How to Code Qualitative Data

When it comes to coding qualitative data, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, the best way to code qualitative data will vary depending on the research question, the data, and the researcher’s coding style.

What is Coding in Qualitative Research?

Coding is the process of assigning numerical values or code symbols to data so it can be analyzed. In qualitative research, coding is often used to organize and interpret data. Qualitative data can be coded by hand or with software.

(Learn why you should use qualitative data analysis software in this post)

How to Code Qualitative Data

This article will talk more about exactly how to code qualitative data. It will discuss some of the different methods for coding qualitative data and the pros and cons of each method. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of how to code qualitative data and what method is best for your needs.

First, let’s discuss the benefits of coding qualitative data in the first place.

Benefits of Coding Qualitative Data

There are several benefits to coding qualitative data. 

  • First, it can help you to organize and structure your data. This is especially helpful if you have a large amount of data or if your data is unstructured. 
  • Coding can also help you to see patterns in your data that you might not have noticed before. 
  • Additionally, coding can help you to code more efficiently and accurately, something any researcher can benefit from.

(Don’t miss this article next: 4 Digital Strategies to Facilitate Qualitative Data Collection)

Methods to Code Qualitative Data

There are a few different methods for coding qualitative data.

The first method is called manual coding. This method involves reading through your data and manually assigning code numbers to each piece of data.

Manual coding is often used for small datasets or for datasets that are not too complex. However, coding by hand can be very tedious and error-prone. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to make mistakes when coding by hand. That’s why some researchers prefer to use qualitative analysis software programs to code their data.

(Visit this post next to read a more in-depth explanation of qualitative analysis software)

The second method is called computer-assisted coding. This method uses qualitative analysis software to code your data for you. Computer-assisted coding is often used for large datasets or for very complex datasets.

Qualitative analysis software offers significant advantages over hand-coding, such as increased efficiency and accuracy. In addition, qualitative analysis software often includes features that make coding more manageable, such as codebooks and search functions.

Choosing How to Code Qualitative Data

So, which method should you use to code your qualitative data? The answer depends on a few factors, including the size of your dataset and the complexity of your data.

Manual coding might be the best option if you have a small dataset. Computer-assisted coding might be the best option if you have a large or complex dataset. And if you have a dataset that falls somewhere in the middle, mixed-methods, where you use hand coding and software together, might suit..

Deductive coding vs. inductive coding 

Another decision you’ll need to make when coding qualitative data is whether to use deductive coding or inductive coding.

Deductive coding is a top-down approach in which you code your data based on pre-existing theory. With deductive coding, you code data that supports your hypothesis and code data that contradicts your hypothesis.

Inductive coding is a bottom-up approach in which you code your data without pre-existing theory. With inductive coding, you let the data guide your codes.

Which method you choose depends on your research goals. For example, deductive coding might be best if you’re testing a specific hypothesis. On the other hand, if you’re exploring a new topic and want to let the data guide your research, inductive coding might be the best option.

Tips for Coding Qualitative Data

Regardless of the method you choose to code your data, there are six tips to keep in mind to make the process go smoothly.

  • First, make sure to code consistently. This means using the same code for similar data and using different codes for different data. Consistent coding will make your data easier to analyze.
  • Second, use code symbols that are easy to remember or meaningful to you. This will help you to code more quickly and accurately.
  • Third, create a codebook. A codebook is a document that lists all of the codes you use and what each code represents. Codebooks can be very helpful when coding large datasets.
  • Fourth, take your time. Coding qualitative data can be time-consuming, so allow yourself enough time to do it properly.
  • Fifth, keep an eye out for patterns. As you code, look for patterns in your data. These patterns can help identify themes and trends in your data.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to change your codes. If you find that a code isn’t working well, feel free to change it.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to code qualitative data. The important thing is the code makes sense to you and helps you to analyze your data. Coding qualitative data can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.


If you’re searching for qualitative analysis software to help you code qualitative data with ease, explore what LiGRE has to offer. Sign up for your free trial today!

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