Life With and Without Coding: Two Methods for Early-Stage Data Analysis in Qualitative Research Aiming at Causal Explanations

  • Jochen Gläser TU Berlin
  • Grit Laudel TU Berlin
Keywords: qualitative content analysis, grounded theory method, coding, sociological explanations, causal mechanisms, theory-guided research


Qualitative research aimed at "mechanismic" explanations poses specific challenges to qualitative data analysis because it must integrate existing theory with patterns identified in the data. We explore the utilization of two methods—coding and qualitative content analysis—for the first steps in the data analysis process, namely "cleaning" and organizing qualitative data. Both methods produce an information base that is structured by categories and can be used in the subsequent search for patterns in the data and integration of these patterns into a systematic, theoretically embedded explanation. Used as a stand-alone method outside the grounded theory approach, coding leads to an indexed text, i.e. both the original text and the index (the system of codes describing the content of text segments) are subjected to further analysis. Qualitative content analysis extracts the relevant information, i.e. separates it from the original text, and processes only this information. We suggest that qualitative content analysis has advantages compared to coding whenever the research question is embedded in prior theory and can be answered without processing knowledge about the form of statements and their position in the text, which usually is the case in the search for "mechanismic" explanations. Coding outperforms qualitative content analysis in research that needs this information in later stages of the analysis, e.g. the exploration of meaning or the study of the construction of narratives.



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Author Biographies

Jochen Gläser, TU Berlin

Jochen GLÄSER (corresponding author) is a senior researcher at the Center for Technology and Society, TU Berlin. His major research interests include the sociology of science, organizational sociology and sociological research methods. His current projects address bibliometric methods for measuring the diversity of research, the impact of authority relations on scientific innovation, and responses by German universities to research evaluation.

Grit Laudel, TU Berlin

Grit LAUDEL is a senior research fellow at the University of Twente, Center for Higher Education Policy Research (CHEPS), the Netherlands. She is a sociologist of science who investigates the influence of institutions on knowledge production. Currently she is studying scientific careers and conditions for scientific innovations in cross-national comparisons. Since her PhD (obtained at the University of Bielefeld) Grit has always been developing methodology and methods for science studies and for social research in general.

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