Data management strategy

Data management in chaos
Binary code chaos

For the Qualitative researcher the implementation of data management is a necessary and essential task when attempting to analyse data as part of the research process. It is very much likely the case, that as the researcher, by this stage you have  amassed a large quantity of qualitative data which can include  interviews, focus groups or survey data. Before anything can be done with this data it needs validating, organising and preparing for analysis. Hence at this juncture there are two options firstly the researcher can develop a manual process of data management or the researcher can live a little on the edge and go hi-tech by employing an electronic process of data management.

The decision to go with either Manual or electronic is an essential one with Basit (2003) arguing that this is by far “one of the significant steps taken during analysis to organise and make sense of textual data”. Ultimately this depends on the type of data you have collected and the skills and motivation of the person undertaking the research, hence it can be argued that no size really fits all. It can be argued that if you have amassed a large amount of data then within this scenario a electronic approach might be sensible, otherwise how would you search and track codes within this data set. Alternatively if you have a small data set for example 5-6 interviews then a manual process might be prudent.

As the researcher if you decide to go down the electronic data management route then the next question you need to ask yourself is which software you will use. You have two main choices here, for Quantitive data analysis you can use software such as SPSS which is wonderful for crunching large numerical data and identifying underlying trends in the data. I must warn you though SPSS has a pretty steep learning curve and can take many weeks/months to fully master. However if you decide to develop a Qualitative data analysis approach then Nvivo is the software you need. Nvivo is primarily a text organisation tool, it helps to organise your transcribed information into specific nodes. These nodes then become the fulcrum in developing key themes. I have written about Nvivo and its value in more Using Nvivo for Data management.

If you feel that the electronic method is not for you then you need to develop a manual process. You can do this in multiple ways. The most common method I have come across is the printing of data and your codes/organisation elements are pencilled in on the margins. Be careful when choosing this process, it can become difficult to collate nodes together, especially if you have a lot of data.

Do not take this process lightly, in the view of Auerbach and Silverstein (2003) this is not a process for the faint hearted, they argue that the process of data management can for some researchers feel intimidating and overwhelming leading to confusion and in some cases data overload. So approach with caution and create a data management strategy which helps to develop your data analysis approach, not hinder it.


Auerbach, C. F., & Silverstein, L. B. (2003). Qualitative data: An introduction to coding and analysis. NYU press.


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