Displaying Data

When reporting the findings of qualitative research studies, it is typically very important to display data.  Qualitative data may be displayed by:

  • selecting key quotes or exemplars
  • building tables or matrices
  • using diagrams to visually display theories or models that emerged from a qualitative study

Displaying direct quotes, short stories or excerpts from interviews, focus groups, field notes or naturally-occurring talk are a widely used method for describing themes. 

Using direct quotes is important because it allows readers to examine the data collected and analyzed by the researchers, to understand the findings of the analysis, and to evaluate the plausibility, credibility or face validity of the researchers' claims. 

Knowing how and when to including quoted text in a report or manuscript is difficult and takes practice.  A few guidelines may be useful:

  • Choose excerpts that clearly support the claim you make in your findings.  The best excerpts should be selected to support your interpretation and findings
  • Include enough text in the quoted segment so that your reader will understand what the participant was saying and meaning, but not so much text that there is extraneous or non-relevant material in a quoted passage
  • Include information that identifies the person quoted.  This should be done in a manner that allows the reader to understand how often your are quoting the same study participant, but does not in any way reveal the identity of the participant (e.g. participant 1, 2, 3...)  If the person's role is relevant (e.g. physician, patient) consider also including this information.
  • Identify the the directly quoted text using conventions that allow the reader to quickly understand that it is directly quoted (e.g. indent, italicize, and or use quotation marks to demarcate this text)
  • When integrating quotes into a report, it is important that the authors guide the way readers attend to the quote.  This is done by including written material before and after quotes that present the researchers' understanding or interpretation of the quote. 
  • Keep in mind that the use of quotations and the articulation of findings interweave or go hand-in-hand.  In the final research stages, it is not unusual for refinement of one's analysis and manuscript preparation to emerge simultaneously.

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