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.

What you can expect from PGPR’s different levels of service

If you’re reading this blog, you’re either a PGPR client or you’re thinking about becoming one. Either way – welcome! We hope we’ll get the chance to read some of your research soon.

We offer four levels of service here at PGPR. This is a blog to explain what you’ll get when you book each of those services.

1. Basic proof-reading

First and foremost, proof-reading is about ensuring that your spelling and grammar are correct. You probably realised that, but PGPR proof-readers also look out for and help you with more than just those factors. Those extra areas include:

  • Tightening your writing by cutting down overly long sentences
  • Clarifying confusing text
  • Ensuring consistency of formatting, terminology, punctuation and so on
  • Checking your in-text references and, for a small extra charge, your reference list

We’ll amend your piece using Word’s track changes feature and send you back two copies: one with the changes still marked and one clean copy. It might be that we also include some comments to ensure we haven’t changed your meaning or that you agree with any suggested re-formatting.


The PGPR team really love reading

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Who should use our basic proof-reading service? Clients who are happy with the structure and meaning of their work, but who struggle with English or academic writing.


Read more about why you should work with a proof-reader here.  

2. Feedback only

The PGPR team includes a wealth of qualitative experts. As such, we can offer feedback on your structure, methodology, findings and discussion sections. We might ask whether you could dig a bit deeper with a certain interpretation, or if you can find links between certain themes. We may also suggest papers which would be useful to read, point out methodological errors or highlight sections of your thesis which your examiners might question you about.

We can also offer feedback on earlier stages of analysis, such as tables of themes or transcripts. It might be helpful for you to consider a Skype session with one of our experts if you’re at this earlier stage – more on those below.

If you book feedback only, you’ll get a single copy of your work back, marked up with helpful comments from one of our team. Read more about our brilliant team here.


The PGPR team will tell you what’s working and what needs more polishing

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Who should use our feedback only service? If you are confident that your writing is strong, but you feel less sure about whether your analysis or methodology are as robust as they can be, this is the service for you.

3. Proof-reading plus feedback

This is our deluxe service and is fairly self-explanatory! If you book this service, we’ll combine all the elements of basic proof-reading and feedback. This means you’ll get two copies of your work back: one with the tracked changes still there for you to look at and one clean copy. Both copies will include the feedback comments.


PGPR clients are great; we genuinely enjoy giving you feedback
 
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Who should book proof-reading plus feedback? If you’re feeling unsure about your English or academic writing skills and need some extra assistant with your analysis, book this service.

4. Skype sessions

The PGPR team now offers Skype sessions for its qualitative clients. These are an ideal opportunity to talk through difficulties you’re having at any stage of your research project with one of our team of experts.

Once you’ve booked a Skype session and been paired with a team member, you can send some examples of your work for your expert to look over. They will then spend up to an hour discussing the work with you via a video chat. Note it’s fine to turn the video function off if you feel shy – you’ll still be able to hear our advice and questions.

You can read more about the benefits of our Skype sessions here.


Use one of our friendly Skype sessions to steer you in the right direction
 
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Who should book a Skype session? Anyone who is feeling stuck with any stage of their qualitative research project.

If any of these services sound like they might be helpful for you, get in touch via the form below and have a chat with us about what we can offer.