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Phenomenology Glossary

This glossary provides definitions of terms with specialized meanings in the field of phenomenology

A shorter, less technical, phenomenology glossary is here.


Glossary of Mixed Methods Terms/Concepts
This glossary provides definitions of terms used in mixed methods approaches. These combine, in various ways, both qualitative and quantitative approaches and/or data.


A glossary on qualitative research in marketing


A general research methods glossary at the University of the West of England (Faculty of Health and Social Care).


Internet-Lexikon der Methoden der empirischen Sozialforschung (ILMES)
A very good internet lexicon on methods of empirical research. In German. Gives explanations of concepts and definitions for quantitative and qualitative research.




Abstracts and Indexes

Abstracts are summaries of the content of a journal article (or other text). The abstracts along with complete reference details and keywords (q.v.) are stored in abstracting and indexing services that can be searched electronically.


A specific form of narrative in which respondents try to account for, justify, excuse, legitimate etc. their actions or situation.

Action research

Applied research which seeks to implement policy through the research itself. It involves respondents in the process of investigation and the implementation of the findings. Cf. Evaluation Research and Participant Action Research

Action theory

A social theory in which action, its purposive nature and its meaning to people, is of central importance. Action theory is often associated with Max Weber, who developed the interpretive tradition in social science.


A term used in MAXqda. Activating codes or documents tells the software to use them in a retrieval.

Adjacency Pairs

In conversation analysis a term referring to forms of talk where the first speaker's talk elicits a predictable response. What is significant is the expectation built into such pairs. Speakers can choose to deviate, but the expectation is still present. Cf. Turn-Taking.


The situation when the researcher role combines with that of supporting the group being studied in a political or other sense. Like action research, research as advocacy seeks to change those being researched but also seeks to change the way others see or treat those being researched.


A list of themes, questions and keywords that an open-ended interviewer keeps with them during an interview. The list acts as a reminder of things to bring into the interview, or of ways of developing a line of questioning and does not contain actual questions. (Cf. interview schedule).


In NVivo an icon for a node or document when you construct a set. The actual node or document is not moved into the set. Instead, a new icon alias of (or shortcut to) the original is placed in the set. Deleting an alias does not delete the original.

Analytic induction

A way of building explanations in qualitative analysis by constructing and testing a set of causal links between events, actions etc. in one case and the iterative extension of this to further cases.


Ideas or methods of research which prioritise men's views of the world, excluding the experience of women.


In NVivo a short passage usually commenting on the contents of a document and linked to it as a DataBite.


The process in both transcriptions and research reports of changing names, places, details etc. that might identify people and organisations so that they cannot be identified and yet the overall meaning is preserved.


The systematic protection of the personal identity of respondents. Participants' identities are not recorded or records are destroyed once the data collected has been recorded and analysed. Cf. confidentiality.

Anthropological strangeness

The mental trick of an observer that makes a social setting and the behaviour within it appear as a stranger would see it. If applied to everyday, 'taken-for-granted' events, it can lead to unusual or original insights.


See essentialism

Applied research

A research type focusing on practical issues and seeking solutions.


Repositories of documents, photographs, films etc., often of an historical nature, catalogued and filed for the use of researchers, scholars and other investigators.

Archival research

Studies of people or organisations based on collected documents and other archived materials produced by them. Such materials include government records and personal letters and diaries and may be stored in archives. Some such material is now held electronically.


In a general sense this is any human cultural product recorded or collected for analysis by a researcher, e.g. diaries, photographs, clothing, jewellery, tools and newspapers. More specifically an artefact is a research outcome that has occurred simply because the research has been done. It is a biased outcome resulting from, for instance, the researcher's questions, appearance, behaviour or even just simply their presence. Such distorted results that are referred to as research artefacts.


A metaphor based on assaying minerals to assess their gold content. In qualitative research it refers to a table showing the number of times selected codes appear in each case. In NVivo it is a process of inspecting the properties of a set or the scope of a search (such as a set of documents) to see which items contain text coded at a specific node.


A CAQDAS program. Currently in version 5.


General properties possessed by one or more persons, cases or settings. Very like a variable in quantitative analysis. Similarities within or differences between groups can be identified using attributes. In NVivo an attribute is a property of a node, case or document. An attribute (e.g. Gender) may have several values (e.g. male, female, not relevant) and any particular node, case or document may be assigned just one value for each attribute.


A reduction in the number of participants during the course of a study. If more participants withdraw from one group than another group, this can introduce bias and threaten the generalisability or transferability of the research.

Audit trail

The systematic presentation of material gathered within a naturalistic study that allows others to follow and audit the researcher's thinking and conclusions about the data.


Being original, natural, not influenced especially by the investigations of qualitative research.


An extended account or narrative by a person of their own life. See Biography.


The function in some CAQDAS programs to code the results of a search. E.g. in MAXqda and Atlas.ti this is an option. In NVivo and by default, searches produce a new node.

Automatic activation

Term used in MAXqda referring to the activation (q.v.) of documents by selecting the value of a variable that applies to one or more of them.

Availability sampling

See convenience sampling.

Axial coding

In grounded theory, the second stage of coding in which the relationships of categories are explored and connections between them are made. The analyst begins to select codes that represent and highlight the core issues or themes in the data.

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Any influence that systematically distorts the results of a research study. In a realist approach this will obscure the true nature of what is being studied, and may be caused by the researcher or by the procedures for collecting data, including sampling. From a relativist or interpretative perspective it makes little sense as there is no true nature about which the findings may be biased though a reflexive account of the research does address the issues of trust that the concept of bias addresses.


An extended, written account or narrative of a person's life. It usually has a structure and is expressed in key themes often with an epiphany or turning point. The narrative is usually chronological. Can be contrasted with a life history which is usually given at an interview. However, this distinction is not always maintained and the terms now tend to be used interchangeably.

Boolean Search

Named after the mathematician, Boole, this is a search in which the items being searched for are combined by Boolean connectors such as And, Or and Not. For instance one may search for text that matches the words 'luck' And 'chance' or for text that is Not coded at the code 'Individual interview'. Databases (for example, library catalogues) and CAQDAS programs commonly support such searches.


A process used by researchers working within the Husserlian phenomenological tradition to identify their preconceived beliefs and opinions about the phenomenon under investigation in order to clarify how personal biases and experience might influence what is seen, heard and reported. Also used in semiotics to indicate the suspension of interest (for analytic purposes) in the relationship between signs and their referents. In this sense it captures the attitude of mind needed when taking an analytical approach, like discourse analysis, that treats the text as topic and not just as a resource. Instead of examining the claims made in the text about a reality outside the text, such bracketing focuses attention on the 'reality' constructed by the text.


In ethnomethodology this refers to the deliberate attempts by the researcher to break expected social conventions in order to see how people cope and react. Such research is typically covert.

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Computer assisted qualitative data analysis. N.B Computers only assist. The software does not analyse. Term introduced by Fielding and Lee 1991.


Used, primarily in symbolic interactionism and ethnography, to describe a person's progress through a social setting.

Carriage returns

A non printing character in an electronic file that is used to indicate the end of a paragraph. This is true of most word processing files and RTF (q.v.). In some forms of plain text files (q.v.) it is used to indicate the end of a line. Most CAQDAS programs can recognise carriage returns and use them to break up the text.


An individual unit being studied. A case can be a person, an institution, an event, a country or region, a family, a setting or an organization. Which is used depends on the particular study being undertaken.

Case Node

In NVivo a type of node where all the material relating to one case (a setting, institution, person etc.) can be kept together. Case nodes can be grouped with similar ones under a Case Type Node.

Case sensitive

A case sensitive process recognizes a difference between a pair of phrases, words or characters where although every character is the same at least one of them differs in being upper or lower case (capitals or small letters) when the other is not.

