Friday, November 14, 2003

Reading:: Analyzing Streams of Language

Originally posted: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 20:07:56

Analyzing Streams of Language : Twelve Steps to the Systematic Coding of Text, Talk, and Other Verbal Data

by Cheryl A Geisler

I ordered and reviewed this book partially because I'll be teaching a qualitative research class next spring and I'm on the prowl for good texts. Not sure that this is a good fit for that particular class -- it trends quantitative -- but it's a very strong textbook nevertheless. I found myself wishing that it had been around when I was taking my grad courses in research (and maybe wishing Geisler had been around to teach them).

The book is well considered and well put together. It starts with the review of the literature and goes all the way through presenting the results of the study. And it manages to describe what's happening in plain language, making things look simple where before they seemed insanely complicated. Examples, tips, and exercises help pull us through. It's a fast read; I think I spent a total of 90 minutes on it, although to be fair I skimmed some parts.

But the most striking -- and at the same time the most limiting -- feature is the tight integration with Microsoft Word and Excel. Geisler points out that MS Office, which appears to be on practically every Windows and Mac machine in the world, is a fine tool for coding and analyzing data, so who needs more expensive tools such as Nvivo or ATLASti? So Geisler provides detailed instructions on how to get Word and Excel to do sophisticated analyses, exploiting very specific features that many people don't know about. On the one hand, this is a welcome development: students at UT can buy Office for $5, so why spend $500 on a high-powered qualitative research tool? On the other hand, the book starts to sound like an extended ad for a particular version of a particular office suite. The next time MS Office gets upgraded, the book will be out of date. Or is this planned obsolesence? I'm also not sure how germane the advice is to those of us who are running different office suites.

The book's website, maintained by Geisler, contains videos, exercises, spreadsheets, and other resources, including what I think is supposed to be a sample syllabus. It could be useful, but it doesn't appear to be very extensive or well maintained. I saw some disconcerting typos -- as I did in the book, most distressingly in the first paragraph of the first chapter.

All in all, well worth it. If you're intimidated by the thought of analyzing verbal data, particularly with simple statistics, check this book out.

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