Presenting qualitative data and writing

Over the few weeks I have been working how to best write-up my qualitative chapter, now that I have all three lines of evidence analysed. It’s taking longer than I thought!

First off, I worked on the methods section, really trying to detail my process and using the methods books I read as a guide for how to organize the section, and make sure I was mentioning all essential pieces of information a reader needs to determine the legitimacy and rigor of the work.

I then went on to the results and discussion. I had previous material written, and some figures, but I decided to write an outline from scratch to make sure I was really incorporating the full scope of new information and thinking that developed over the past month or so. As such, older drafts became useful in complementing certain paragraphs, but really I needed to just write a new draft. I also wanted really strong visuals to go along with my narrative.

One thing to note is that I LOVE making system figures and conceptual diagrams, but I am realizing that they don’t speak to everyone. I had originally made three “subsystem diagrams” to show the relationships between key factors facilitating or impeding P recycling in Power Point, but with the new outline I saw there were really 4 subsystems, and that I should be doing them in a vector-based software and not powerpoint to ensure high resolution. I proceeded to create my new figures in Inkscape, and I was really excited. I showed them to a colleague though, and she made me realize that they were way way way to complex for someone unfamiliar with the study system. I have tried to remake 1 of the 4 into a simpler diagram, but I am really struggling on how to best show my data and analysis in a digestible set of figures and tables.

Once my draft and figures were complete (well as complete as possible), I sent the draft to three people (my advisor, an anthropologist, and social scientist who works more closely to the natural sciences (and often works with biologists). I got feedback from two of them already, and I think a reanalysis of the interviews and some major restructuring is necessary to make the paper shine. I was already planning on recoding the data, but now I am adding descriptors about each interviewee so that I can see if people working for similar types of organizations (and other descriptors) have similar, different, or conflicting views on certain factors.

I don’t know yet how restructure the results and discussion to make the findings shine but I know it has to be done. I hope that the third person I sent it to might be able to help with that.


sunset after a rainy day in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts Gaspesie Quebec. I have been here for a week to completely focus on writing my thesis. No TV breaks, only nature breaks here.

For now, my focus will be on recoding and reanalyzing the interview data. Perhaps through this process a clearer picture of how to present the work will emerge.


Processing qualitative data

Now that all these interviews are recorded they need to be transcribed and coded so that I may use them in my analysis of the Montreal waste management and UA systems. Initially I was going to get a work-study student (who would need to be completely bilingual as I have interviews in english and in french) to transcribe all my interviews because I needed to continue to make progress on writing all my chapters in order to graduate on time. Still, this transcribing was time-sensitive, and the work-study office wasn’t getting back to me. In the end, I bit the bullet and did the transcriptions (and got a little help from a friend).

Although my hands and for-arms were exhausted from the constant typing, the transcribing wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It took me about an hour and a half per 15 minute interview, pausing and rewinder on itunes (from my voice memos on the iphone, as the other digital recorder only worked with a PC). I transcribed each one in a separate word¬†file, indicating when I was talking, and using a line or two of space between each “sentence” for the responses in order to do an initial separation of ideas and make it easier to read ( another friend of mine showed me their transcription files so I was able to mirror the style).

The next step was coding. I talked to my social science friends and they recommended MAXQDA and Dedoose. It seems like people learn MAXQDA in class and is pretty standard (and they have a Mac version now which means I can use it, and they do have a student license price). Dedoose seems to have the same functionality but its an online platform and you pay a monthly subscription.

In the end I went with Dedoose because they had good online tutorial videos, and because I liked the idea of learning how to use¬†something that others could also use in future collaborative work (as it isn’t expensive and online). Coding went pretty well, although the site would often “crash” and ask me to log out and in again. Luckily I never lost any of the coding though, so it didn’t seem like too big of a deal.

I ended up with 27 themes (I didn’t predetermine my themes, I let them emerge from reading all the interviews once, and then coding). I think some of them can probably be combined into larger themes though. I plan on recoding everything and comparing the 1st and 2nd try, but using broader themes on the second round. One code that Dedoose suggested in a tutorial was also quite helpful: the “Great Quotes”. I was able to download the file with the “Great Quotes” (and associated codes for the excerpts), translate them and also note where I think they could fit into the structure of my article. I also downloaded code counts, concurrence, and a word cloud of the code application to help me in my analysis.

I can definitely say, after my 1st analysis of the interview materials, that this line of inquiry has really added a lot of richness to my understanding of the Montreal system and the facilitators and barriers to P recycling through composting. The interviews not only added confirmation to some of the aspects I had previously identified, they gave me additional information about two potential barriers I had not put at the forefront of my analysis previously. They also made me totally rethink about alternative solutions to present in the discussion (because of these barriers).


more views while traveling to interview key participants at their place of buisness

In mainstream news, I was so happy to see National Geographic talking about urine recycling in the US (thus P recycling!!!!).

Back in the field

Over the past two and a half weeks I have been “running” all over the island conducting my semi-structured interviews. It is very reminiscent of last summer, where I spent a good amount of time on public transit in order to do surveys in peoples’ gardens and farms. I am less nervous this time around though, as I mostly contacted people I had already done the quantitative survey with (although I had to contact some new people as some respondents moved or changed jobs and thus could not be interviewed). I had also conducted interviews in my Master’s work, so this isn’t my first time (balancing letting the respondent the freedom to answer the open-ended questions, and when to chime-in with prompts to direct the interview towards the subject mater I want to hear about).

To cover my basis I have been recording with my iphone and with a digital voice recorder. Thank god I have been doing both because in a few instances one of the recordings failed.


In other news:

A fellow McGill graduate student has put together a really nice set of links about science communication, funding, and teaching. I lot of the links there are ones that I have used in the blog. It is so wonderful to see colleagues use their web presence to share resources! Here, is also another colleague who has started a blog about design and science.

Through twitter I also came to read three good posts about writing science papers (here, here, and here), and one about creating a good presentation (here).