Case study

A research method (or design) focusing on the study of a single case. Usually it is not designed to compare one individual or group to another. Though it is possible to conduct a series of case studies, each study would not be designed specifically to enable comparison with others. Sometimes a case study may be included in comparative analysis as a key or illustrative example.


The relationship between two things, where changes in one produce changes in the other or the existence (or cessation) of one brings about the other. Outcomes rarely have only a single cause and one thing may not always cause another. Cf. necessary and sufficient conditions.


Element of a table (q.v.) positioned in a particular row and column. In qualitative analysis, its contents are usually text data taken from project documents or summaries of them.


A form of visual display in which time/sequence, size, quantity, relationships or causal processes are represented. Some CAQDAS programs have functions that can display, for instance, network relationships between codes, documents and memos.

Chicago School

A school of thought founded by Mead, Park and Thomas which established the theoretical and methodological approach known as symbolic interactionism.

Children codes (nodes)

In a code (node) tree, all the codes (nodes) connected to and below a specified code (node). Cf. sub-codes.


The presentation of events, stories etc in the order in which they actually happened or in which they were experienced.


A classification system is a set of categories, sometimes arranged in a scale, into which every member of a population can be located. See also attributes.

Clinical interviews

Interviews used to provide information about specific causes of problems or types of illness, employed predominantly by psychologists and social workers.

Closed Questions

Questions, usually on a questionnaire, that offer the respondent a number of predetermined, different answers to choose from.

Cluster plot

A diagram with two axes each of which is a scaled feature or attribute (e.g. from low to high). Cases, settings or people are arranged on the chart to indicate where they fall in terms of the two axes. Cases etc. that fall near to each other are said to be clustered.


A term that represents an idea, theme, theory, dimension, characteristic etc. of the data. Passages of text, images etc in a qualitative analysis study can be linked to the same code to show that they represent the same idea, theme, characteristic etc.

Code book

See coding frame.

Code hierarchy

A hierarchical arrangement of codes. See also code tree, node hierarchy and node tree.

Code tree

A hierarchical arrangement of codes. In CAQDAS programs this appears like the hierarchy of files and folders in Windows Explorer.


The action of identifying a passage of text in a document or an image or part of an image that exemplifies some idea or concept and then connecting it to a named code that represents that idea or concept. This shows that it shares the characteristics indicated by the code and/or its definition with other similarly coded passages or texts. All the passages and images associated with a code can be examined together and patterns identified.

Coding frame

A list of the codes in use in a qualitative data analysis project usually containing their definitions and a set of rules or guidelines for coding. Also called a code book.

Coding on

In NVivo and the process of reviewing and re-coding the text already coded at a node. This may mean reducing or expanding the coded text to reflect the refinement of the concept the node represents or, additionally, coding some of the text at other nodes.

Coding stripes

Traditionally these are (coloured) stripes down the margin of a text with an associated name to show how lines have been coded. This is shown by vertical, coloured lines displayed (optionally) in a pane to the side of a document (on the left in MAXqda and on the right in Atlas.ti and NVivo). Each is named with the title of the code or node at which the text is coded.

Cognitive maps

The mental maps and conceptual frameworks of those being studied or charts or diagrams showing them. There is software designed to produce such charts.

Cohort study

A research design that involves data collection on the same group of respondents on two or more occasions.

Comma separated values

A format for the exchange of quantitative data where each case is separated from the next by a carriage return and each value within a case is separated by a comma. Commonly used as a way of importing variable or attribute data into CAQDAS programs. Cf. tab separated values.


In Atlas.ti all entities (codes, primary texts, quotations and even links and relations) may have a text attached. For example, a code may have a code comment (useful for describing code usage to team members), a primary text may carry a comment describing contextual information about that interview.

Community impact assessment

Evaluation research focusing on the impact that program or policies are expected to have on the community.

Community study

Research employing a variety of methods and techniques that focus on communities as whole units.

Comparative analysis

Analysis where data from different settings or groups at the same point in time or from the same settings or groups over a period of time are analysed to identify similarities and differences.  (See also constant comparison)


A list of all the words used in a text, usually in some order (e.g. alphabetical), showing each one in its context each time it appears. The context shown is usually the line it appears on or a small number of words that appear either side of it. The term is also used to describe software that supports textual analysis including the production of concordances, word lists (showing the frequency of word use) and other kinds of quantitative data about word use.

Concordance is also the name of a text analysis program. Currently in version 3.2.


Systematic protection of the nature of information supplied by respondents so that it is not disclosed to parties other than the research team. (Cf. anonymity).


In semiotics this indicates the interpretive meanings of signs, which may be ideological. Thus an image of a mountaineer planting a flag on top of a mountain  may connote national achievement, personal triumph or team success as well as straightforward things like 'mountaineer' and 'flag' that it denotes.

Consequentialist ethics

The ethical approach that argues that something is justifiable if its final consequences achieve a greater good. It is justifiable, for instance, to deceive respondents or not fully disclose the researcher's intentions if a greater good is achieved. Cf. de-ontological ethics.

Constant comparison

A procedure used during grounded theory research whereby newly gathered data are continually compared with previously collected data and its coding in order to refine the development of theoretical categories. The purpose is to test emerging ideas that might take the research in new and fruitful directions.


See social constructionism


See social constructivism

Content analysis.

A procedure for organising narrative, qualitative data into emerging themes and concepts. Usually associated with a quantitative form of analysis in which the themes etc. are counted or measured. In practice it is often combined with qualitative thematic analysis to produce a broadly interpretive approach in which quotations as well as numerical counts are used to summarize important facets of the analysis.

Continuous variable

A variable that can take on an infinite range of values along a specific continuum (e.g. weight, height).

Convenience sampling

A non-probability sampling strategy that uses the most easily accessible people (or cases) to participate in a study. Also know as opportunity sampling and availability sampling.

Convergent interview

A type of unstructured interview involving respondents with divergent views, where interviewers jointly plan the process of interviewing, and discuss the results of each interview before they proceed with the next.

Conversation analysis (CA)

The study of naturally occurring talk-in-interaction in order to discover how we produce an orderly social world. CA provides an account of the machinery in operation within talk by a fine-grained analysis of talk. It does not refer to context or motive unless they are explicitly deployed in the talk itself. Conversation analysis has developed a highly sophisticated form of transcription notation (q.v.) to support its fine-grained analysis.


The frequency of observations.

Co-occurrence Search (Near)

In NVivo a type of proximity search that finds all the text referenced by the first specified item (node, attribute or text string) that is near the text referenced by a second item specified. Near can be variously defined.

Core category

The central category that is used to integrate all the categories identified in grounded theory research.


The degree of association between two variables. A tendency for variation in one variable to be linked to variation in a second variable.

Cover sheet

Brief information about a document, its provenance, type, date etc. which the user enters. Traditionally kept on a sheet on the front of the transcript.

Covert Research

Research where those being researched are not aware, or not fully aware, of the researcher's role. This may be by means of hidden observation or by covert participant observation.


A study's credibility is said to be confirmed when the reader recognises the situation described by a research study as closely related to their own experience (sometimes referred to as confirmability). Can be compared with internal validity in positivist research

Cross-case Displays

Tables and charts used to highlight the existence or non-existence of patterns between cases, as distinct from within-case displays.

Cross-sectional study

A study containing units from different sections of the community, but studied over the same period of time.


Comma separated values, q.v.

Cultural scripts or texts

Terms used in the analysis of cultural phenomena, such as pictures, films, sports events, fashions, and food styles to indicate that they can be viewed as containing messages in a manner comparable to a piece of written text.

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Items or units of information generated and recorded through social research. (Singular = datum.) Data can be numerical (quantitative) or consist of words, images or objects (qualitative). Naturally occurring data are those that record events that would have occurred whether a researcher was present or not. Nevertheless, data are not 'out there' waiting to be collected. Data are the product of the research itself and are determined by the research process.

