An exploration of different qualitative analysis techniques

Lucie Ramjan introduces five new Nurse Researcher articles relating to qualitative analysis now available online

Lucie Ramjan focuses on research methods that provide an opportunity for marginalised and vulnerable voices to be heard and introduces five new Nurse Researcher articles relating to qualitative analysis now available online

Qualitative analysis
Illustration: Nick Lowndes

There are many different qualitative analysis techniques in nursing research. What I believe is that the beauty of qualitative analysis is in the scope for flexibility, creativity and imagination while maintaining the authenticity of the personal experiences of participants. Qualitative research methods and their analysis techniques allow the nurse researcher to reconstruct, co-construct and understand ‘real world’ situations and the experiences of others. Most importantly they provide the opportunity for voices to be heard that may ordinarily be suppressed, such as those of people who may be marginalised, oppressed and vulnerable. 

In the five new Nurse Researcher articles now available online, we hear the ‘voices’ of the vulnerable and the lessons learned from researchers using different qualitative analysis approaches. Pope et al (2018) illustrate the benefits and challenges for researchers in using a novel, participatory research method – draw, write and tell (DWT) – with children. The authors explain that in DWT, children are able to communicate their experiences through drawings and written words in response to interview questions. The ‘tell’ element, for example, the explanation from the child of the pictures and words, is recorded, transcribed and analysed. 

Children’s voice

Using this type of data collection technique with children has particular strengths, in that it empowers the child while respecting their knowledge and insights. Children take a central position in the research process and their ‘voice’ is heard rather than interpreted through an adult. When using this technique, the authors describe that researchers need to plan and consider: 

  • The time needed to build rapport and trust.
  • Briefing the primary carer and their subsequent influence on data collection.
  • The research setting.
  • Maintaining a reflexive journal and field notes. 
  • The choice of drawing materials. 

DWT is an apt approach for data collection with children and it can be used with other participants including those with cognitive deficits, limited language and mental health issues (Pope et al 2018). While DWT can be analysed using a variety of qualitative analysis techniques, including constant comparison and content analysis, the authors describe using the popular approach of inductive thematic analysis as described by Braun and Clarke (2006). When creative methods of data collection are used, care needs to be taken to ensure that methods of analysis are transparent and facilitate the participants’ voices to be authentically conveyed to the reader.

‘Good qualitative analysis takes time, perseverance and hard work to ensure that rigour and robustness is maintained and that the voices of participants are listened to and respected’

In the second themed paper, Sutton and Gates (2018) also give ‘voice’ to the vulnerable, in this instance adults with intellectual disabilities, allowing them to express their views on their care. These researchers adapt the psychosocial research approach as described by Holloway and Jefferson (2000), using a free association narrative interviewing technique to empower participants in the co-production of data. Co-production in research is gaining popularity in that it empowers individuals or communities to have greater control and involvement in the research process. Co-production re-conceptualises the role of the researcher, in that research is conducted ‘with’ individuals rather than ‘on’ individuals. Through reflection on experiences or specific events, use of props and the narration of stories, the free association narrative technique can unearth answers to questions the researcher may not have even considered asking and that have emotional resonance. 

Two interviews are usually required and analysis entails an understanding of the whole when making interpretations of the parts. The use of pro-formas and pen portraits provide a guide for the researcher in producing summaries of the data which help complete the bigger picture, which then allows further analysis through comparison and interpretation (Sutton and Gates 2018). There is merit to this approach in vulnerable communities, however the researcher needs to be skilled to ensure an equal power balance in the relationship.

Examples from novices

We also present three papers from novice researchers around qualitative research issues. Rettie and Emiliussen (2018) identify the need for more direction for novices on the interpretation aspect of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). They reveal how two researchers had approached the analysis slightly differently based on how they interpreted IPA’s six steps as described by Smith et al (2009). They call for more transparency around the documentation of data analysis in IPA in publications, and the inclusion of a seventh step – interpretation – in the process. The authors highlight a need for researchers to discuss and debate methodology and analysis techniques to ensure a common understanding. 

Hackett and Strickland (2018) describe the strengths and challenges for the novice in using the framework approach from Spencer et al (2003) in analysing qualitative data. This paper highlights the potential for confusion with terminology used by researchers in qualitative analysis. The slight variations in meanings assigned to terminology, such as codes, categories, index, theme, can be confusing for the novice researcher. Hence there is a need for novices to receive guidance and supervision in the process from a more experienced researcher (Hackett and Strickland 2018).

Lewis (2018) shares her experiences of using the narrative enquiry approach to study the meanings nursing students made of their experiences of failing and repeating a course. While there are many different ways to analyse the data in narrative enquiry, this should be informed by the narrative research design, genre and the data being collected. For instance, some examples include Polkinghorne’s narrative analysis, Mishler’s typology of narrative analysis, and Labov’s narrative analysis model. However, analysis can also be conducted in narrative genres, such as autobiographical, biographical and arts-based. It is essential, regardless of the chosen method, to remain true to the individual stories as they provide insight into experiences at that point in time. 

Major storylines

The author provides details of the seven-step analysis process she followed from transcription to triangulation of data which culminated in the production of major storylines. These storylines were produced through considered critical reflection and immersion in the data (Lewis 2018). Storylines differ from themes in that storylines are the plot to the person’s narrative (including what happens from start to the finish) while a theme is the main concept, pattern or idea.

Through the researchers’ experiences in this issue we see that there are similarities between the qualitative analysis techniques, making them one happy family (siblings, cousins, distant relatives). However, to anyone who thinks qualitative research and analysis is easy, think again. Good qualitative analysis takes time, perseverance and hard work to ensure that rigour and robustness is maintained and that the voices of participants are listened to, and respected.


About the author

Lucie Ramjan is associate professor, Western Sydney University School of Nursing and Midwifery, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

This article is for subscribers only