Friday, March 17, 2006

Reading :: Qualitative Data Analysis

Originally posted: Fri, 17 Mar 2006 04:42:16

Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook (2ed)

by Matthew B. Miles and A. Michael Huberman

I read this book about two weeks ago, but everyone in my family has been sick, so I haven't gotten a chance to blog it until now.

Qualitative Data Analysis is a classic sourcebook on principled, rigorous analysis of qualitative data, and if someone ever accuses qualitative research of being entirely subjective or anecdotal, you should show this book to them. Miles and Huberman have correctly identified analysis as the Achilles' heel of much qualitative research and have set out to provide a variety of methods for analyzing it. "You know what you display," they say (sounding positively Latourean), so they also provide guidance on reducing data and displaying it (p.11).

I read this book in 2001, but had forgotten how comprehensive and how valuable it is. Even though the book primarily focuses on analysis, Miles and Huberman provide an overview of the entire process, from design to data collection to analysis and reporting. They discuss how to link qualitative and quantitative data in all phases. And they don't get mired in abstract theoretical discussions (as Creswell and others tend to do). In fact, much of the book consists of concrete, practical techniques such as systems to collect, store, and reconcile data. Think of it as GTD for research.

But where the book really shines is in its discussions of coding and displays. Miles and Huberman tend toward case studies and grounded theory because those two approaches are more apt to be systematic, and their coding discussion owes a lot to grounded theory's approach, which has been lucidly described in many places -- but never more so than here, where Miles and Huberman give plentiful examples from actual studies. Displays such as matrices and diagrams, similarly, are described in great detail and with enough examples that we can develop our own ideas based on them, and have confidence that we know what we are doing.

Every thick book like this has to have common threads to keep it together. Miles and Huberman produce a number of studies that are used to illustrate concepts and techniques throughout the book. These provide coherence and allow us to see a range of different situations to which we can adapt.

The only drawback to the book is that it's copyright 1994, so its discussion of computer-aided qualitative data analysis, though impressively comprehensive, is twelve years out of date. Nevertheless, the principles and comparative points they provide are still very useful.

Research, as I tell my grad students, involves constructing a complex argument. And Miles and Huberman do a great job of showing you how to collect and evaluate evidence, compile it, use it to summarize reasons, and use those reasons to support a claim. If you do any sort of qualitative research at all, you need this book. I only wish I had read it in grad school!>

Blogged with Flock