Qualitative Data Analysis Strategies, in Concept Maps

I’m presenting a peer-to-peer session today on some NVivo techniques, and in the course of my preparations rediscovered these concept maps I made when reading Corbin, JM & Strauss, AL 2008, Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory, 3rd edn, Sage Publications, Inc, Thousand Oaks, California.

I’ve “SlideShared” the maps and posted them here, because I think they’re quite useful when thinking about qualitative data analysis.

Let me know what you think?


Paper plug: ‘Gatecrashing the Research Paradigm…’

MonashNice to see Monash University Library directing law students to our co-authored article ‘Gatecrashing the Research Paradigm: Effective Integration of Online Technologies in Maximising Research Impact and Engagement in Legal Education’*

* Kate Galloway, Kristoffer Greaves and Melissa Castan, ‘Gatecrashing The Research Paradigm: Effective Integration Of Online Technologies In Maximising Research Impact And Engagement In Legal Education’ (2013) 6 (1/2) Journal of the Australasian Law Teachers Association 83.


Using NVivo Tools for Literature Review

Field of PLTI use NVivo computer-aided qualitative data analysis software as part of my literature review process.This post describes some of the things I do as part of that process.* You can see an accompanying SlideShare here.

Background: My research studies PLT practitioners’ engagement with scholarship of teaching and learning in PLT. This study involves individual and extra-individual dimensions of practice. I am interested in how social structures (such as “law”) are inscribed into practices, and whether practices can affect or change those structures. As part of my research, I have collated about 2000 items of literature, which I need to organise effectively for my doctoral research and for the future.

Citation Manager

I use Endnote, and I am pretty happy with it. I’ve observed, however, that different citation managers suit different styles of working. I will be talking about Endnote in this post, but the process I describe is probably similar to other citation managers.

I collect all my references in Endnote, along with copies of articles etc in PDF format. I write, or dictate, my own notes into the “research notes” field in an item’s Endnote record. I use Endnote’s “smart groups” feature to group references together by search terms that I specify. For example, I might want to group all references that mention “bricolage” in conjunction with Bourdieu. I can specify that Endnote search all records and attached PDFs for those terms and keep a record of the search results in a smart group labelled “Bourdieu and Bricolage”.

Smart groups help to organise the reference library around themes to which you frequently return during some stage of your research. They also provided a convenient way to select a list of references for export into NVivo for further analysis.

To export the selected references, I go to File, Export, and then choose to export the references in XML format, and save the file on my desktop for the time being.

Organising Literature in NVivo

I import the XML file into NVivo using the External Sources / Other Sources / Endnote dialogue. You can choose to arrange the references by Author or Title. NVivo will import the PDF files as internal sources, and all the notes attached to the Endnote records, such as abstracts and your research notes will be saved as linked Memos. You can add to these memos as you work on your literature review.

By default, Endnote will classify these sources as “Reference” and there will be a number of default attributes, e.g. author name, date of publication, etc. You can edit the classification sheet if you want to add extra attributes, or perhaps simplify it.

It is worthwhile paying attention to classifications and attributes for any sources, because you can use some powerful search and analysis tools on these attributes later.

Case Nodes

Each of the references you import can be “coded” as “case nodes”. You can think of a “node” as a bucket for collecting things based around a concept. In the context of a literature review, you can code a reference, such as Bourdieu’s ‘Force of Law’ article, as a “case”. One benefit of doing this will be the ability to cross-reference “theme nodes” with all or selected “case nodes” later. For example, later I might code parts of references to the theme node “resistance to change”, I can then compare the text coded to the theme (or concept) “resistance to change”, to all the authors coded as cases.

Coding – Explicit and Emergent Approaches

“Coding” here, in its simplest form, involves selecting/highlighting text in the reference source, and linking it to a concept or theme. NVivo will keep a database record of all the bits of text (or pictures or video) that are “coded” to a concept. Any one portion of text can be coded to multiple concepts, so you’re not shut out from revisiting a particular item from different points of view.

The decision to categorise a concept or theme might be described as “explicit”, or as part of an “emergent” approach. Explicit and emergent approaches are identified with the methodology described as “grounded theory”.

You might already have a clear theoretical framework that you are using, with explicit themes or concepts. You can predefine the nodes (remember the “buckets”?), according to your explicit concepts. For example, you might have predefined concepts of “motivation”, “capability”, “symbolic support”, “allocation of resources”.

