Monday, February 21, 2011

Saldaña ▒ Codes and Analytic Memos

Saldaña, Jonny (2009). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. London: Sage. (chs. 1 and 2)
Ochs, E. (1979). Transcription as theory.  In E. Ochs & B. Schieffelin (Eds.), Developmental Pragmatics.  New York: Academic Press.
Barron, P. (2010). Four principles of using digital tools to assist humanities research. Retrieved from

I appreicate the fact that Saldaña spells out, deductively and up-front, what his book is and isn't. To me, it is a "repertoire of coding methods in broad brushstrokes" (1) that doesn't hurt to read just to see what the possibilities are. You know, sometimes theories resonate with you and it inspires you to study associated methods in detail, sometimes methods resonate with you and it inspires you to study associated theories in detail. I like that he intends to purposely juxtapose coding methods "to illustrate and highlight the diverse opinions among scholars in the field." (2)

Saldaña gets right to the point and defines the basic unit of his book: "A code in qualitative inquiry is most often a word or short phrase that symbolically assigns a summative, salient, essence-capturing, and/or evocative attribute for a portion of language-based or visual data." (3) When you realize that those attributes are assigned by you, the researcher, it becomes easier to see that data transcription/analysis really is theory generation (Ochs 1979). I appreciate the fact that he defines, then gives several concrete examples from different general approaches to the coding process, and then channels Charmaz to explain why we can't conflate codes and are the bones, categories are the starting work in assembling "those bones into a working skeleton" (8), from which will eventually spring themes and theory.
It sounds like we get (have) to code everything, but that as one becomes seasoned, it becomes easier to decide for oneself what can be overlooked. I'm thinking of this as "I know the tell-tale signs of what I'm interested in observing, so that's what I look for", which I get, but does that not stultify your research at some point? How do you keep research fresh and exciting if you are not looking for new things to resonate with you, or is this an admission that you know what will resonate with you, so if you don't see that, you move on?

How would I know? I'm a n00b...

I appreciate the walk through manual and CAQDAS coding (wish I would have seen that elsewhere...). And the attributes! Although, I almost wish the first attribute would have been better explained:
  • organization: It frustrates me that he defines organization ("a set of disciplined skills that can be learned and cultivated as habits", p. 28) but, unlike when he defined coding, he offers no concrete examples! What skills? Am I missing all/some/any? I mean, I get that one "will
    ...encounter and manipulate many pages of paper in qualitative work
    " and that even CAQDAS programs only go so far, but after laying the heavy on us, his advice is to "[d]ate and
    label all incoming data and keep multiple digital and hard copies as backup
    "? It's a sad day when I have to dig into advice from digital HUMANITIES research to find solace! A recent post from Phillip Barron discusses the more important skill of learning to SEARCH, and that in fact it is increasingly more important than organizational skills, because "[k]eeping your work organized is a valuable skill, but at some point in your research, you are working on a project that is too large to hold in your head." So, "if you have been tagging information all along the way, then you have a way to search through your own stuff." Developing a strong sense of your own folksonomy seems to me a much more valuable way to burn brain cells than the traditional sense of "organization" because, as Barron (correctly, IMHO) points out, "I don’t know about you, but I am never going to remember that a pdf from JSTOR with the filename [dateauthorsmalltag.pdf] is an article on gender discrimination in the death penalty". When looking the data tsunami (Barron channeling Blatecky, not mine...I wish, though!) of a dissertation head-on, tagging and searching skills look a lot more life-saving than organizational skills. Of course, maybe that's what Saldaña was thinking of when he mentioned it. Too bad I'll never know.
  • perseverance: No kidding! When one is looking at the prospect of having to eat an elephant, it's perhaps not eating the elephant that seems daunting, but the prospect that you'll be eating elephant omelettes, elephant stew, elephant fricassee, elephant goulash (you get the idea) day in and day out for months. I have no suggestions, I'm hoping you do.
  • ambiguity: One of Trena's mantra. I'm OK with this.
  • flexibility: You know, I think this goes hand-in-hand with ambiguity. How can one cope with ambiguity if one is not flexible?

I LOVE Saldaña's description of analytic memos...It's where you get reflecive about your data and analyses, codes being "a prompt or trigger for written reflection on the deeper and complex meanings it evokes." (32). He then goes into detail on a few scenarios that he then gives examples for, mentioning that this process will also "generate codes and categories" (41).