Coding is a qualitative data analysis strategy in which some aspect of the data is assigned a descriptive label that allows the researcher to identify related content across the data. How you decide to code - or whether to code- your data should be driven by your methodology. But there are rarely step-by-step descriptions, and you'll have to make many decisions about how to code for your own project.
Some questions to consider as you decide how to code your data:
What aspects of your data will you code? If you are not coding all of your available data, how will you decide which elements need to be coded? If you have recordings interviews or focus groups, or other types of multimedia data, will you create transcripts to analyze and code? Or will you code the media itself (see Farley, Duppong & Aitken, 2020 on direct coding of audio recordings rather than transcripts).
Depending on your methodology, your coding scheme may come from previous research and be applied to your data (deductive). Or you my try to develop codes entirely from the data, ignoring as much as possible, previous knowledge of the topic under study, to develop a scheme grounded in your data (inductive). In practice, however, many practices will fall between these two approaches.
You may decide to use software to code your qualitative data, to re-purpose other software tools (e.g. Word or spreadsheet software) or work primarily with physical versions of your data. Qualitative software is not strictly necessary, though it does offer some advantages, like:
Will you deploy a line-by-line coding approach, with smaller codes eventually condensed into larger categories or concepts? Or will you start with codes applied to larger segments of the text, perhaps later reviewing the examples to explore and re-code for differences between the segments?
How you report your coding process should align with the methodology you've chosen. Your methodology may call for careful and consistent application of a coding scheme, with reports of inter-rater reliability and counts of how often a code appears within the data. Or you may use the codes to help develop a rich description of an experience, without needing to indicate precisely how often the code was applied.
If you are working with another researcher or a team, your coding process requires careful planning and implementation. You will likely need to have regular conversations about your process, particularly if your goal is to develop and consistently apply a coding scheme across your data.
The MAXQDA interface is the same across Mac and Windows devices.
Deterding, N. M., & Waters, M. C. (2021). Flexible coding of in-depth interviews: A twenty-first-century approach. Sociological Methods & Research, 50(2), 708–739. https://doi.org/10.1177/0049124118799377
Farley, J., Duppong Hurley, K., & Aitken, A. A. (2020). Monitoring implementation in program evaluation with direct audio coding. Evaluation and Program Planning, 83, 101854. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2020.101854
Ryan, G. W., & Bernard, H. R. (2003). Techniques to identify themes. Field Methods, 15(1), 85–109. https://doi.org/10.1177/1525822X02239569.