Qualitative Data

Sample Size

Thematizing and three coding types (open, axial, and selective)

  • Thematizing refers to the analysis of interview responses.
  • To analyze the interview responses, data is analyzed for the presence of themes.  Interview responses can be examined multiple times on an overall basis OR  on responses per interview question to identify the themes.
  • Typically, if agreement, or a repeated comment(s), is found among three responses or more, it is considered a theme.
  • Three types of coding are open, axial, and selective.
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Open coding refers to revealing X set of themes and what those themes are related to and/or can be considered by.  Open coding responses can be presented in a table by theme, by the phrases/descriptive words that help illustrate the theme, and by the participant id that the phrases/descriptive words come from.

For example: An interview was conducted on 12 middle school teachers, regarding new school grading policies.  Open coding revealed two sets of themes, negative reaction and uncertainty, that related to interview question 4 “How are your students reacting towards the implementation of the new grading policies?”  Three participants felt that the implementation of the new school grading policies causes a negative reaction from students, such as tantrums and violence, and five participants felt that the implementation of the new school grading policies causes uncertainty, such as crying and screaming.  See the table below for details.

Interview Question 4 Open Coding Responses

Phrases/descriptive words
Negative reaction
He started hitting his desk and threatening to just walk out of the classroom.
They just started yelling at me and telling me that I better not or else.
Papers and pencils were thrown everywhere.
I saw the look on their faces…as if I was punishing them and they didn’t understand why.
One student was quiet at first, then started to sob uncontrollably.
…just kept asking me why over and over again.
Received a call from a parent telling me that their child couldn’t describe how school was that day.
I had to repeat the instruction multiple times throughout the day.  The kids just didn’t get it.  One kid began screaming, which got a few others at it too.

Axial coding refers to revealing the thematic relationships in order from strongest to weak associations, and also presenting examples.

For example: (using the same example stated previously)  Axial coding for responses on interview question 4 revealed the following thematic relationship in order from strongest to weak associations:

1.      Five of the 12 participants (42%) specified lack of comprehension and confused reactions (e.g., just didn’t get it, couldn’t describe how school was, kept asking me why, didn’t understand why, quiet at first then started to sob).
2.      Three of the 12 participants (25%) specified threats and physical reactions (e.g., tell me I better not, started hitting, papers and pencils thrown).

Selective coding refers to the topic of the research question and an excerpt from a participant that best mentions/illustrates the themes mentioned.

For example: (using the same example stated previously) Selective coding of interview question 4, student reaction toward policy implementation, generated two themes: negative reaction and uncertainty.  The researcher selected one participant’s statement that reflected the axial coding with the most congruence.  Participant 4 stated, “I really thought it wouldn’t be too difficult.  I feel like my students are fast learners, but I was wrong.  I guess they are just too young to understand why and what was happening.  On the first week, I had several mishaps.  One student was quiet at first, then started to sob uncontrollably.  My kids weren’t taking it too well.  They just started yelling at me and telling me that I better not or else.  After a couple more days, I just didn’t know what to do.”