How writing can help your qualitative analysis

By PGPR team member Elly Phillips

You’re committed to completing a rigorous, thorough and well-developed analysis. You’ve collected your data and spent hours immersing yourself in coding and organising your codes into themes. When are you ready to start writing up?


When is the best time to start writing?
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How final is the final report?

It’s useful to address the perception of qualitative research as a linear process with writing up as the conclusion. If you follow this model, you may be reluctant to move on until you’re sure your codes are ‘finished’. Perhaps that idea comes from quantitative research, where you analyse your data then write up your report to present to others. Based on this, your concerns might be mostly about judging when you’re ‘ready’ to move onto writing.

Writing as a process

Instead, consider writing as an integral part of continuing your analysis. The use of writing as an analysis tool crops up across social sciences and qualitative methods. You might have read about memo-writing in grounded theory, for instance. Hermeneutic psychology writers have suggested writing should be an integral part of developing an analysis.

In this vision, the writing is less about reporting your fully formed ideas and more about refining your thinking, ideas and arguments about your data. Codes only capture a small part of your thinking and don’t allow you to explain or explore. As you write, you can capture and develop initially nebulous ideas about your work.

How does writing help?

Initially, writing can be for yourself. You can test your arguments and reasoning. You might start setting down your analytic claims about your data. How did you make sense of the participants’ words? Which parts of the text do you think were particularly relevant? These don’t have to be final ideas, but they can help you decide what might be useful.

Writing can also help you get feedback from others. A narrative with quotes, analytic commentary and overarching comments communicates your ideas with more depth than code names or standalone quotes. A written account helps an outsider understand the reasoning that took you from data to themes and how you’re interpreting the data.


Sharing your ideas
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A short, written analysis example can reassure your supervisor that you’re engaging in a thorough analysis. They will then be able to see your work’s structure, content and analysis style, which can be vital to ensure you’re creating a well-developed piece of analysis.

What to write?

There are many options for when to write and how much. Personally, I like to write often, even if many of those narratives only collect virtual cobwebs on my laptop (I always believe I’ll use them one day). You can write a brief reflection on each interview and after transcription. You might want to write up some key themes from one transcript, explain what you think is important about a small group of quotes, or write a full analysis of each participant’s account.

Strange things happen when you write. Despite rigorous attention to coding, our analytic ideas can prove frustratingly slippery when we try to explain them. You might find that some themes develop beyond their original scope as you find more to say about them. Others may turn out to be uninteresting once you start writing. Either situation should nudge you to return to your data and see what was happening (moving back around the hermeneutic circle). Are there multiple ideas within one initial code that might benefit from more thought? Are there other parts of the data that might elaborate your ideas and develop those dull themes? If you encounter these questions early, it’s an exciting way to advance your analysis.

How can PGPR help


We can help you take the plunge
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If you’re unsure or reluctant to take the plunge, we can help. A Skype session might help make decisions about writing. If your supervisor can’t review all your developing ideas, you can ask for feedback from our team. We can review early drafts and help you refine and focus further analysis.

Starting to write and explain your ideas is an exciting time in your research. Take the plunge to see where it can take you.

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