Speed up your qualitative analysis with Data Stripping Sheets

Author: Tom Wein

Download the Data Stripping Sheet tool here.

All researchers know the feeling: another late night, another tight deadline. It shouldn’t be that way, this time it wasn’t going to be that way, but somehow it is. Your interview transcripts are back in, and they are brimming with urgent data – if only you had time to analyze them.

The Data Stripping Sheet is a tool I’ve built to speed up qualitative analysis.

What it’s for: A Data Stripping Sheet is a structured tool for quicker analysis of qualitative data. It’s easy to teach, and is quickly mastered by people who haven’t done much qualitative analysis before – meaning you can delegate with greater confidence, and easily include new perspectives from other stakeholders. For a recent project I led in Somaliland, it roughly halved the time it took to analyze our data. Unlike Atlas and Nvivo, it’s also free.

Data Stripping Sheets are not what the textbooks advise. They are certainly less rigorous than repeated reviews of transcripts and the careful work of building up codes, concepts and categories. They work best when you are happy with more structure, and they mean that you are less likely to get surprising findings. They won’t be right for every project. Decide whether they’re right for yours:

When to use a Data Stripping Sheet, and when not to When time is of the essence, and you are prepared to trade some rigour for more speed When you are looking to extract answers on a topic you know well, but not when you are initially exploring a new subject When you want many people to have input into the analysis, but not when one lead researcher needs a very deep understanding

How to use it: You can view the full example here. First, decide on your columns. In the (made-up) example below, we have recorded interview code, demographic variables, and two questions about TV and internet use. That’s pretty standard – but adapt it as you need to. Then paste all of your interview data into the relevant columns.

Interview Code Transcript URL Gender Age Location What is your favourite TV show Do you use the internet? What for? 1 F 37 Mombassa I love Shamba Shape Up. It’s just so useful. I have got so many good tips. I prefer to use the internet on my phone, mainly for checking weather and prices. 2 M 21 Kilfi I only really watch the news. But not often, mostly I don’t watch TV. I get to an internet café when I can afford it, just to watch videos and chat. 3 F 42 Mombassa Shamba Shape Up is the best show on TV. I always catch it. I try to hear the news and get information about weather and prices

Finally, at the bottom of each column, write a sentence or two of analysis on the general trends observed in the data, and on what variation you observed. These are useful notes that you can synthesize from when you come to decide the findings, and they are not final.

General trend Shamba Shape Up is the  most popular show. Reasons given included its entertaining presenters and its valuable tips. The only other TV show mentioned was CSI. A minority did not watch TV at all. Variation Older respondents were keen on Shamba Shape Up, while those who did not watch TV were younger. There was no clear difference by gender or location.

You can adapt this however you need. It’s always a good idea to read along the row too, to make sure you are understanding answers in context, and so you might want to add a column at the end which summarises a whole interview if you read across. You can also keep adding rows for different analytical questions – for instance, you can add a separate row for gender, or for ‘implications for our programme’ – whatever you know you need to be aware of.

I hope you find this tool helpful. It’s been hugely valuable to me over the years. Please feel free to use it and adapt for any purpose. If you do, please find room to credit me. And here’s hoping it saves you some late nights.

Download the Data Stripping Sheet tool here.

Bio: Tom Wein is a research consultant, and the founder of The Dignity Project. He works to advance justice and create better governance through useful research. He has a website and he tweets @tom_wein.