Data archives

A form of archive that contains data generated by research studies. These are commonly quantitatively coded material from surveys, or qualitative material collected as part of social research studies and they have been made available through the archive for secondary analysis.

Data collection

The stage of a research project that involves engaging with a target sample or population from whom data are collected.

Data reduction

An approach to analysis using various analytical devices to reduce the large amounts of qualitative data to forms in which patterns or the lack of patterns can be identified.

Data saturation

See saturation.


In NVivo, a short passage written as a note (Annotation) about a section of a document or an external computer file (text, image, video etc) that is linked to a specific place in the document. The text to which it is anchored is green and underlined.

Data Set

All the data collected by one or more projects and integrated for the purpose of analysis.


Lying to the respondent about the true nature and intentions of the study.


An approach to social analysis that undermines claims to authority by exposing the rhetorical strategies used by social actors (including the authors of research reports themselves). Promoted in particular by the postmodernist Derrida and common in discourse analysis where the aim of deconstruction is to identify the multiple meanings within the seemingly coherent concepts deployed in literary, political, philosophical and other texts.


The process of establishing logical conclusions by proceeding from general and abstract statements to specific and concrete phenomena (the opposite of induction). Cf. hypothetico-deductive method.

Deductive Coding

The generation of the codes to be used in coding data prior to any data analysis.

Delphi Group

A method of data collection in which the participants are selected because they are experts in the field to be discussed. It often involves several rounds of data collection. At each round respondents are unaware how others are responding, but before they next they are given information about the general view that emerged from the previous round.


The dependability of a study is evaluated if it meets the associated criterion of auditability. Auditability is achieved when a researcher provides a sufficiently clear account of the research process to allow others to follow the researcher's thinking and conclusions about the data and thus assess whether the findings are dependable.

De-ontological (or Transcendentalist) Ethics

An ethical position that argues that ethical rights cannot be traded. It is opposed to the consequentialist view (q.v.) that the rights of those being researched can be legitimately violated if the result achieves a greater good (for example the research results make a great improvement to people's lives).

Depth interview

An unstandardised, roughly structured interview; also known as an unstructured interview (q.v.)


A form of data presentation that seeks only to show what is going on and does not seek to 'explain' why things are as they are. However, in phenomenology (q.v.) description does seek to give the reasons why people feel and act as they do.

Descriptive coding

Coding to codes that simply refers to surface features of the people, events, settings etc in a study. Much descriptive coding can be done using variables in MAXqda or attributes in NVivo. Families in Atlas.ti can server a similar purpose.


The belief that everything is caused by specified factors (antecedent factors) in a predictable way rather than haphazardly; a key assumption within the positivist paradigm. When applied to human action, it suggests that our perception of having a free will is an illusion, and that the task of social research is to expose the true causes of action.

Difference Search

A type of Boolean search that finds all the passages referenced by any of the specified items (codes, attributes or text strings) in one list but referenced by none in a second list.


The multiple properties or aspects that a code may have. For example, a code about activities may have a list of the several different kinds of activity as one of its dimensions. Duration, actors, settings etc. may constitute other dimensions. In NVivo, and MAXqda these can be represented in the code (node) tree by the children of the code.


Under the influence of Foucault, this refers to systems of knowledge and their associated practices. More narrowly, it is used by discourse analysts to refer to particular systems of language, with a characteristic terminology and underlying knowledge base, such as medical talk, psychological language, or the language of democratic politics. These serve to guide people and inform them as to what is appropriate or inappropriate, allowed or not allowed, acceptable or not acceptable, valued or not valued

Discourse analysis (DA)

A study of the way versions or the world, society, events and psyche are produced in the use of language and discourse. The Foucauldian version is concerned with the construction of subjects within various forms of knowledge/power. Semiotics, deconstruction and narrative analysis are forms of discourse analysis.


In NVivo, a linkage between a document or node and a document. The link may be from the document or node as a whole or from a specific anchor point in the document.


An editable rich text file (or plain text file in It may be a transcription of project data or it may be a summary of such data or memos, notes or passages written by the researcher. The text can be coded and linked to other documents and files in a variety of ways.

Document Description

In NVivo, information about the document that is kept in the Document Property along with the name, creation date etc. and/or in a linked memo. This information can be extracted from a document when it is imported into a project. See also Cover sheet.

Document section

Part of a document. In NVivo a document section starts with a heading in a Heading style and includes all the text up to (but not including) the next paragraph which is in a Heading style of the same or higher level. There are 9 levels of section, with 1 the highest, and sections are nested in those at a higher level. Level 0 indicates the whole document. NVivo can use sections e.g. by spreading finds in a search to the enclosing section.

Domain analysis

The examination of what some term or concept means for a culture or subgroup.

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Elite interviews

Interviews with elites, that is, well-known, prominent and influential people.


A term drawn from grounded theory that refers to the formation and refinement of concepts during analysis. The researcher undertakes relatively open-ended early rounds of data collection and seeks to allow useful key ideas to 'emerge' from them in an inductive fashion. This is then followed by more deductive forms of data collection that seek to evaluate the significance of the newly identified concepts until saturation occurs (q.v.).

Emic perspective (emic view)

A term used by ethnographers to refer to the insider's or native's view of his or her world (cf. etic perspective).


The notion that knowledge comes through factual research based on direct experience gathered through the senses (such as visual observation). More loosely, it has been used to describe research that contains little in the way of reflection or theory, preferring to report 'facts' as they appear to be.


An episode in someone's biography or life history which is a turning point It separates the biography into contrasted periods, before and after the epiphany. People commonly describe themselves as having be changed by the epiphany or being a different person after it.


The philosophical theory of knowledge, that addresses questions about how we can know what we know, and whether this knowledge is reliable or not.


A branch of philosophy and a field of everyday thinking that deals with questions of what is morally right and wrong.


The tendency to see one's own culture as the centre of life and its elements as the standards for judging other cultures. This is seen, particularly by ethnographers, as inhibiting understanding of other ways of life.


A multi-method qualitative approach that examines specific social settings and systematically describes the culture of a group of people. The goal of ethnographic research is to understand the natives'/insiders' view of their own world (an emic view of the world). Originally associated with anthropology and still favours naturalistic forms of data collection such as fieldwork, that is, time spent 'living' with a community.


A discipline that studies social structures and cultures of 'simple' societies (in Europe) but also of modern societies (United States and England, where it is known as social anthropology or cultural anthropology).


Research tradition established by Harold Garfinkel and others, that emphasises the methods and procedures employed by people when they define and interpret everyday life through talk and interaction. It is the study of commonsense knowledge, its creation and use in natural settings. It involves the systematic study of the ways in which people produce orderly social interaction on a routine, everyday basis and use social interaction to make sense of their situation and create their 'reality'. Ethnomethodology rejects social structural accounts of social order and is keen to show how such 'fictions' are maintained and deployed in everyday life.

Etic perspective (etic view)

A term used by ethnographers to refer to the outsider's view of the experiences of a specific cultural group (cf. emic perspective).

Evaluation research

A type of applied research which is employed to assess the implementation, operation and ultimate effectiveness of policies and programmes.

Event-state networks

A diagram showing events and states identified in the study linked by arrows showing time sequence.

Explanation building

A form of analysis also known as analytic induction q.v.


The function in many CAQDAS programs of saving data, reports, coding or attribute and variable data in a form that can be read by other programs (principally spreadsheets and word processors). Cf. Import.

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A person who leads a focus group. Sometimes called moderator. The facilitator's job is to frame the discussion, ask initial questions, and 'manage' the flow of conversation. Depending upon the goals of the research and the dynamics of the group, the facilitator may wish to encourage less vocal members of the group to participate, or allow more vocal participants to lead or dominate the discussion.