On the other hand, you might choose to see what concepts “emerge” from the data, and define these as you work through the sources.

For literature reviews, I personally tend to explicit approaches at first, but bearing in mind the idea of “theoretical sensitivity” that seeks to accommodate both explicit and emergent approaches.

Coding from Text Search Queries

If you have some explicit concepts for your literature review, it could be worth starting with a text query, then “code on” from the results using in-vivo techniques.

For example, I could search for the word “bricolage” in all the references, and set the text search dialogue to code and save all the results to the results node “bricolage text search”. The results will be saved in the Query/Results folder.

When the search is complete, a results screen will open showing me all the “hits”. I can see these highlighted on the PDF source, and read around the hit to understand the context in which the word is used. If I identify further concepts or themes, I can select that text and code it to a new theme or concept node. For example, some text might show how “bricolage” is “emancipatory”, so I could create a new theme node called “emancipatory” and code the relevant text to that node. In doing so, I am coding emergent concepts as I go along “in-vivo”.

Framework Matrices

Let’s say that I’ve collected quite a few theme nodes, but now I want to compare how the authors relate to one or more of the themes. Using the framework matrices tool, I can arrange all the cases (authors) in table rows (remember I coded all the references as cases earlier?). I can arrange one or more themes or concepts in table columns. NVivo will then search the selected sources, and using the “autosummarize” feature, populate the cells of the table with the text code to the specific author and theme node.

So, for example, I can compare the text coded to “emancipatory”, author by author.

You can format and edit the text in the framework matrix cells. You can also continue to “code-on” the text in the framework matrix cells.

You can sort the cases by attributes too. Say for example you identify certain authors from different “schools” of thinking, or affiliated with specific institutions. You can record these attributes, and then sort the framework matrix results by those attributes.

Matrix Coding Queries

Matrix coding queries allow you to compare sources and theme nodes by attributes. So, for example, I could compare all sources published before and after a certain date against a specific theme or concept. Or I could compare theme nodes against other theme nodes, for example I could compare sources coded to theme “emancipatory” against the theme, “practical knowledge”, to see if those terms appear more or less frequently in some sources than others. Matrix Coding Query results can be charted, and these can generate further lines of inquiry. For example, you might notice the intersection between two concepts “pile up” around a specific author or group of authors, or are ignored by other authors.

The charts that NVivo produces are “live”. This means you can double-click on a point in the chart and it will open the relevant references connected to that result.


I have briefly described some of the NVivo tools I use when undertaking literature review. These tools are quite powerful, and if you consider that you might apply them to dozens of sources at a time, you might apprehend how you can expedite parts of your literature review. That said, it is just a tool and no substitute for your own critical and intellectual engagement with the source material.

You might also think parts of this literature review process is very useful for lawyers in researching case law, statutes, trial preparation and proof-making.

In a later post I will describe how I export the results and the notes recorded in memos in a way that allows me to easily incorporate them in writing up the research, by using a publishing tool called “Scrivener”.

*This post is based on a presentation I gave at Deakin University’s Faculty of Arts and Education “Methodology on Fridays” session on 7 March 2014.


Paper re micro-blogging as a collaborative space in legal ed and PLT makes Top 10

Informed today, this paper:

Interconnectedness, Multiplexity and the Global Student: The Role of Blogging and Micro Blogging in Opening Students’ Horizons

co-authored with Melissa Castan and Kate Galloway

recently listed on SSRN’s Top Ten download list for: PSN: Communications

From the abstract:

‘…the authors explore the world of blogging and micro blogging (twitter) as a means of mediating engagement with students, lawyers, academics and other interested and interesting people around the world. Through the use of auto-ethnographic case studies of their own experiences with blogging and micro blogging tools, the authors propose that far from being a distraction from student learning, these tools have the potential to open up an international professional collaborative space beyond the physical classroom, for both academics and our students, from their first year experience through to practical legal training and continuing professional development.’




Blogging and Micro-Blogging in Legal Education and PLT

microbloggingpicI had fun working with my mates Kate Galloway (from the Curl blog) and Melissa Castan (Amicae Curiae blog) on the topic of blogging and micro-blogging in legal education and practical legal training.

JALTA have published our article here. It is a wide-ranging, partly auto-ethnographic account, of blogging and using Twitter in our work.


