Finding a method to analyse qualitative data: using a study of conceptual learning

18 Dec 2009

There is increasing awareness in the health sciences of the potential of qualitative research to address questions that quantitative research cannot satisfactorily answer. While a growing number of studies in health sciences and health sciences education discuss the value of such research or describe the methodology and data collection processes, few detail how analysis was carried out. Reliability and validity of findings from qualitative research depend on the quality of data management, retrieval, and interpretation or identification of meaning. The robustness of data analysis is therefore an important factor in the rigor of qualitative research. This article uses a study of dental students’ conceptual learning to illustrate strategies that ensure rigor in qualitative analysis. Factors that informed the decisions regarding analysis are discussed in detail. The use of both grounded theory and literature is discussed. The role that deductive and inductive reasoning played in the analysis is outlined. A brief section illustrates the kinds of conclusions that can be made about conceptual learning when qualitative data are rigorously analyzed. Finally, potential shortcomings in the study and alternatives or additional mechanisms for ensuring validity and reliability of analysis are discussed.