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Qualitative Methods
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Chapter 7: Selected Qualitative Methods: Analysis Techniques
Photo of a person doing qualitative analysis 

Qualitative analysis is real work. Do not try to analyze badly gathered data. It takes too much time for too little knowledge gained. If the data are bad enough, you may reach erroneous conclusions. Usually a pre-existing data set gathered for some other purpose is not useful. Gather your own data using a suitable sampling framework for your research question.

A challenge, a joy, or possibly a nightmare is the proper analysis of qualitative data. Many ethnographers have spent years trying to make sense of her or his field notes. In health care we do not have that luxury or agony. I will introduce four analysis techniques particularly suited to symptom research.

1)Content Analysis

The simplest and most popular qualitative method for health care research is content analysis. (Click here for a brief bibliography with more information about content analysis). Content analysis is the systematic description of behavior asking who, what, where, where and how questions within formulated systematic rules to limit the effects of analyst bias. It is the preferred technique for analyzing semi-structured interviews and cognitive testing interviews. Content analysis is comfortably self-taught and analyses progress quickly. Those are big advantages. The disadvantages are the analyses can be "dirty" and I am sometimes not convinced by results that seem marred by analyst bias. For focus group and narrative data, I am almost never convinced that it was worth the trouble to gather the data if content analysis is the only technique used. Content analysis is a good beginning but often not sufficient by itself.

2)Grounded Theory

This is the classic and still standard technique for analyzing health data and for lots of other data too. Grounded theory uses a systematic hierarchical set of procedures to develop inductively derived theory grounded in data. Glaser and Strauss invented Grounded Theory in the 1960s to analyze data on caring for dying patients. Their books are classics and in wide use today because of the insights they provide, particularly in the field of palliative care. To visit a website devoted to Grounded Theory which includes an audio interview with Glaser click here. Gifford, 1999, and Lewis, 1997, are examples of analyses conducted with Grounded Theory.

3)Narrative Summary Analyses

This technique was invented later by Carol Gilligan, partly as a response to Grounded Theory and also in response to the movement in literature and history called Deconstruction. Gilligan reminded us that after taking our data apart to get at essences, we also could gain valuable insights by putting the data back together, not in their raw form, but in re-ordered form to tell stories from the points of view of different participants. Narrative Summary Analysis Technique is also called "threading".


The standard meaning of triangulation in health research is the strengthening of both qualitative and quantitative analyses by combining insights from both. For an excellent article on triangulation from the Journal of Advanced Nursing click here.

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