Analysing data and thinking about findings
Once you have collected your data, you then need to think about your findings and how you can interpret them.
Managing data both quantitative and qualitative
Once you have carried out your field work you will have collected data from our research vehicles such as questionnaires or interviews. Now you need to analyse it and deduce some findings.
- You need to code the data - preferably this should be done as it is collected. Indicate the date of the questionnaires, who completed them, the number of returns.
- You need to categorise your data at this stage too, for example, in relation to gender; female (1) and male (2), or origin: Malaysian (1) European (2) African (3). Ages are commonly expressed in ranges, for example, 21-30. Much of this kind of categorising should have been done on the original questionnaire, but it needs coding in now you have the data so that data matches the coding.
- For more open ended questionnaires or semi-structured, open ended interviews, you will need to read them through carefully and code them after the event, that is, code in relation to kinds of answers, themes and issues, and categories of response (keeping a note of what the codes refer to).
This is a process of managing some of your data. If you are collecting documentary evidence or taking notes from books and so on, you will need to develop a process for keeping marginal notes, taking notes from sources and then pulling these items of information together.
You will also find it useful to annotate thematically on the side of transcribed interviews (see below). Labelling the important themes or issues as they appear helps you to draw different responses together, and to draw together responses from the different sources, for example, documents, interviews, texts which relate to the same areas or themes of your enquiry when you write them all up.
Summarising and generalising
- From the whole range of your data you need to draw some relative generalisations (rather than conclusions).
- Ask what kinds of responses keep repeating.
- And what are the deviations from these?
- Are there themes emerging? Contradictions?
- Summarise and generalise using figures and quotations to illustrate your summaries and generalisations.
- The use of examples is a product of selection and you need to focus down on a few cases or examples which illustrate the points you are making. As a result of analysing your findings more broadly, you may find someone whose behaviour is typical, or a new person whose work and behaviour fall into a set of extremes or contrasts. Then you could take this person or persons as cases, samples, to select and emphasise (the selection of individual cases duly kept anonymous for confidentiality). This helps to illustrate and highlight your findings, because, as with journalism, others reading your work respond well to the individual case, which represents an example of the argument.
Rules for coding up your data so that you can use and interpret it
- Codes must be mutually exclusive.
- Codes must be exhaustive.
- Codes must be applied consistently throughout.
Looking back now at what your findings have been so far, can you address these categories and see what kind of points you could make? Each category is followed by a prompt in italics.
- Linking your findings together and show how they flow from the research questions. Indicate how your findings relate to the research questions - do ensure that your findings enable you to provide satisfactory answers to your questions and to engage with the questions. Indicate why some elements of the answers are satisfactory and others thwarted. Are your findings linked to your questions? Do the findings provide satisfactory answers and if so why and if not why not?
- Ensure that your findings can be related back to your methods and your conceptual framework. Make a brief argument about the coherence and link between your findings and the conceptual framework overall and questions of methodology/methods...
- Explain how your findings exceed (carry on further) the research of others and can be carried on even further by others carrying out similar research activities later. How does what you have found fit in with others’ work? What else could other researchers take forward in relation to your work/areas to be developed?
- Do not make unsubstantiated assertions and do illustrate and ‘prove’ all your assertions with reference to your findings. What assertions can you make? Make a couple and indicate in note form which bits of data and findings you would use to prove them.
- Acknowledge weaknesses in your findings and acknowledge ways in which the context and so on could have limited the findings in terms of reliability, scope and so on. What are the limitations and weaknesses in your research? Why?
- Make appropriate assertions of the importance and significance of what you have found. Why is what you have found through your research important as a contribution to knowledge? And in furtherance of the field? And to other people?.
Answers to these questions about how your findings flow form your questions, and the scope of your research and its significance will all feed into (a) your claims in the Abstract for your thesis or dissertation and, (b) your conclusions which emphasise the significance of your work and its contribution to the field of knowledge.
For further information see Chapter 21 of The Postgraduate Research Handbook by Gina Wisker.Top