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Sorting out the Codebook

Coding Schema issues

Author of this page: Ann Lewins

Affiliation: University of Surrey

Date written: 5th Aug 2005



The ‘large’ coding schema, moving on, refining

Large coding schema are often a result of:

  • Working from bottom up e.g. when looking for themes etc emerging from the text
  • The ease with which codes can be created in software
  • Not being sure when to stop code creation, how much detail to record
  • Much detailed descriptive coding
  • Using ‘contexts’ to form the organisational structure of a hierarchical framework


In respect of how researchers work, a large coding schema may often be intuitively and very thoughtfully created and may present no problem at all to the experienced researcher. 


An awareness of an 'overly' large coding schema, however, can often be defined, not by sheer numbers of codes, but by the awareness that ‘things’ and ideas are over-fragmented or over-fractured; the feeling that you may have ‘filed’ the things and ideas efficiently, but they are so dispersed over the coding schema (whether hierarchically arranged or not) that it becomes difficult to move on, to ‘analyse’ at a deeper level.  You become very engaged in navigating around and between the parts of the coding schema; you even begin to feel a sense of panic - time is being wasted - what to do next – how on earth do I pull everything together to form a coherent explanation? 

At this point the answer is a often a combination of pulling the coding schema apart before reassembling, or as is possible with ATLAs.ti and NVivo, and in a different way in MAXqda making collections of codes which allow you to rationalise in different ways without

Software exacerbates the ease with which the overly large coding schema is created because you can create codes so easily,  but other tools in the software can also help you move on. Also see this as an opportunity to come out of the software and use paper and markers to annotate a printed codes list – sometimes its easier to see the whole of a coding schema on paper

You can always physically delete little used codes, or merge codes in order to lose detail and move on with the higher concepts or broader brush themes and categories that are made in this way.

More importantly each software has a collection of ways to help you retain detail (if you want to) but to rationalise in other ways:

1.  Reorganise existing hierarchies

2.  Make collections of codes (cutting across other hierarchies – or imposing order on non-hierarchically organised codes)

3.  Search/query options (e.g. Code A OR Code B) uses software to collect codes and their data, to create new ‘larger’ codes, without eliminating the detailed codes


Software specific suggestions and starting points





Search tools and other devices for rationalising coding schema


Rationalising coding in this sense is not necessarily always about reducing the coding schema structure, though often this can be the final result, it has more to do with wanting to identify new relationships and connections between codes. You may not want to change what seems to be an ordered filing system of codes, but you may want to look at its constituent parts in different ways. 

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