Data displays

In the context of qualitative analysis, a display is a visual format that presents information systematically so that the user can draw valid conclusions and take the required action. In the case of qualitative research the typical mode of display has been extended, unreduced text that the analyst scans through, attaching codes and then extracting code segments and drawing conclusions. The analyst then writes a second form of extended text: a case study report.

Unreduced text by itself is a weak, cumbersome form of display. It makes analysis difficult because data are dispersed over many pages and they are not easy to see as a whole. They are sequential rather than simultaneous, making it difficult to look at two or three variables at once. They are also poorly ordered and can become bulky and monotonously overloading. Making careful comparisons between several extended texts can also be difficult.

Valid analysis requires displays that are focused enough to allow a viewing of a full dataset in the same location and are arranged systematically to answer the research questions at hand. In this sense a full dataset means the condensed, distilled data drawn from a full range of people, events and processes that have been systematically studied. The chances of drawing and verifying valid conclusions are much greater than for extended text: the display is arranged coherently to permit careful comparisons to detect differences in patterns and themes and to spot the trends.

Generating formats to display qualitative data is relatively easy. Formats can be as various as the imagination of the analyst permits. They fall into two major types: matrices, with defined rows and columns, and networks, with a series of nodes with links between them. The data entries can take on different forms: a short block of text, quotes, phrases, ratings, abbreviations, symbolic figures, labelled lines and so on. The display format and the nature and shape of the entries will depend on what the researcher is trying to understand.

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