Analysing your Data
There is no hard and fast line between ordering your data and analysing it. As you begin to order and index it, so the process of analysing starts. Analysing data is a continuing process from the moment you collect your first piece of data. You may find, as you analyse, that your study is about something different from what you first thought. An important aspect of analysing data is keeping your own field diary in which you can write down all your personal thoughts, feelings and anxieties about the whole process. You may find this very useful when you come to write up your ethnographic project.
Remember to describe before you interpret and explain, to avoid quick and slick evaluations. As you analyse your data and constantly review what you have collected, certain concepts and themes will start to become important. As they emerge, keep checking your data to see how far it gives further evidence of these themes. But it is important to check for examples of disconfirming evidence as well, i.e. accounts, observations and interactions which either do not exemplify these themes or actually contradict them.
Your data analysis will therefore roughly follow the steps below:
- Collect lots of data
- Become steeped in the data, reading and re-reading it for further illumination and triangulating one piece or set of data with another.
- Keep on questioning, comparing and relating so that you move from description to conceptualisation. There is a continual process of finding themes and seeking connections within the data, and relating this to a more abstract theoretical framework.
- Look for patterns in the data but also take account of data which seems to cut across or contradict those patterns, e.g. interview data may contradict the ‘foreshadowed’ problem you went in with etc.
- Be reflexive about the data and think about how it came to be produced as you analyse it. Remember ‘data must never be taken at face value’ (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983: p200).
You will need to allow plenty of time for writing up and should be prepared to go through a number of drafts. You will have quite a lot of data that you need to boil down. Think about different ways of presenting your data, e.g. thematically or as a life history, etc. and make sure that you:
- Have sections on the context, the informants and how you collected the data, and a reflexive section
- Use your informants’ language as much as you can
- Relate your themes / concepts to the literature in the area
- Have a strong, clear conclusion, which does not make sweeping, generalised statements about entire cultures or practices (see High Inferences), but which is firmly grounded in your data and theoretical framework.
(Adapted from Hammersley and Atkinson 1995)