PleagleTrainer 2012 YouTube Videos in Review

Last year I began experimenting with YouTube videos as a way of presenting aspects of my conference papers, or just bits of my reading and research as part of the review of literature for my PhD candidature. I thought it might be useful to recap them here.

It would be fair to say that none of the videos went gangnambusters (or viral), but this was not one of my aspirations. It was interesting to see which videos attracted views, given the subject matter is a fairly nichey niche. For me the videos are a bit of note-taking, journal-keeping, doodling exercise.

At the time of writing, the most viewed video was Using Prezi to make Mind Maps (115 views). It seems the idea of using a dynamic presentation tool such as Prezi to create and display mind maps or concept maps (or other graphic organisers) was attractive. I occasionally launch my public Prezis here.

Next most viewed was Elements of Critical Legal Studies and Law & Society Movements Part I (114 views). Unfortunately, Part II attracted only half as many views (108). Perhaps Part I was too long – as I worked on videos I have aimed to make them shorter and not to exceed 3 minutes where possible.

My Mind Maps – Qualitative Analysis Strategies really was a private note-taking exercise, but I decided to share it. It attracted about 73 views, and I was contacted privately by researchers in the UK and USA, who seemed to like it.

I decided to represent some of the exploratory background research I was doing regarding PLT teachers’ engagement with scholarship of teaching. Australian PLT Teachers’ Formal Teaching Qualifications attracted about 52 views, which is miniscule by YouTube standards, but surprisingly high to me given there are only about 145 publicly listed PLT teachers in Australia. The partner presentation, Australian PLT Teachers’ Scholarship of Teaching Publications only attracted 30 views. I am not sure what conclusion you might draw from this, but over the last year my experience leads me to speculate that people are tangling with what ‘scholarship of teaching’ in PLT might actually be. A 2-part presentation scholarship of teaching in PLT was the least viewed over the group (see below).

The most ‘theoretical’ of my presentations, Bourdieu, PLT + Me Part I and Part II, attracted 36 and 27 views, respectively. This work represented a fairly early struggle in my coming to grips with Bourdieu’s conceptions of field, habitus, categories of capital, and the juridical field. With the benefit of further subsequent study of the literature I may well re-do these videos in the future.

Part 1 of a video version of my ALTA conference paper presentation concerning scholarship of teaching in PLT attracted 33 views, whereas Part II attracted 26 views.

There are so many aspects to producing these videos, running time, graphics, camera work, voice over, background music, editing, subject matter and the symbolic representation of the topic. It would take much more space to pull the above works apart and analyse them. I have decided that I really like working with the YouTube setup as a medium and I will spend more time on it. Also, it is worth bearing in mind that many of these videos were produced on a Macbook Pro in a hotel room in some remote locations – and as a 53 year old that grew up in the world of snail mail and carbon paper, I marvel at what we can do with information and communications tech now.



Elements of Critical Legal Studies and the Law & Society Movement

As part of my PhD research I am interested to reflect on the epistemologies of the critical legal studies (“CLS”) and law & society movements (“LSM”) in locating where my own project might be situated in the context of law research.  Here are two videos, Part One and Part Two that are my ‘concept maps’ of the elements of these two ‘critical’ movements.


Are Lawyers using Computer-Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS)?

I have attended two introductory and three advanced training sessions on using NVivo, which is a computer-aided qualitative data analysis software. I plan on using this tool as part of my research into practical legal training teacher engagement with scholarship of teaching.

I have started using the software to undertake literature reviews and I have found it to be a very powerful tool, particularly when comparing critical writings around a specific topic, such as a sociological theory.

In brief, the software allows you to code parts of text (documents) and media (pictures, video, audio) and to classify the sources and coding for certain attributes. The data can then be explored, analysed, charted, and modeled to draw out and represent insights concerning convergences, conflicts, gaps and blind spots, around a concept.

My experience with this software has made me wish that I had access to it when undertaking legal research (analysing primary and secondary legal materials) and also in legal practice (analysing evidence such as affidavit material, exhibits, witness statements, and transcripts).

I would be very interested to know if there are any lawyers already using CAQDAS for this purpose. I certainly would encourage lawyers to consider learning about these tools if they have not done so already. Have you experience with CAQDAS in legal research or legal practice? If so, please let me know via the comments.