Shirah Hecht on Common Desktop Software for Qualitative Data Analysis Part II: Microsoft Word’s Outline Mode: Interviews or Participant Observation Notes

Shirah Hecht here again, with a second method to move qualitative data efficiently from analysis to presentation using common desktop software.

Outline mode in Microsoft Word allows you to place text under headers and sub-headers that can be expanded, collapsed, and re-ordered – taking all of the text, when you move a header.  With this tool, you get an overview of a larger amount of text, and also see details as needed.

Learn about Outline mode in Word here.

Here’s the basic method to use this tool for qualitative data:

(1)   Open two documents simultaneously:

  1. Your original typed notes in Word (raw data file)
  2. A new Word document where you will work in Outline mode (analysis file)

(2)   As you read through your notes, create headers in your analysis file reflecting themes or topics.  Create and revise headers and sub-headers as needed, until you finalize them.

(3)   Copy chunks from your original text (paragraphs, extended quotes) into the analysis file, under the appropriate topical header in “normal” text with interview source.

(4)   As you copy, collapse and expand the outline to find relevant sections.

(5)   With the new nearly-raw copy of your notes, you can:

  1. Re-order individual quotes in a section to support analysis.
  2. See and review all quotes on a given topic, to write up your interpretation.
  3. Delete unneeded quotes; keep and clean the few you’ll use to illustrate.

This Outline Mode visual is from a final report; categories reflect completed analysis.

Hecht rev 3

Lessons Learned:

  • Use clear headers to revise the outline order easily.  Don’t be word-shy at first.
  • Expect three stages of the analysis document: all raw text copied into headers; draft report with narrative; final report with all the trimmings and sources noted or deleted.

Hot Tips:

  • As you code the text chunk, don’t think too much about the content, beyond the basic topic it addresses. Later, you’ll consider the results in light of all comments on that topic.
  • Everything that’s reasonably on the topic among the responses gets a code!
  • Highlight interview text in your original file, as you copy it to the analysis file to track your work. It’s also a great motivator to feeling you’re making progress!
  • Put your original interview or observation notes in a different color font.  Once you’ve completed your report, you can convert all text to normal font.

Rad Resources:

Great guides for inductively analyzing and reporting on qualitative data:

H. S. Becker, Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about Your Research While Doing It

H.S. Becker, with a chapter by Pamela Richards, Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article

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1 thought on “Shirah Hecht on Common Desktop Software for Qualitative Data Analysis Part II: Microsoft Word’s Outline Mode: Interviews or Participant Observation Notes”

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