Friday, November 8, 2013

How to: Academic Writing for the Humanities Part 2

Part 1 is here. This part, heavy into "coding" may sound unnatural or forced. Again, these first two parts are for those struggling with the writing PROCESS. Grounded Theory (GT), qualitative data analysis (QDA), and the coding process may not be for everyone, but they will help those who feel lost in the research part of a research paper.

A note on coding -- when I first wrote this presentation, Twitter had not IPO'ed and news media were not using "tags" in all of their stories. So anywhere the word "code" or "coding" appears, it could easily be changed to "hashtag" or "tag."

OK, I'm done reading everything and have excerpted everything I want to excerpt. Now what?

This is where the “A” in QDA starts to happen. Go through all your excerpts and look for “themes.” These themes will be your major organization groups. In some cases, you can treat them as a “parent code.” After finding major themes, you'll want to start looking for specific codes that you'll use to organize your data. This IS analysis, by the way. These should be words or short phrases that sum up what the excerpt is about. Many times, codes can be found within the QD. For instance, if you're doing a paper on gamers and the term “newb” keeps coming up, this is an in vivo code – a code made by the informants themselves. Use it. Same can be said for typologies developed by the informants themselves (in this case your authors).

You'll know you're done developing codes when every excerpt can be classified into a code. This is called “saturation.” And yes, a code could very well be “misc” or “unclassified.” This is especially true of any excerpts you want to save for later research that don't directly apply to the current question(s).

Here is the rough draft of my themes/codes for a paper:

This list isn't quite useful yet. Many of these themes are actually subthemes of others. The best way to do this would be to have each theme on a Post-It note and sort themes into groups and then place related groups next to each other, etc. until you get a visual form of your mental concept. For my themes, I decided on three main themes. Here's what I ended up with:

All done!

Not quite. Now that you have your codes, you need to go through all your excerpts and assign them their codes in WeftQDA. Excerpts can have more than one code as well. The reason you're doing this will become clear (and awesome) in the next step. So just get it done . . .

OK that took awhile, this next step better be good.

Now you can ask WeftQDA to show you all the excerpts that are coded “_____” and look at each excerpt across author. Yes, you could have done this on your own with copy and pasting or with different colored highlighters, etc., but it would have taken a long time. It is at this point that you'll realize how important it was to begin each excerpt with author initials and page number – when they're organized by code they're all jumbled up. It would be very hard to go back to the original text and check context and citation information without this step.

Now that you see all your excerpts across authors sorted by codes, you can better analyze this data. You don't need to print out 12 PDFs and lay them on your floor and try to keep track of what neat quote you saw where that goes with this other neat theory from so-and-so which you thought you put here but is actually hidden under another paper . . . etc. THIS is where the good analysis happens.

This process looks really tiring and cumbersome. More trouble than it's worth.

It may be for some people. They're probably better off not using it. But for people who struggle with the writing process, more structure is often a good thing while they get “used to” writing academic papers. This process might be a life saver for someone's first semester or two and then might become superfluous afterwards. Or it might be great for certain types of papers and unnecessary for others. If you get A's on papers already, keep doing your thing. If you're worried about your grade, it might be worth it to try this out.

Part 3 now up.

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