The process whereby certain perceptions or phenomena achieve the status of uncontroversial fact. Phenomenological analysis attempts to reduce facticity as does the method of deconstruction, by exposing the social practices that generate it.


True statements about reality. Facts are supposedly neutral with regard to whether such things are morally right or wrong. The idea that factual statements can be made that do not contain value judgments has been questioned by some.


In Atlas.ti primary documents and codes may be organised into families grouped by attributes. For example, a primary text family named "MALE" may subsume all interviews with male interviewees, a code family "THEORY" may collect all codes reflecting a theoretical perspective.

Feasibility study

Research undertaken to establish the economic or other viability of a proposed programme.

Feminist method

Research methods building upon the principles of feminist theory and ethics, and thus intended to avoid detachment, domination and exploitation in the conduct of research and to promote women's consciousness and empowerment. Feminist Method is primarily qualitative and often participant action oriented.

Field notes

These are notes taken by the researcher about their thoughts and observations when they are in the field 'environment' they are researching.

Field research

Research carried out in naturally occurring settings rather than in controlled conditions. See also ethnography.


The part of field research that is conducted in the field.

Fine analysis

A method employed in the context of objective hermeneutics.

Flat coding

A non-hierarchical arrangement of codes or nodes, like a list, there are no sub-code levels. Most CAQDAS packages allow flat and tree (hierarchical) coding, but some software, though they principally allow for flat coding, do allow you to make collections of codes or draw connections between them that allow for types of hierarchical approach

Flow chart

A chart or diagram showing the flow of people, objects or logic through states or actions and decisions.

Focus group

An interview conducted with a small group of people together to explore their ideas on a particular topic. The focus group may be used to assess group dynamics, but is more often used to generate a range of opinions.

Followed by

In MAXqda a form of analytic search that lists each segment activated with one code if it is followed by a segment coded with a second code from the quick-list within a chosen number of lines.

Formal theory

The final step of theory development employed in the context of grounded theory.

Formative evaluation

A type of evaluation research that aims to gather information about how to reform or improve a programme.

Framework analysis

Developed by researchers at the UK National Centre for Social Research the approach develops a hierarchical thematic framework that is used to classify and organise data according to key themes, concepts and emergent categories. The framework identifies a series of main themes subdivided by a succession of related subtopics. Once judged to be comprehensive each main theme is charted by completing a matrix or table where each case has its own row and columns represent the subtopics. Cells contain relevant summaries from the data set. These charts are used to examine the data for patterns and connections.

Free interview

See unstructured interview.

Free node

In NVivo and a node not part of a node tree or a case or case type. Free nodes are just kept in a simple list but may be moved to the node tree when required. This enables nodes to be created without having to worry immediately about how they relate to other nodes.


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People associated with a research setting (who may themselves be part of the intended sample) whose support enables the researcher to access those they want to research. Gatekeepers may hold relevant formal positions of responsibility and/or they may be well connected and helpful 'locals' within the setting the researcher is studying.


The degree to which it is justifiable to apply to a wider population explanations and descriptions that research has found apply in a particular sample or example.

Grounded theory

An inductive form of qualitative research, introduced by Glaser and Strauss, where data collection and analysis are conducted together. Constant comparison and theoretical sampling are used to support the systematic discovery of theory from the data. Thus theories remain grounded in the observations rather than generated in the abstract. Sampling of cases, settings or respondents is guided by the need to test the limits of developing explanations which are constantly grounded in the data being analysed.


A literary style, often used in everyday text and talk., where content is framed within a more general form of story-telling (for example tragedy, comedy, thriller, political drama, soap-opera).


Term from Foucault describing the historical and social roots of ideas, systems of knowledge or discourses.


(In an NVivo model) a way of bringing together items in a Model that are in some way related to each other. Groups may be selected and moved as a whole in the model.

Group discussion

A method of data collection in which information is collected in the context of a group or respondents by means of some form of discussion. The focus group (qv) is a particular form of group discussion.

Guided interview

A form of semi-structured interview.

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Hard Return

A "return" is the procedure of moving from the end of a line to the start of the next line. A "hard return" is when you press Return or Enter key which starts you on a new line regardless of the margin settings. A hard return often has a special significance in some CAQDAS packages.

Hawthorne effect

A form of bias in research where the mere fact that respondents' know that they are being observed affects their behaviour, rather than any change in their circumstances that the research is investigating.


The study of meaning or of meaningful things and actions such as those found in literature and culture. Hermeneutics is associated with qualitative social research in general, and with phenomenology in particular.

Hermeneutic unit

The name used in Atlas.ti for a project. qv.


The property of a group of things of being diverse and different.


An arrangement of things into a number of levels. Often used to describe the arrangement of codes so that some codes (sometimes called sub-codes or children) at a particular level are associated with one code (sometimes called a parent) at the immediately higher level. See also code hierarchy.

Hierarchy option

In MAXqda, the option when undertaking an analysis to include sub-codes


The philosophical view that believes that the course of society is governed by historical laws. The discovery of these laws can help to predict the future of a society


Referring to the whole or being interested in and studying a group or case as a whole and in its context. Most qualitative approaches are holistic in that they do not attempt to explain things in terms of more fundamental elements. (Cf. reductionism)


The property of a group of things of being similar and relatively undistinguished from each other.


A CAQDAS program. Currently in version 2.8. There are versions for Windows and Macintosh.


A text that consists of a number of sub-texts of passages that are linked to each other. Linkages may be of one whole passage to another or to and from particular places in the texts. The linkages are used to show logical and meaningful connections between the passages and their content. The world wide web is an example of a hypertext.

Several CAQDAS programs support such linkages. In Atlas.ti, quotations may be interconnected to one another using relations of different kinds. For example, one quotation may be linked to another using the "contradicts" relation. It is then possible to retrieve all quotations which "contradict" the selected quotation.

In NVivo links may be established between documents and codes and between particular places in passages and other documents.


An assumption, a hunch or an educated guess. A testable proposition that captures the researcher's understanding of the situation being studied.

Hypthetico-deductive method

the scientific method in which proposed general theories or conjectures are tested by deducing from them specific statements (hypotheses) that are capable of being tested by comparison with empirical evidence. If the evidence conflicts with that predicted then the theory or conjecture is refuted. Cf. induction.

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The view that the world exists in people's minds and there is no simple external reality independent of people's thoughts. Cf. realism.

Idiographic approach

An approach to research that focuses on the analysis and explanation of particular cases. Cf. nomological.

If outside of

In MAXqda a form of analytic search that lists the text segments coded with active codes which are completely outside of all segments coded with the code selected in the dialog box - the 'quick-list code.'

If surrounded by

In MAXqda a form of analytic search that lists the text segments coded with an active code that are nested completely inside of a segment coded with a quick-list code.


The function in many CAQDAS programs of being able to read data, reports, coding or attribute and variable data created in other programs (principally spreadsheets, statistics software and word processors). These files usually have to be in plain text, RTF, CSV or tab separated formats. Cf. Export.

Inclusion search (surrounding)

A search that finds all the text referenced by the first specified item (code, attribute or text string) that surrounds the text referenced by a second item specified.

In-depth Interviews

Interviews that use open-ended and often relatively unstructured questioning to explore a topic in significant detail from the interviewee's perspective.


The logical move from a number of specific statements, events or observations to a general theory or explanation of the situation or phenomenon. Cf. deduction.

Inductive codes

Codes that the researcher has developed on the basis of reading the data as opposed to those derived from prior theory or research.


An individual, usually a member of the group under study, who assists the researcher with accessing vital information about the group.

Informed consent

The process of obtaining the voluntary agreement of individuals to participate in research which is based on their full understanding of the possible benefits and risks to themselves.

