I have often had problems helping students learn to analyze qualitative data such as interviews, meeting transcripts, field notes etc. It seems common understanding is to read and extract the themes- but what does that actually mean and how do you know if you are doing it correctly?

I thus was motivated to order two books from Amazon that arrived yesterday.

The first is the 3rd (2009) edition of well know qualitative author Harry Wolcott’s “Writing up Qualitative Research” (big chunks of the 2nd 2001 edition are available here from Google Books) The book is written for researchers facing a gigantic pile of transcripts and suffering from both writer’s block and anxiety. It has chapter themes like ready, set, go  then linking, tightening and getting published – thus it is a VERY practical book written for the student researcher. The main theme is to “get it down on paper” (ok make that on the screen), unless it is written it can’t possibly be edited into publishable text. I like the way Wolcott emphasizes ‘telling the story”-his way. He talks about taking the time to do a full draft of a qualitative writeup before asking the opinion of anxiety stricken dissertation writers like himself, or even his committee members. He also talks of techniques, sorting on paper and on machines files, creating the outlines and other practical content. His approach is not radical, critical or overly focussed on subject’s voice, but rather seems to be a gentle guide to writing the type of qualitative narrative that gets by supervisory committees and makes it into the academic press.

The second book The Coding manual for Qualitative Researchers by Johnny Saldana (2009) is alas not available for Google Book Preview. This book is a reference book that looks at 29 different (well marginally different) ways to code qualitative data. For each ‘method” he gives a source reference, a description, typical or suggested applications, a rather lengthy example (using data from hypothetical interview or observation transcripts) and an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of that method. The book begins however with two introductory chapters – the first defining just what a “code” is and why and how they are used in qualitative analysis. The second chapter details the function and value of writing analytic notes or memos to oneself (which can and should be coded as well), and may end up in the finished work, but help get the writer to that finish line!

I think these two books complement each other well. Wolcott’s is one of many general qualitative methods books, written with a fatherly voice to help get this hardest part of the research process completed. And Saldana’s reference is very useful for someone looking to find a way to examine data that clicks with their own view of the world and intent of their study.