How do researchers make sense of large amounts of qualitative data?

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By Oscar Odena.

In my experience of carrying out research in a number of contexts, this is a real issue for many researchers. And that’s not surprising. One of the expectations of social enquiry projects is that they will have a decent amount of data which helps address the research questions, and develop implications based on evidence rather than opinion. But after spending a few months collecting data, faced with all the ‘raw’ files saved in storage devices, how do researchers start analyzing them, and how do they know the analysis processes are the right ones? One of the biggest difficulties is to show to readers of research reports that the use of theories and frameworks is not tokenistic and is supported with illustrative examples from the data. Nowadays testing the framework with the data and developing implications can be assisted with specialist software.

Using specialist software is no guarantee for theoretically inspired thinking, but these packages can assist in being systematic with the analysis, making sure no stone is left unturned when employing a particular theory as analytical framework. Regardless of software use, making sense of qualitative data would always need to be a thorough process of reading, interpreting, testing and refining, which is repeated by the researchers until all interpretations are compared against all datasets, and the analysis validated with other individuals – this is further explained in the journal article ‘Using software to tell a trustworthy, convincing and useful story’. Ultimately, the possibility of producing conclusive claims will depend on how the research questions are framed, as implications developed from social enquiry are normally context and time bound.

NOTE: you can find an expanded version of this post on the site. Oscar’s original post can be found here.

[front image (c) Neerav Bhatt]

About Oscar:

OscarOdenaOscar joined the University of Glasgow in January 2013. Originally from Spain, he has conducted educational research in a range of contexts nationally and internationally, including in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Catalonia and The Republic of Ireland. More information on Oscar can be found on his Glasgow University webpage. You can contact him at

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