Intensive interview

A form of interviewing employing an unstructured and unstandardised approach, emphasising informal questioning, searching for deep and accurate information, and considering the needs and preferences of the interviewee

Interpretive coding

The coding of data in which the researcher interprets the contents to generate some concept, idea, explanation, or understanding. Interpretation may be based on respondents' own views and experiences, the researcher's view or understanding or on some pre-existing theory or framework. Cf. descriptive coding.

Interpretive content analysis

See content analysis


Approaches that emphasize the meaningful nature of people's participation in social and cultural life. Researchers taking such approaches analyse the meanings people confer upon their own and others' actions, words, settings and contexts.

Intersection search (and)

A search that finds all the text referenced by all of the specified items (codes, attributes or text strings).


The common-sense, shared meanings constructed by people in their interactions with each other and used as an everyday resource to interpret the meaning of elements of social and cultural life.


The echo of one text in another text. This may take the form of explicit cross-references or stylistic approach or implicit themes.


A method of data collection involving an interviewer asking questions of another person (a respondent) either face-to-face, over the telephone or by computer. (See also structured interview and unstructured interview.) Interviews may be with a group of respondents (see group interview) and/or may used more than one interviewer. The content of an interview may vary from highly structured with standardized questions to unstructured and open.

Interviewer guide

See interview schedule

Interview schedule

Written outline of the questions to be asked in an interview. These may be highly structured (close to a questionnaire) or just a list of suggested issues and starting points for discussion for use in unstructured and open-ended interviews.

Interviewer effect/interviewer bias

Distortion in the responses of an interviewee caused by the social characteristics, traits, behaviour or even the mere presence of the interviewer.

In Vivo coding

A term from grounded theory in which a term, phrase or concept used by people in a setting is used as a name and idea for coding data.

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Jefferson system of transcription

A system for the detailed transcription of talk that includes symbols to show, overlapping speech, stretched vowels, pauses, emphasis etc.

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Keyword in context (KWIC)

The function in most concordance programs and some qualitative analysis theory building software (e.g. MAXqda) to search for a term, phrase or a string of characters throughout a document or several documents and to show each find in its context (usually other words on the same line).


Search terms used when conducting a literature search. In many cases bibliographies and abstracts already contain keywords (often provided by the authors) that indicated the topic contents of the references. Keywords used in a search may be identified prior to the search or emerge in the process of the review of found materials.

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Latent Codes

Codes used in the analysis of textual data that do not refer to particular surface characteristics in the text, but to underlying phenomena the researcher believes underpin the surface terms used. A range of different terms being used all relate to a single, underlying theme.


(In an NVivo model) a way of associating items so that they can be displayed or hidden together.


In MAXqda, codes can be arranged hierarchically in different levels. The top of the hierarchy is called level 0. Below this, codes are in level 1, and below that level 2 etc. Codes at level 1 are sub-codes of those at level 0 etc. See, sub-codes

Lexical searching

Text searching that is concerned to find the occurrence of words and phrases used by respondents and investigate their context of use.

Life History

An interview form in which the focus is the life story of the participant. Such interviews tend to be structured around the chronology of the life course, but are otherwise relatively open-ended.

Linguistic repertoires

Term from discourse analysis for the clusters of terms, descriptions, discourses, intersubjective meanings and figures of speech which people draw upon in order to construct accounts.


In NVivo, connections between documents and nodes and annotations, external files and other documents and nodes. Or, connections between items in a model, Or, connections between nodes in the node tree.

Literature Review

The process of evaluating the output from a literature search.

Literature Search

The process of identifying and locating existing published research and theory on the subject the researcher is interested in researching. See also literature review.

Logical functions

In MAXqda, these are the different ways in which an analytic retrieval may be undertaken. The combination of codes includes OR, Intersection and Overlapping.

Logical positivism

A branch of positivism known as empiricism, according to which reality can be experienced only through the senses.

Longitudinal Design

A research design that involves collecting data on cases on several occasions over an extended period.


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Malestream knowledge

See androcentrism

Manifest Codes

Codes generated for the analysis of textual data which are themselves directly linked to the expressed content of the data. Cf. latent codes.


The typical position of the ethnographer, who exists on the margins of the social world they are studying, in that he or she is neither a full participant nor a full observer. Also used to describe groups of people living outside mainstream culture.


A table arranged in rows and columns in which rows represent one set of items and columns represent another. Typical sets might be codes, values of attributes or variables, or groups of cases. Each row and column defines a cell. The contents of the cells are typically text from the study or summaries of data. Such tables can be used to investigate the relationship between the items the rows represent and those the columns represent.

Matrix co-occurrence

In NVivo a type of proximity search that carries out a co-occurrence search (q.v.) on each item (node, attribute or text string) in one list, pairwise, with each in a second list. See Matrix search.

Matrix difference

In NVivo a type of Boolean search that carries out a difference search (q.v.) on each item (node, attribute or text string) in one list, pairwise, with each in a second list. See Matrix search.

Matrix inclusion

In NVivo a type of proximity search that carries out an inclusion search (q.v.) on each item (node, attribute or text string) in one list, pairwise, with each in a second list. See Matrix search.

Matrix intersection

In NVivo a type of Boolean search that carries out an intersection search (q.v.) on each item (node, attribute or text string) in one list, pairwise, with each in a second list. See Matrix search.

Matrix search

In NVivo this is a search that operates on text coded at one collection of items, pairwise, with that coded at items in another. The items may be nodes, attributes or the result of a text search. The result is a matrix of finds and in NVivo these are coded at a list of sibling nodes under a matrix parent node. The content of each cell in the matrix is represented by text coded at one of the nodes in that list. Nodes are numbered to indicate their place in the matrix.

Matrix sequence

In NVivo a type of proximity search that carries out a sequence search (q.v.) on each item (node, attribute or text string) in one list, pairwise, with each in a second list. See Matrix search.


A CAQDAS program. Currently in version 2. Descended from WinMAX.


A concordance like add-on for MAXqda, q.v.

Measures of central tendency

Statistics such as the mean, median or mode which in various ways indicate the central point in a frequency distribution.


A document used in analysis containing the researcher's commentary on the primary data or codes of the project. Memos may be separate documents, linked to particular data (especially in a CAQDAS program) or collected to form a research diary.


The function in several CAQDAS programs which makes it possible, in a controlled way, to combine together data and analysis (codes, coding, memos, attributes/variables etc.) from two separate projects.

Merging codes

The process of combining the text linked to two codes so that only one code, that codes all the text coded at one or both the original codes, remains.


Data about data. Such data can be stored as attributes, variables, families, document description, memos, and linked documents, files etc.


The use of imagery in speech or text as a kind of rhetorical device. Metaphor use may indicate culturally shared ideas or difficulties in expression.

Method slurring

The tendency of some researchers to combine qualitative research approaches without adequately acknowledging the epistemological origins and assumptions that underpin the methodologies they are blending.

Mixed Methods

(Also called multi-method.) A research design using more than one data collection technique. This may or may not involve the mixing of qualitative and quantitative approaches.


A mapping device, often expressed in a chart or diagram, designed to represent the relationship between key elements in a field of study. Models may be predictive, causal or descriptive, and may be discursive, mathematical or graphical.

In NVivo a diagram in which elements that can represent nodes, documents or simply ideas are linked with lines and arrows that show how they relate to each other. Models are constructed in the Modeller.

In Atlas.ti models may be represented using networks, q.v.


See Facilitator.


Term used to refer to a book devoted to outlining a single research project. In its narrower usage the term refers to a single book devoted to outlining the conduct and findings of a particular ethnographic or case study project.


See Mixed Methods.


A term from semiotics to indicate when a sign becomes the signifier for a deeper meaning (such as snake standing for evil).

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Text or speech that tells a story of events and experiences, usually involving the personal dimension and told from the individual's point of view.

Narrative Analysis

Form of discourse analysis that seeks to study the textual devices at work in the constructions of process or sequence within a text.

