Coding Qualitative Data – Beginner Guide for PhD Researchers

So, have you collected all the qualitative data you need for your research project? Congratulations. You are done with the most difficult part of your PhD research. However, the actual difficulty is yet to begin, and it is about coding qualitative data in the right manner. Qualitative data consists of non-numeric data, e.g., words, expressions, and statements. To analyse this kind of data, the first dragon you need to slay is its effective coding. But what is actually coding, and how can you perform it?

This is the primary question that we are going to answer in today’s post. Many researchers collect qualitative data, and they lose the thread or run out of gas when it comes to analysing the collected data. The primary reason behind this is that they do not know how to perform the coding of qualitative data. Therefore, in today’s post, we will uncover all the strategies for coding qualitative data. Let’s start by explaining what coding is.

What is qualitative data coding in research?

Let’s start understanding the coding of qualitative data by defining the term code first. A code is a label that describes the content of a text in a shortened form. For example, in your survey questionnaire, you asked the question, “Are you male or female?” here, you can code the data by assigning a number, let’s say, 1 to the male and 2 to the female. It means wherever you see the number 1; it means a male is answering the questionnaire. Hence, it means qualitative data coding is the process of assigning different codes to categorise different data extracts. Once done, you will then use those codes to derive meaningful themes and patterns from the data.

How to perform qualitative data coding?

Coding qualitative data is not an easy task. As PhD researchers collect tons of data, it is difficult for them to code that at once and handling this much data makes things more complicated. So, in order to code the data perfectly, you, as a researcher, must have knowledge of all the strategies or steps involved. A brief description of all the steps is as follows:

Do the first-round pass at the data

First things first, before starting the coding process of the data, you must do the first-round pass at the data. It means that you must go through all the data and assign different codes to various datasets initially. At this stage of coding, you should not worry about creating the perfect codes. The reason is that you will be reiterating and revisiting these codes as you move on to further steps. In the first-round pass, you can use coding methods like in-vivo coding, process coding, open coding, and descriptive coding.

Organise the codes into categories

Step no. 2 is about organising the codes. Once you are done with the first-round pass at your qualitative data, you can begin to group the codes into different categories. Defining the categories and then grouping the codes into the same category easy your work a lot in the long run. When doing this, you might not be able to find a good structure to analyse your data. So, if this is the case, reiterate the initially given codes and repeat the same procedure until you get organised data. If you still fail to do so, hire a PhD dissertation help.

Do further rounds of coding qualitative data

Next, do some further rounds of coding and examine all the categories you have created so far. In this step, you may rename, re-categorise the data, or merge some categories upon identification of new similarities between them. It is important to note that these rounds of data coding are about reanalysing the initially given codes and looking for the patterns in the qualitative data. After doing this step, you get one step closer to developing theories and concepts based on your analysis.

Turn codes into your final interpretation

The last step in coding qualitative data is interpreting the codes and giving your verdict. Use all codes and themes identified in them to construct your final narrative. Depending on your analysis, the final outcome of your coding could be a theory, a set of findings, or a narrative built around the codes. Start writing the theory you have formulated and inform your audience about that theory through your PhD dissertation.


Coding qualitative data is the most challenging task that you will ever work on. The reason is that this data consists of numbers, expressions, and statements, and dealing with such kind of data is a big headache. Reading the text line by line and then coding it into different categories, and then analysing the themes are some of the steps involved in this process.