Helping beginners analyse qualitative data

A lot of my work involves working with heritage and library clients to help them carry out evaluation or measure impact. One of the biggest challenges I face is how can they analyse qualitative data themselves? Data collection can be relatively straightforward – with some simple training and support ‘non experts’ in evaluation can carry out interviews, focus groups or record observations. But how do they analyse this data in a robust way?

Thematic coding

Thematic coding (or indexing) “is a way of indexing or categorising the text in order to establish a framework of thematic ideas about it” (Gibbs, 2018). But it can be time consuming, require some knowledge and lots of practice.

The Better Evaluation web site has a really good introduction to thematic coding.

These videos are good introductions too.

Happy Museum’s Narrative Evaluation

I often recommend the Happy Museum’s narrative evaluation tool as a simple approach for organising qualitative data and identifying themes including how frequently they recur.

If you are new to evaluation or qualitative data analysis then this is a fantastic tool.

But how can I help clients use qualitative data analysis methods that could provide more valid and reliable results?


One form of thematic data analysis I like to use is ‘Framework’, especially for interview data. ‘Framework’ was developed in the 1980s as an approach for managing and analysing qualitative data in applied social policy research (Ritchie & Spencer, 1994; Ritchie, Lewis, Nicolls, & Ormston, 2014). It is similar to other thematic analysis methods in that it includes indexing/coding but its distinctive feature is a form of data summary and display using matrices which allow for comparisons across cases and themes (Ritchie et al, 2014, p.283).

These videos explain it well.

The five stages to qualitative data analysis using ‘Framework’:

  1. Familiarisation
  2. Identifying a thematic framework
  3. Indexing (coding)
  4. Charting (summary and display)
  5. Mapping and interpretation

However, ‘Framework’ acknowledges some studies “the data may already be well-ordered, forming neat ‘thematic piles” (Ritchie et al, 2014, p.282). Therefore in some cases where interviews have been well structured or ordered it may be possible to skip the coding/indexing and stage and go straight to charting (summary and display).

To me, charting and summarising the data is something that could be done by those with little experience in qualitative data analysis. Especially those from an archives, library or heritage background who are used to cataloguing! Some of the principles are the same.

I’m hoping to explore this more over the next few months and perhaps write about it.

Further reading

  • Gale, N.K., Heath, G., Cameron, E., Rashid, S. & Redwood, S. (2013). Using the framework method for the analysis of qualitative data in multi-disciplinary health research. BMC Med Res Methodol 13, 117. (available online)
  • Gibbs, G. (2018). Analyzing qualitative data ([2nd]. ed.). London;Los Angeles;: SAGE.
  • Ritchie J., Lewis J., Nicolls C. M. & Ormston, R. (2014). Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers (Second ed.). London: SAGE Publications.
  • Ritchie, J. & Spencer, L.. (1994). ‘Qualitative data analysis for applied social research’, in Bryman, A., & Burgess, R. G. (eds). Analyzing qualitative data. London, England;New York, New York;: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203413081

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