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What is Qualitative Analysis?


Qualitative analysis can occur gradually throughout the research process, but reaches full swing once the interviews are complete and transcribed. What does one do with a collection of interviews, all of which appear to defy summary or comparison? The main objectives of qualitative analysis are interpreting meaning and revealing complexity:

Interpreting Meaning

Qualitative analysis is not a mere reporting of interview results as though they are simple facts. It is a process of interpretation, of surfacing meanings in the data, bringing them forth, showing how these meanings link together, and how they are layered on one another.

Revealing Complexity

Even when qualitative analysis is focused on a particular aspect of the data, complexity is bound to emerge. The aim is not to derive a clear-cut formula that would neatly explain every case, but to create a rather flexible framework of interpretation that conveys recurring themes while revealing the subtle patterns and contradictions among them.

"The openness of qualitative inquiry allows the researcher to approach the inherent complexity of social interaction and to do justice to that complexity, to respect it in its own right... Hard to answer, context-bound questions emerge along with unexpected patterns and new understandings through the evolutionary nature of qualitative inquiry." Corrine Glesne and Alan Peshkin, Becoming Qualitative Researchers: An Introduction. (Longman Publishing Group, 1992, pp. 6-7.)


Qualitative analysis requires steeping oneself in the data to discover its significance. The process involves careful reading, line-by-line open coding, successive rounds of focused coding, writing analytical memos, asking questions of the data, consulting the literature, drafting the paper, re-writing and revising it. These steps need not necessarily be taken in systematic linear sequence. Some are carried on simultaneously. Sometimes insights at later stages send the researcher back to the data for a new look. The process can be exciting and creative, but the researcher is bound to experience frustration and uncertainty as well. Patience and a tolerance for ambiguity are important qualities in a qualitative researcher. It takes time and active work to tease out hidden meanings in the data. Once they are discovered, it can feel as though they ought to have been obvious all along.

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