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Qualitative Data

Processing qualitative data means consolidating similar responses and identifying themes. This allows you to provide results that don't require a lot of time to wade through, but that give a taste of the responses you received.

Coding for Organization

When you have a large amount of qualitative data, for instance survey results from an open-ended question, distill the data into similar themes or categories. This is referred to as coding and it requires reading through the comments several times (so employ the help you need upfront). Here are some general guidelines to follow to code qualitative data in order to report on it for assessment. 

1. Read through all the comments to get an idea of three to seven major themes.

2. Read through your comments again and assign any of your three to seven themes that apply to each comment.

3. Create a miscellaneous theme for any outliers, but keep in mind that if you find too many responses being coded miscellaneous, you might have missed some themes.

4. Once your comments can be sorted by these major themes, read through them again to see if there are sub-themes that you can identify that will further distill your qualitative data for those reading your report.

5. Once you have the information coded sufficiently, you can write a summary based on the themes that you identified.

This coding process will work best using a spreadsheet program such as Excel. You can build a column for each theme, then sort or filter by the columns to review or report your responses by theme. 

When you present the data, whether in writing or in person, here are some suggestions.

1. Include a brief presentation (or description) of the process by which you coded the data.

2. Quantify the top layer of your organization (main themes) so that you have an easy to digest summary, probably in table form.

3. Include some actual examples of responses to illustrate the major themes.

DIGGING DEEPER...

Quantitative Data: Presenting Findings Visually

Writing Effective Outcome Statements

Choosing the Right Assessment Methods

Reporting Your Results