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Open Coding Analysis

By Mark McCaslin, Ph.D.

Open coding is an inductive, analytical procedure that performs two basic tasks: it makes comparisons and it asks questions. For this reason grounded theory is often referred to as the constant comparative method of analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Open coding is the systematic process of sorting through the data, categorizing events and concepts by their properties and dimensional range. These some categories are, during reflective (axial) coding related to each other to see how they interplay. Generally in grounded theory open and reflective (axial) coding happen within the confines of the same coding session (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

The complexity of categories generated during open coding creates a maze not easily decipherable. The point of this exercise is to uncover as many relevant categories as possible and then loosely link them by their dimensions. Of course it is possible to discover thousands of possible categories and hundreds of possible relationships with even moderate data streams. What this reveals is that while it is not a difficult task to intuitively break down the data through open coding, it can be a lengthy one.

Glaser recommends the analyst constantly ask three questions:

  1. What is this data a study of?
  2. What category or property of a category, of what part of the emerging theory, does this incident indicate?
  3. What is actually happening in the data? (p. 57).

 In open coding, the data must be analyzed line by line, coding each sentence. This can begin with an overview approach in which the analyst somewhat quickly reads over all the data to yield, “an impressionistic cluster of categories” (p.  58) but each line must be analyzed in order to verify and saturate categories. All data must be coded. Otherwise, says Glaser, “the emerging theory does not fully fit or work for the data” (p. 56). The analyst continues to open code until a  core process emerges, resisting the temptation to become selective too quickly. Memos facilitate the decision to move from open to selective coding by forcing the analyst to, “[go] over and over the data to be sure it works with ease, before  a secure investment is taken in selective coding for a focus on a core variable” (p. 61).

 In the data posted in the example below, Empowering the Potential of Original Greatness, I coded out 72 open codes. Remember in qualitative research you are the tool of the research. Therefore it is possible as you code out the very  same material you might end up with fewer or even a great many more open codes than were revealed to me. The codes are highlighted in yellow.

 Tomorrow I will begin the process of putting the data back together through reflective or axial coding processes that will be the process of building a reflective matrix.  

 See an Example of Open Coding

 Click here to see an example of open coding from Empowering the Potential of Original Greatness