Evid Based Nurs 3:68-70 doi:10.1136/ebn.3.3.68

Data analysis in qualitative research

  1. Sally Thorne, RN, PhD
  1. School of Nursing, University of British Columbia Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

      Unquestionably, data analysis is the most complex and mysterious of all of the phases of a qualitative project, and the one that receives the least thoughtful discussion in the literature. For neophyte nurse researchers, many of the data collection strategies involved in a qualitative project may feel familiar and comfortable. After all, nurses have always based their clinical practice on learning as much as possible about the people they work with, and detecting commonalities and variations among and between them in order to provide individualised care. However, creating a database is not sufficient to conduct a qualitative study. In order to generate findings that transform raw data into new knowledge, a qualitative researcher must engage in active and demanding analytic processes throughout all phases of the research. Understanding these processes is therefore an important aspect not only of doing qualitative research, but also of reading, understanding, and interpreting it.

      For readers of qualitative studies, the language of analysis can be confusing. It is sometimes difficult to know what the researchers actually did during this phase and to understand how their findings evolved out of the data that were collected or constructed. Furthermore, in describing their processes, some authors use language that accentuates this sense of mystery and magic. For example, they may claim that their conceptual categories “emerged” from the data1—almost as if they left the raw data out overnight and awoke to find that the data analysis fairies had organised the data into a coherent new structure that explained everything! In this EBN notebook, I will try to help readers make sense of some of the assertions that are made about qualitative data analysis so that they can develop a critical eye for when an analytical claim is convincing and when it is not.

      Qualitative data

      Qualitative data come …

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