Narrative interviews

Interviews that encourage the respondent to describe their lives in detail or reconstruct a part of it. They involve minimal participation of the interviewer in the process and focus on the way interviewees conceptualise the experiences and events of their lives in their accounts.


Research that takes place outside of controlled conditions often in a naturally occurring setting or in the field.

Naturalistic paradigm

This paradigm assumes that there are multiple interpretations of reality and that the goal of researchers working within this perspective is to understand how individuals construct their own reality within their social context.


The process whereby matters that are in fact socially constructed and were once fluid, changeable and even contested and debatable come to be perceived as a part of the natural order and therefore fixed, inevitable and right. Social researchers often wish to denaturalise phenomena (e.g. sexual identity) by exposing the human processes whereby they are constructed.


In MAXqda a form of analytic search that lists segments coded with both an active code and the quick-list code which are within a distance of a chosen number of paragraphs.

Necessary Condition

A factor that is essential for an outcome. See also sufficient condition.

Negation search

A search that finds all the text referenced by none of the specified items (codes, attributes or text strings).

Negative case

A case, event, setting, person, experience, story, etc that apparently contradicts a theory, explanation or understanding generated earlier in the analysis (or derived from the literature). In qualitative research negative cases are commonly used to revise the theory, explanation or understanding rather than reject it. Cf. the hypothetico-deductive method.


In Atlas.ti these are graphic models to show conceptual, theory building relationships between codes, quotations memos and primary documents. Networks are created using a graphical editor. Codes may be linked with specifiable relations to form semantic networks. These links may be used in searches.


In NVivo or, this is an object that represents an idea, theory, dimension, characteristic etc. of the data. Text in documents can be coded at a node. Nodes can be linked to other nodes either directly or by position in a node tree (q.v.) and linked to documents. Called a code in other software.

Node description

In NVivo, information about the node that is kept in the Node Property along with the name, creation date etc. and/or in a linked memo. It describes the idea, concept etc. the node represents.

Node hierarchy

Another term for a node tree. Same as a code hierarchy


In NVivo a DataLink, linking a document or node to a node.

Node search

In NVivo a search for the text coded at a node or nodes.

Node tree

In NVivo the arrangement of nodes into a hierarchy. At the top are one or more 'root' or 'top' nodes and arranged below them each may have one or more children nodes and these in turn may have their own children nodes etc.


Based on, related to or accepting law-like, generally valid standards. Endeavouring to establish law-like statements.


A type of search that does not use the Boolean terms, and, or, not and less. The non-Boolean searches are, co-occurrence, sequence and inclusion.

Non-equivalent control group

A quasi-experimental research design in which participants are divided into experimental and control groups according to naturally occurring features.

Non-obtrusive data collection

Collection of data that do not involve interaction with those to whom the data refer. Examples might be hidden observation, use of documents, collection of official statistics, or analysing the contents of people's rubbish/trash bins.

Non-Probability Based Sampling

Sampling methods that do not select cases randomly from a sampling frame (of all members of the target population). See also snowball sampling, opportunity sampling and theoretical sampling.

Non-serial coding

Also known as signpost coding. Coding that collects together passages from different documents and different cases that all seems to exemplify the same idea, concept or notion. The size of passage coded may vary from one character to whole documents. Cf. serial coding


A statement containing or based upon an ethical judgment.


A CAQDAS program. Currently in version 6. (NUD*IST = Non-numerical, Unstructured Data * Interpretation, Searching and Theorizing).


A CAQDAS program. Currently in version 7. Descended from NUD*IST q.v.

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The state of being unaffected and unbiased by particular motives and values. Some argue that in their work social scientists and researchers should seek to be objective by excluding values and subjective judgments from their work. Not all social researchers accept that this detachment is either possible or desirable.

Objective hermeneutics

A research model that deals with text interpretations, interactions in text, and with the reconstruction of objective structures of meaning.


The belief that there is an objective knowable reality that is distinct from the knowing individual.


A method of data collection in which data are gathered through (mainly visual) observations. Observation may be overt or covert, participant-based or not. (See also unstructured observation.)

Official Statistics

Numerical data collected by government agencies and departments. A valuable source for secondary research.


A branch of philosophy concerned with what can be said to exist, or questions of being. This can be distinguished from epistemology which is concerned with what and how we can know about what exists.

Open coding

The first stage of coding in grounded theory, where text is read reflectively to identify relevant categories. New codes are created as the text is read and are given a theoretical or analytical (and not merely descriptive) name. Relevant text is coded together at the same code. The analyst may try to develop dimensions (q.v.) for the categories (codes).

Open-ended observation

A form of observation where the researcher seeks to allow important issues to emerge from time spent observing, rather than beginning with a fully pre-structured set of things to look for, count or focus attention upon.

Open-ended Questions

Questions that do not require the respondent to choose between a given set of response options.

Open interviews

Unstructured and unstandardised interviews.

Operating System

The program that runs on a computer and that enables other programs to run and interact and allows the saving and organisation of files. The most common operating system is Windows, and others include MacOS, Linux and UNIX. Programs designed for one operating system cannot usually run on another without an emulator program.


Usually used in quantitative research to describe the  'translation' of theoretical concepts into measurable categories and variables. However, it is also used in qualitative research to refer to the links between a theoretical idea and the kinds of examples of it (events, actions, discourses, descriptions etc.) that could occur in the data collected for a project.

Opportunity Sampling

See convenience sampling.

Organization chart

A chart showing the elements of an organization (people, departments, divisions, etc.) and their relationship to each other (often in terms of a hierarchy).


A general term used to refer to any kind of result produced from using CAQDAS. Outputs include results of searches that appear in windows on screen and reports and other documents that can be saved as files and exported to other programs.

Overt Research

Research where those being researched are aware that the researcher is collecting data. Cf. covert research.

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Term introduced by Thomas Kuhn to refer to the overall conception, ways of working and world views shared by scientists in a discipline at a particular point of time. In Kuhn?Kuhn's view paradigm shifts occur from time to time as scientific communities experience revolutions of thought.


All the text between one hard carriage return and the next. In Microsoft Word the hard carriage return is indicated by the paragraph symbol.

Paragraph Coder

The facility in NVivo to code whole paragraphs by reference to their sequential number in the document.

Paragraph style

See Style (paragraph)

Parent code (node)

In a code tree or hierarchy, the code directly linked to the code from above. In NVivo and, in the node tree or case tree system, this is the node directly linked to the node from above.

Participant action research

Research where the researcher becomes involved in seeking to facilitate the goals of those being researched and those being researched become involved in the design and conduct of the research.

Participant information sheet

An information sheet given to participants in social research which tells them, in outline, what the research is about, who is undertaking the research (and why), what kind of participation is needed from them and their rights to withdraw from the research and to see transcriptions, reports etc (if appropriate).

Participant observation

The method most commonly adopted by ethnographers, whereby the researcher participates in the life of a community or group, while making observations of members' behaviour. This may be covert or overt.


A research methodology which has its roots in philosophy and which focuses on the lived experience of individuals. The tradition is critical of claims that external causal processes operate to generate social reality. The social world is seen as a social construction, and an achievement of people. Closely associated with Constructionism and opposed to Realism and Positivism

Plain text file

A computer file containing nothing but text characters and a limited selection of punctuation marks etc. A plain text file does not appear in any specific font, font size, colour, style etc. cf. Rich text file. Indicated by a .TXT file extension.


Linguistic devices used with rhetorical effect in language. Often used as a means of persuasion in everyday language and in research writing. The poetics of language is therefore both a topic to be studied and a source of bias.


The notion that texts can be interpreted in a variety of ways.


A philosophical position that assumes that human behaviour is determined by external stimuli and that it is possible to use the principles and methods traditionally employed by the natural scientist, particularly deductive logic and quantitative research, to observe and measure social phenomena. Positivism assumes that life is regulated through natural laws, which social sciences have to uncover and document.

