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Writing Up

Authors of this page: Graham R. Gibbs

Affiliation: University of Huddersfield

Date written: 30th June 2005




Writing Reports

You should have been recording your thoughts and ideas as the project analysis progressed. The more writing that you do during the project the easier you'll find it to bring it all together into a report.

Nevertheless it can hard to get started with producing your final write up, thesis or paper. Try these approaches:

  • Start with a outline of what you want to cover
  • Start with the project's objectives
  • Free-write involves writing as fast as you can and then editing it


The structure of the report depends on how you want to present your research. Here are some options:

  • A set structure of chapters/sections e.g. thesis or commercial report
  • Each individual case study is presented followed by a discussion of their differences and similarities
  • The main themes identified forms the structure using supporting examples from the data
  • The main themes are presented using a different individual case study to support each theme

(Adapted from King 1998)


The focus of the research is also a useful guide for presenting your findings. The focus may modify during the research and becomes clear as the analysis and writing progress. Discussing you project with others will help you put your project into context. So that the majority of the themes identified can be related or explained by the focus of the project.


Redrafting involves editing and improving the the report on your research. This takes time and it involves re-reading what you have written and then reflecting how you can improve the flow.

  • Have some time away from a section you have written so you can come back with 'fresh' eyes and see what needs improving
  • Get friends and relatives to read your writing with little knowledge of the topic area but be specific what you want feedback on (length, style, accuracy or spelling and grammar)
  • Specified word lengths force you to edit out chunks of text that are not essential to the report

A first draft of the report really helps bring it all together and see what changes need to be made.

  1. Read the text through and ask yourself:
    • what am I trying to say?
    • who is the text for?
    • what changes will make the text clearer and easier to follow?
  2. Global or big changes (e.g. rewriting sections) you might consider are:
    • reordering, parts of the text;
    • rewriting sections;
    • adding examples or removing duplicate examples;
    • changing the examples for better ones;
    • deleting parts that seem confusing.
  3. Minor text changes you might consider are:
    • simpler wording;
    • shorter sentences;
    • shorter paragraphs;
    • active rather than passive tenses;
    • substituting positive constructions for negatives;
    • writing sequences in order;
    • spacing numbered sequences or lists down the page (as here).
  4. Read the revised text through to see if you want to make any further global changes.
  5. Finally, repeat this whole procedure some time (say twenty-four hours) after making your original revisions, and do it without looking back at the original text."

(Adapted from Hartley 1989: 90)


The style of writing depends of the type of report. The traditional style for papers and theses is scientific and realist approach:

  • Passive voice
  • Past tense
  • Informants words only used in supporting quotations

A modern style is the reflective approach:

  • The researcher reflects on all the data collected and interprets what is happening which goes beyond an informants words
  • Relative approach accepts the researcher constructs knowledge
  • Researchers need to reflect on the "... implications of their methods, values, biases and decisions for the knowledge of the social world they create." (Gibbs, 2006)

The most common format in academic journals, dissertations and PhD theses is:

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Literature review
  4. Research design/methods
  5. Results/Analysis
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion

It is important that your style of writing up is appropriate for your field/discipline and also the target audience.



Hartley, J. (1989) 'Tools for evaluating text', in J. Hartley and A. Branthwaite (eds), The Applied Psychologist. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Gibbs, G.R. (2006, forthcoming) How to analyse qualitative data. London: Sage.

King, N. (1998) 'Template Analysis', in G. Symon and C. Cassell (eds), Qualitative Methods and Analysis in Organizational Research. London: Sage.

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The resources on this site by Graham R Gibbs, Dawn Clarke, Celia Taylor, Christina Silver and Ann Lewins are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.