Contribution by Maria Griffin, NLCC Center Director, Dr. Gary Bess and Jim Myers, NLCC Language Evaluators

Most people have heard and know about quantitative data, but few recognize the term qualitative data. Qualitative data is information about the quality of an item not the measured feature or part of the information. In other words, “qualitative data DESCRIBES whereas quantitative data DEFINES” (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/qualitative-data.html). Language programs rely mostly on qualitative data from their teachers, students, and community participants to determine whether their program is providing quality language-knowledge transfer.

Three steps can be followed to benefit from the qualitative data that you likely have access to and have never thought about analyzing.

  1. Conducting a content analysis can transform qualitative material (words) into quantitative data for qualitative generalizations. It is a research technique used to validate deductions by interpreting and coding textual (written) material. Content analysis can be a process conducted by one person. However, having more than one person reviewing the data will likely yield findings that are more reliable. Findings from the content analysis will have to be agreed upon by those reviewing the content to be considered a “good” finding. Two types of content exist.
    • Manifest content is evidence that is directly seen, such as frequency of certain words or concepts in written materials, that enable you to count the number of references.
    • Latent content refers to the underlying meaning of the written materials reviewed, such as your interpretation of the underlying themes.To analyze the content of your material, try these three stages. 
    • Conduct a systematic review of the selected written documents. Examples can include:
      • Timelines
      • Resource list
      • Promotional materials (flyers, posters, brochures)
      • Meeting minutes
      • Proposals
      • Letters
      • Participant comments (from surveys or questionnaires)
      • Presentations (oral and written (PowerPoint))
      • Reports 
    • Focus on ideas being communicated, and in the case of minutes, for example, consider how they may change over time.
    • Look at similar words used, values stated, concerns expressed and later resolved, approaches taken, etc.
      By systematically evaluating texts (e.g., documents, oral communication, and graphics), and discovering similar words and phrases used, or recurrent themes expressed, qualitative data can be converted into quantitative data.
  2. “Unearth” surprise or investigated themes from the analyses.
  3. Summarize your findings in written form, with representative comments, where you can. Here’s an example of summarized data.

Respondents Perceptions of Impact

Respondents were asked to share their perceptions of how Venice Arts had impacted their life. Their written responses reflected three primary themes: (1) Venice Arts provided the opportunity to learn/gain knowledge in the arts: “VA encouraged me to make work, as well as supported healthy creative expression.” (2) Participation led to a future in the arts (art school, art careers): “I discovered my love for animation, and I’ve met great people who have supported my goals, and who still continue to support me.” (3) Relationships formed at Venice Arts were important to their overall experience: “Amazing mentors. I felt seen and heard.”

It may take some practice to be able to identify and code qualitative data, but once you have your themes, similar words, concepts, etc. identified, you will be able to provide a summary that supports your language program efforts.