Positivist research

Research that focuses on the accumulation and analysis of facts as the way of establishing explanations.


A social movement or fashion amongst intellectuals which rejects modernist values of rationality, progress and a conception of social science as a search for overarching explanations of human nature or the social and cultural world. Instead, postmodernists celebrate the fall of such oppressive grand narratives, emphasizing the fragmented and dispersed nature of contemporary experience. In its extreme form it rejects the presence of absolute truths or knowledge, and the ability of science to explain social phenomena.


See structuralism.

Prescriptive Coding/Pre-emptive Coding

Codes developed from the review of prior research and theory in a field and not from the data collected. In research designed to test a hypothesis and in much applied research with a detailed research specification, many codes may be specified in advance.

Primary Research

Research where data collection is carried out by the researcher or research team that will analyse it. Cf. secondary analysis.

Primary Document

Term used in Atlas.ti to refer to a text, image or audio file that has been assigned to a Hermeneutic Unit (q.v.). A Hermeneutic Unit may contain many primary documents. In the course of analysis, the text is broken into relevant passages (images are segmented into regions), called quotations, which may be coded.

Primary Sources

Unanalysed records of events as they are first described or original data about cases, settings or people. Such sources may be raw data collected as part of a research project or may be textual, visual and sometimes numerical sources that were not produced originally for research purposes e.g. letters, movies, organisational documents, poems, raw tabulations of census data, video recordings and diaries. Cf. secondary sources.

Probability sampling

The probability sampling method gives each eligible element/unit a known (and commonly equal) chance of being selected in the sample; random procedures are employed to select a sample using a sampling frame.


In most software the collection of all the files, documents, codes, nodes, attributes, variables, families, memos, cases, reports, users etc. associated with a research project. Called a Hermeuntic Unit in Atlas.ti. Usually users may only open one project at a time.

Project pad

A window in NVivo when a project is open which gives access to all the main functions of the program.

Proximity search

A group of non-Boolean searches in which the closeness or sequence of coded passages is significant.

Protocol analysis

An approach in psychology that examines and draws inferences about the cognitive processes that underlie the performance of tasks.

Proxy document

A document in an NVivo project that stands for some other document or item that may not itself be part of the project. The contents of a proxy document may be used to refer to specific contents of the external item (e.g. pages in a book, meter number on an audiotape) and be linked to it if it is on-line (e.g. a digitised video file).

Purposive/purposeful sampling

A non-probability sampling strategy in which the researcher selects participants who are considered to be typical of the wider population (sometimes referred to as judgmental sampling)

Pygmalion effect

The effect caused by the tendency of respondents to adapt to structures and conditions previously defined by the researcher.

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Qualitative methods

Methods of social research based principally on theoretical and methodological principles of interpretivism, as expressed in paradigms such as symbolic interactionism, hermeneutics and ethnomethodology.

Qualitative data

Information gathered in non-numeric and often textual form about meanings, intentions, actions, behaviours and events.

Qualitative thematic analysis

Analysis based on the identification of themes (q.v.) in qualitative material, often identified by means of a coding scheme. A widely used approach in qualitative analysis, generally treating accounts as a resource for finding out about the reality or experiences to which they refer.

Quantitative data

Information gathered in numeric form.

Quasi-experimental design

A type of experimental design where random assignment to groups is not employed for either ethical or practical reasons. Instead test groups are allocated according to naturally occurring features. Certain methods of control are employed and the independent variable is manipulated.

Quota sampling

A non-probability sampling strategy where the researcher identifies the various strata of a population and ensures that all these strata are proportionately represented within the sample to increase its representativeness


In Atlas.ti an identified passage of text  or a graphical region or an audio or video sequence. Quotations are commonly linked with a code, but do not have to be. In Atlas.ti coding some text automatically creates a quotation of the selected text.

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Random sampling

See Probability sampling


A change in the behaviour of research participants as a result of being studied or of the presence of an observer. Sometimes seen as a source of bias and inauthenticity. Cf. authenticity.


The view that a reality exists independent of our thoughts and beliefs or even our existence. Research can give us direct information about this reality rather than just constructions of it. However, some, more subtle realists do recognise constructive properties in language.


The tendency to reduce explanation of phenomena to single causes, for example, explaining group behaviour by means of individual personality attributes or explaining social life in terms of economic relations alone.


In a broad sense this refers to the view that researchers inevitably, in some way or another, reflect the views and interests of their milieu. It also refers to the capacity of researchers to reflect upon their actions and values during research, whether in producing data or writing accounts. Also used in ethnomethodology to describe a property of language, which reflects upon actions to make them appear orderly.


A meaningful connection or association between two or more things, based, for example, on the similarity or relevance of one thing to another. In Atlas.ti relations are used to create links between codes or between quotations (conceptual and hypertext networks). Several pre-named relations are available, e.g. ‘is a sub-term of…’, ‘is part of’, ‘is a cause of’ (for code to code links), ‘contradicts’, ‘supports’, ‘clarifies’ and ‘discusses’ (for quotation links), and others may be created.


In a conceptual or ethical sense, the rejection of absolute standards for judging truth or morality. Cultural relativism is the view that different cultures define phenomena in different ways, so that the perspective of one cannot be used to judge or even understand that of another.


The degree to which different observers, researchers etc. (or the same observers etc. on different occasions) make the same observations or collect the same data about the same object of study. The concept is highly contentious in qualitative research where it is often not clear what the same object of study is.

Also means the degree of consistency with which data are categorised or coded by different researchers or the same researcher on different occasions. Where there are unambiguous meanings for codes in a coding scheme, such intercoder or interrater reliability can be checked by comparing the same text coded by two or more researchers. Some CAQDAS programs can support such comparisons.


The repetition of a study (perhaps in a different context or some time later) to see if the same or different results are obtained.


In a CAQDAS program this is usually a rich text file the user may create from within the program. Its contents may record various kinds of data generated by the program from the project.

Research design

The framework for the research process involving the collection and analysis of data.

Research ethics

A set of standards and principles about what is acceptable or right and what is wrong or unacceptable when conducting social research.

Research methodology

Different theoretical, political and philosophical approaches to systematic inquiry developed within a particular paradigm with associated epistemological assumptions (e.g. experimental research, grounded theory, ethnomethodology).

Research method

Specific procedures used to gather and analyse research data.

Research question

A clear statement in the form of a question of the broad issues that a researcher wishes to answer in order to address a research problem. A research problem is an issue that lends itself to systematic investigation through research. In experimental design the research question may suggest one or more hypotheses to be tested.

Retrieval functions

In MAXqda a function that allows you to retrieve certain segments according to a combination of the codes which had been assigned to the texts. There are ten logical functions varying from the 'or' and 'and' function to more complex operations such as following and overlapping.

Retrieving codes

The process of collecting together all the text that has been coded at a single code in order to examine it for patterns and commonalities.


The use of language to persuade or influence people and the study of such methods. It involves linguistic strategies used by speakers or authors of texts to convey particular impressions or reinforce specific interpretations.

Rich text file

A computer file containing text that may appear in one or more fonts, font sizes, colours, styles etc. cf. plain text file. Indicated by a .RTF file extension.

Root node

In the NVivo and node or case node tree, this is a node that has no parent. It is at the very top of the tree in the Node Explorer.


See Rich text file.

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The process of selecting a subgroup of a population to represent the entire population. (See also Probability sampling, Convenience sampling, Purposive sampling, Snowball sampling, Theoretical sampling.)

Sampling frame

A list of the entire population eligible to be included within the specific parameters of a research study. A researcher must have a sampling frame in order to generate a random sample.


In grounded theory, the situation where predictions and expectations based on existing data and categories are repeatedly confirmed by data from additional categories or cases. The additional categories or cases seem to contain no new ideas and they are then said to be saturated. The search for further appropriate instances seems futile and data collection can cease. Also referred to as data saturation.


