An audit trail is a qualitative strategy to establish the confirmability of a research study’s findings. Confirmability involves establishing that the findings are based on participants’ responses instead the researcher’s own preconceptions and biases. Audit trails are an in-depth approach to illustrating that the findings are based on the participants’ narratives and involve describing how you collected and analyzed the data in a transparent manner. Parts of an audit trail may include examples of the coding process (presented in a table), descriptions of how you worked from individual codes to themes, and rationale for what codes were clustered together to form the basis of a theme. The purpose of doing these things is to clarify to your readers why you made the decisions you did and to show that your analysis follows a logical path dependent on the participants’ narratives
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Now of course, you will not be able to provide a complete outline of every single code or every single theme within your results chapter, but you can include this information in an appendix at the end of the document. This would be ideal for students who want to show this process in full, instead of just using some examples from the data to establish the audit trail. Nonetheless, an audit trail is a great strategy to employ because it is comprehensive and can provide you with the opportunity to think critically about the decisions you made. Keeping track of your decision-making is especially important in qualitative data analysis, as it is often a recursive process (meaning that you repeatedly go back through the data and continue analyzing before creating the initial themes).
Finally, the audit trail also is helpful when presenting how you analyzed the data in either the results chapter or the methodology chapter. If you create a logical path for the data analysis, it will be that much easier to report and explain what you did.