The laundry analogy


I’ve recently read an article about a technique for qualitative data analysis, that used a wonderful analogy I’d like to share with anyone else contemplating a qualitative research project. The citation is: Malterud, K. (2012) Systematic text condensation: A strategy for qualitative analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2012 40:795-805. Just repeating my statement in my opening post – what follows is my own interpretation and re-framing of what I’ve read, and I may have got it wrong (or, from my fledgling social constructivist stance, maybe you would read it and come up with a different meaning…).

The author of this article likens the process of sorting through and analysing qualitative data to the task of being faced with a pile of dirty laundry and a flat-pack chest of drawers. The laundry must be washed and sorted, and meanwhile the chest of drawers must be built, with drawers of different sizes labelled according to the intended contents. Then, having washed, sorted and put away the washing, the clean items are sewn together to form new outfits for a fashion show.

One of the images I found particularly helpful was that of sorting the washing: the same items can be sorted in different ways according to your purpose. For instance, you might want to sort by type of garment (socks, t-shirts, skirts etc). Or by owner. Or by colour. It all depends on your purpose (read: research question). But it also needs you to have clear definitions for your categories: what exactly makes a sock a sock, and not a pair of tights? At what point do you decide a t-shirt is blue rather than green?

There is a lot more to this article, and it’s one that I think will become one of my ‘go back to’ resources when I am further down the data analysis track.

About postgradpanda

I'm a full-time PhD student, researching the perspectives of parents who are caring for a child with high-level physical care needs, on their relationships with diverse service systems and on their identity within or outside those systems. In December 2014 I left my social work position with a genetic support group but remain associated with the group as President of the Committee of Management. In other hours I write poetry and short stories, go sailing, and am learning to play my double bass.

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