Qualitative data represents information gathered by researchers that does not have a mathematical base or background. Information gathered often comes from questionnaires, focus groups, observation, or documents and reports. Analyzing qualitative data usually follows the same number of steps for each research process or report. These steps begin with knowing the data, focusing the analysis, and categorizing information, which leads to identifying patterns and making interpretations. Researchers may spend more time analyzing qualitative data than quantitative data due to its subjective nature.
All researchers must know their data, both in the types necessary to make reports and the methods to gather it. Researchers typically spend copious time developing the method by which they will gather qualitative data. Having a plan and knowing the data can also make analysis easier on the back end of the research process. In some cases, a researcher may need more than one method to gather the data. This allows for more information when creating useful reports.
Focused analysis is an essential part of qualitative analysis techniques. Researchers must place the proper questions in both surveys and questionnaires. When making observations, the researcher must have a specific outline for what to review and when to review it. In some cases, having the proper time to conduct the research is also necessary. A weak qualitative research process can make it difficult when analyzing qualitative data because more time is necessary to weed through excess information.
The categorization of gathered data is often the crux of analyzing qualitative data. Researchers must identify themes and subcategories for all information taken from the data collection process. For example, the researcher may sort individual answers into specific categories to answer a question related to the factors that most affect a company’s decision analysis. Researchers can either use predetermined categories or create their own when analyzing qualitative data. Categories may be different among several research studies.
Once categorized, analyzing qualitative data requires researchers to identify patterns. Patterns may exist in each category among several categories or present a distinct relationship between two variables. A few issues to determine are how items relate to each other, how the gathered data supports this relationship, and how other factors create a causal relationship between these or other items. Analysts often employ a table or matrix to review this data. Forcing relationships between two variables can be a dangerous flaw in this analysis process.
The final step in analyzing qualitative data is making interpretations. Most researchers use a sample to represent a larger overall population. Properly gathered data allows the researcher to make inferences from the specific data or factors in the reports. Researchers typically create a list of important findings from their data. Suggestions for future analysis may also be present in this section.