Qualitative coding


Coding is a way of indexing or categorizing the text in order to establish a framework of thematic ideas about it | Gibbs (2007).

In qualitative research coding is “how you define what the data you are analysing are about” (Gibbs, 2007). Coding is a process of identifying a passage in the text or other data items (photograph, image), searching and identifying concepts and finding relations between them. Therefore, coding is not just labeling; it is linking from the data to the idea and back to other data..

The codes which are applied enable you to organise data so you can examine and analyse them in a structured way, e.g. by examining relationships between codes.

Approaches to coding qualitative data


A basic division between coding approaches is concept driven coding versus data driven coding (or open coding). You may approach the data with a developed system of codes and look for concepts/ideas in the text (concept driven approach) or you can look for ideas/concepts in the text without a preceding conceptualisation and let the text speak for itself (data driven coding). Investigators can either use a predetermined coding scheme or review the initial responses or observations to construct a coding scheme based on major categories that emerge.

Both methods require intial and thorough readings of your data and writing down which patterns or themes you notice. A researcher usually identifies several passages of the text that share the same code, i.e. an expression for a shared concept.

An example

A code in a qualitative enquiry is most often a word or short phrase. In the table below an example (Saldaña, 2013) is given.

Expert tips

Any researcher who wishes to become proficient at doing qualitative analysis must learn to code well and easily. The excellence of the research rests in large part on the excellence of the coding | Strauss (1987).

  • The meaning of codes must be documented in a separate file. Make short descriptions of the meaning of each code. It is helpful to you and also to other researchers who will have access to your data/analysis. What you need to know about your codes (Gibbs 2007):

    1. the label or name of the code
    2. who coded it (name of the researcher/coder)
    3. the date when the coding was done/changed
    4. definition of the code; a description of the concept it refers to
    5. information about the relationship of the code to other codes you are working with during the analysis.
  • Coding textual information is a complicated cognitive process and the coder may pose a significant influence on the coding process. For each study coding procedures must be carefully planned and a specific coding design and guidelines must be established. Coders must undertake a training, where they are instructed about the specific coding design and coding rules. A part of coding procedures is concerned with reviewing the quality of the coding process. According to Gibbs (2007) several techniques to control coder reliability exist:

    1. Checking the transcription
      An independent researcher goes through coded texts and considers a degree to which coders differed from each other.
    2. Checking for definitional drift in coding
      If you code a large dataset your code at the beginning may be coded slightly different than material coded later. Check the codes you did in the whole dataset and check for the definitional drift. Have good notes with descriptions of individual codes.
    3. Working in a team
      If there are more people in the team, individual members can check each other´s coding.