How to Find Themes

When you start to work with a corpus of written text, just read it and if you see something that you think might be important, highlight it, either with markers or on a

BOX 19.1


Grounded-theory research is mostly based on inductive or ''open'' coding. The idea is to become grounded in the data and to allow understanding to emerge from close study of the texts. That's why Barney Glaser and Anslem Strauss (1967), the originators of this approach, called it the discovery of grounded theory.

Content analysis (which we'll take up in a bit) is mostly based on deductive coding. In doing deductive analysis of text, you start with a hypothesis before you start coding. The idea is to test whether your hypothesis is correct. Inductive research is what you do when you're in the exploratory and discovery phase of any research project, whether your data are words or numbers. Deductive research is what you do in the confirmatory stage of any research project—no matter what kind of data you have. There is no point in talking about which is better. They're both terrific if you use them to answer appropriate questions.

computer. Some of the words and phrases you highlight will turn into names for themes. In fact, Corbin and Strauss (2008:65) recommend explicitly using actual phrases from your text—the words of real people—to name themes, a technique they call in vivo coding.

Willms et al. (1990) and Miles and Huberman (1994) suggest starting with some general themes derived from reading the literature and adding more themes and subthemes as you go. This is somewhere between inductive and deductive coding. You have a general idea of what you’re after and you know what at least some of the big themes are, but you’re still in a discovery mode, so you let new themes emerge from the texts as you go along.

Look for repetitions. ‘‘Anyone who has listened to long stretches of talk,’’ says Roy D’Andrade, ‘‘knows how frequently people circle through the same network of ideas’’ (1991:287). In my study of how ocean scientists interact with the people in Washington, DC, who are responsible for ocean policy (Bernard 1974), I kept hearing the word ‘‘brokers.’’ Scientists and policymakers alike used this word to describe people whom they trusted to act as go-betweens, so ‘‘broker’’ became one of the code themes for my work.

Look for unusual terms or common words that are used in unusual ways. James Sprad- ley (1972) recorded conversations among homeless men (they were called tramps in those days) at informal gatherings, meals, and card games. Spradley kept hearing the men talk about ‘‘making a flop,’’ which was their jargon for finding place to sleep each night. Spradley went through his material and isolated everything he could find about flops: ways to make a flop, kinds of people who bother you when you flop, and so on. Then Spradley went back to his informants and asked them for more information about each of these subthemes.

And, said Spradley (1979:199-201), look for evidence of social conflict, cultural contradictions, informal methods of social control, things that people do in managing impersonal social relationships, methods by which people acquire and maintain achieved and ascribed status, and information about how people solve problems. Each of these arenas is likely to yield major themes in cultures.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >