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How to Analyze Qualitative Data

“Utilizing grounded theory to explore the information-seeking behavior of senior nursing students.” Duncan V; Holtslander, L.  J Med Lib Assoc 100(1) January 2012:20-27.

In this very practical article, the authors describe the steps they took to analyze qualitative data from written records that nursing students kept about their experiences with finding information in the CINAHL database.  They point out that, although the ideal way to gather data about student information seeking behavior would be via direct observation, that approach is not always practical.  Also, self-reporting via surveys and interviews may create bias because members of sample populations might “censor themselves instead of admitting an information need.”  For this study, students were asked to document their search process using an electronic template that included “prompts such as resource consulted, reason for choice, terms searched, outcome, comments, and sources consulted (people).”

After reviewing these searching journals, the authors followed up with interviews.

The “Data analysis and interpretation” section of this article provides a clear, concise description of the grounded theory approach to analyzing qualitative data using initial, focused, and theoretical coding using the nVivo 8 software.  [Note, as of this writing, the latest version is nVivo 10]

  • Initial codes:  “participants’ words were highlighted to create initial codes that reflected as closely as possible the participants’ own words.”
  • Focused codes:  “more directed, selective, and conceptual than word-by-word, line-by-line, and incident-by-incident coding.”
  • Theoretical codes:  focused codes were compared and contrasted “in order to develop the emerging theory of the information-seeking process.”

The authors reviewed the coding in follow-up interviews with participants to check the credibility of their findings:  “The central theme that united all categories and explained most of the variation among the data was ‘discovering vocabulary.’”  They recommend “teaching strategies to identify possible words and phrases to use” when searching for information.

You can do this even if you don’t have access to nVivo 8 software.  Here’s an illustration: “Summarize and Analyze Your Data” from the OERC’s Collecting and Analyzing Evaluation Data booklet.

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