the top of the first page of all transcriptions.
- 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.
- As you read a transcript, 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. Be careful that each meaning unit conveys one singular thought or idea. Be alert when a participant uses the words “and” and “or.” This usually indicates more than one natural meaning unit.
- In the right margin of the transcript adjacent to each meaning unit, assign an idiographic theme that is as concise as possible. These themes should represent the essence of the participants’ meaning units. Vogt (2005) defines idiographic as “individual, singular, unique, or concrete.” (p. 150)
- 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 spread sheet. On the spread sheet you want to transfer the idiographic themes from each of the transcriptions. Recurring idiographic themes are renamed nomothetic themes. Vogt (2005) defines nomothetic as “research that attempts to establish general, universal, abstract principles or laws.” (p. 207)
Here are spread sheet common labels for the columns:
- Column 1, Number of each theme
- Column 2, Name of each theme (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
- On the spread sheet in column 1, enter #001 for the first idiographic theme from the first participant. Do this for all themes.
- On the spread sheet in column 2, enter the names of each of the idiographic themes from the first participant.
- On the spread sheet in column 3, enter the page number/line number for each theme from the transcript of the first participant.
- When analyzing the themes from all other participants, first look at the prior themes. If the themes already exits, 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.
- Transfer all themes to the spread sheet .