Choosing a Qualitative Data Analysis Plan

Qualitative Methodology

So, you are writing up your methodology for your qualitative study, but are stuck on how you are going to analyze your data. There are a variety of qualitative data analysis plans that you can consider; some are research design specific and some can be applied across a variety of research designs.

For example, say you are doing a generic qualitative study. This research design does not have a specific data analysis plan, so you can choose a flexible data analysis plan. Thematic Analysis (TA) is a great place to start when looking at a flexible and non-research design specific data analysis plan. Braun and Clarke are hallmarks in popularizing this data analysis plan and they recently released an article (2017) about thematic analysis. There are a variety of resources from Braun and Clarke that can help you understand TA in more depth.

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But let’s say that you are doing a phenomenological research study. This research design has several data analysis plans that are specifically tailored to it. These include Moustakas’ Modified Van Kaam, Colaizzi, Giorgi, Moustakas’ Heuristic analysis, and interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA; although this also may be considered a whole research design). All of these data analysis plans are geared towards uncovering the ‘essence’ of the phenomenon under investigation. Now that does not mean that you cannot use TA for a phenomenological research study; as the researcher, you can decide which plan works best for you to generate meaningful results.

However, there are some research designs that always require a specific data analysis plan. An example of this is grounded theory. Grounded theory requires that you use the constant comparison method of analysis, but that is because grounded theory utilizes theoretical saturation. That requires a qualitative researcher to collect data and analyze data concurrently. If, for example, I was interviewing ten people, I would begin interviewing two people and stop. I would then transcribe the interviews, analyze the transcriptions, and generate a mind-map to sort my thoughts. I would see what was emerging and begin tailoring some new interview questions around that topic. I would then pick back up interviewing two more individuals, and repeat the process until all participants were interviewed. This constant comparison method of analysis is specific to grounded theory because of the generation of a theory at the end of the analysis of all the data.


Clarke, V., & Braun, V. (2017). Thematic analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(3), 297-298.