In NVivo, the range of items which is examined in a search operation. It is a collection of nodes and or documents.


One of the core functions of CAQDAS and includes both lexical searching (searching for words and phrases repeatedly in text) and code searching. In the case of code searching, what is found by the search is passages of text that are coded (or not) in specified ways and that are related to other coded passages in specified ways (e.g. they overlap, they are coded by both codes).

Search Tool

In NVivo, a window for setting up and controlling searches.

Secondary analysis

Reanalysis of data by researchers who typically were not involved in the original data collection or analysis. Such data are often acquired from data archives (q.v.)

Secondary sources

Analyses or restatements of primary sources (q.v.) by other authors or researchers e.g. research reports, news articles, biographies, documentaries or history books. Used to gain an understanding of a topic.


See Document section


In MAXqda the name given to a passage or chunk of text that has be coded. Cf quotation.

Selective coding

The final stage of grounded theory in which a central phenomenon or core category is identified and all other categories are related to it.


The study of signs and the organization of meaning within language. It focuses on discovering the central and deeper meanings of social phenomena and on the construction of meanings.

Sequence searching (preceding)

In NVivo a search that finds all the text referenced by the first specified items (nodes, attributes or text strings) that starts before the text referenced by the second items specified.

Serial coding

The coding of all the text for a specific item to one of a series of codes. The items may be a topic in a structured or semi-structured interview, a whole interview or all the documents associated with a case or a person. Typically all the text in a project is coded at one or other of the series of codes rather in the manner that the text of a book is divided into chapters.


In NVivo a collection of nodes or documents. Aliases (q.v.) rather than the actual nodes or documents are stored in the set.


See Alias

Sibling (codes or nodes)

Codes that share the same parent in the code tree or hierarchy (or node tree or case node area in NVivo).


A meaningful linguistic unit. Term used in semiotics (q.v.)


A concept.


A word/image or other representational unit.

Signpost coding

See Non-serial coding

Snowball sampling

A non-probability sampling strategy whereby referrals from earlier participants are used to gather the required number of participants.

Social constructionism

The epistemological view that the phenomena of the social and cultural world and their meanings are not objective but are created in human social interaction, that is, they are socially constructed. The approach often, though not exclusively, draws on idealist philosophy.

Social Constructivism

Some writers distinguish this as a more radical version of social constructionism, but often the terms are used interchangeably.

Social facts

Regularities of social life that appear to have an independent existence and determine or constrain human behaviour. A key concept in functionalism and positivism.

Social Structures

An architectural/biographical metaphor that highlights the ordered interrelationships that are characteristic of particular societies or the objective constraints imposed upon individuals by social institutions. E.g. the family, school, class structure, state or market.

Splitting codes

Creating two codes from the text coded at one. Passages coded at the original code are coded to one or other or both of the new codes. This is done when inspection of the code definition and examination of the coded passages suggests there are two discrete concepts represented.


A statistical package for the social sciences commonly used in university departments. Many CAQDAS programs can import data from SPSS (as variable and attribute data) and can export data in a format that can be read into SPSS.


In NVivo the widening of a selected passage (e.g. one resulting from a search) to include some surrounding text.


Those with an interest in the research and its outcomes.


A perspective that assumes that different social positions produce different experiences and therefore lead to different types of knowledge. Standpoint theorists reject objectivity and see it as the ideology of the social engineer's standpoint. Knowledge derived from the experiences of socially oppressed and marginalised groups is felt to provide a more valid account of the social world than the objective stance.


A short narrative, often with a regular sequence of elements that people often include in interview responses and conversations.


Any sequence of letters, numbers or characters


The view that behind the social and cultural realities we perceive, such as fashions, kinship organization and even language itself, deep structures exist which, through combinations of their elements, produce the surface complexity of the relevant phenomena. Post-structuralism retains elements of structuralism (its interest in surface signs for example) but abandons the quest for deep structures.

Structured interview

The interviewer asks the respondents the same questions using an interview schedule - a formal instrument that specifies the precise wording and ordering of all the questions to be asked of each respondent. Usually associated with quantitative surveys. (See also unstructured interview.)

Style (modeller)

In NVivo, a named collection of visible qualities (e.g. colour, label font, size, thickness) that can be assigned to an item or link in a model.

Style (paragraph)

a named collection of qualities (e.g. colour, font, font size, line spacing) that can be assigned to a paragraph. Styles are preserved in rich text format documents.

Style (writing)

The manner of writing up a qualitative project that takes in to account the audience at which the work is directed and their expectations about how the work should be written based on their familiarity with other reports.


In MAXqda codes in the hierarchy of codes that are a level below another, specified code. See, level


A term most often used in positivist research to describe those who participate in research and provide the data. The term is now frowned upon by many non-positivistic researchers. The terms most often used in qualitative research are participants or respondents.

Substantive theory

In grounded theory, a type of initial theory developed as a prelude to a formal theory.


Part of a tree formed by a code and all its descendants (its children and all their children etc.)

Sufficient Condition

A factor or situation whose presence is sufficient to bring about a particular outcome. Typically, other factors may be sufficient too to bring about the same outcome, so it may occur without the presence of a particular sufficient condition. C.f. necessary condition.

Summative evaluation

A type of evaluation research which assesses the outcomes of a completed programme.


An approach to collecting social data that involves collecting the same data from all cases in a sample or from a population. The intention is to produce a ‘snapshot’ of the sample or population, and, in the case of the sample, to provide results that may be validly generalised to the whole population.

Symbolic interactionism

A body of theory that emphasizes the organization of everyday social life around events and actions that act as symbols to which actors orient themselves. Interactionists frequently study this through observation of face-to-face interaction.

System closure

In NVivo and the results of analyses such as searches are presented as nodes and may be preserved as part of the project. They in turn can be the subject of further analysis. This is referred to as system closure.

Systematic Coding

In grounded theory, this involves going through the text to be analysed and identifying all the emerging themes that the researcher can find. C.f. axial coding.

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A diagram, usually arranged in rows and columns. See also matrix.

Tab separated values

A format for the exchange of quantitative data where each case is separated from the next by a carriage return and each value within a case is separated from the next by a tab. Commonly used as a way of importing or exporting variable or attribute data into CAQDAS programs. Cf. comma separated variables.


A strict hierarchical classification of items where the relationship between parent and child items is that of 'is a kind of...' or 'is a type of...'


In NVivo, the group of users entitled to use the project.


The procedures and practices undertaken by two or more qualitative researchers working together on a project. Many CAQDAS programs support teamwork by allowing separate login identities for each researcher and by enabling projects that have be worked on using separate computers to be merged in a controlled fashion. See merge.


The presupposition that social behaviour, structures and phenomena are explained by their purpose(s) or end(s).

Template analysis

A form of qualitative thematic analysis (q.v.) in which codes are arranged into a hierarchy.


A significant and commonly occurring but not constant relationship between a factor and an outcome. For example, wealth is associated with a long life span in most cases although some wealthy people don’t have long lives. There is said to be a tendency for wealth to be positively associated with longevity.


In the narrow sense, this means a written document. However, the usage has been extended to refer to anything that can be 'read', that is, has a meaning which can be interpreted. Examples include advertisements, pieces of music or films. Semioticians have considered items as diverse as wrestling matches and Coca Cola cans as 'texts', worthy of analysis for their cultural connotations

Text group

In MAXqda all documents must belong to a text group. All documents in the same text group can be activated together using a pull-down menu. See, activate.


In MAXqda this function enables you to enter a number of texts into the project, one after the other, in a single file. If the files each have common sections then these can be labeled and on entry into the project they will be auto coded to the appropriate codes. Texts must be given a standard format to use this function.

Text search

A form or searching where text is found if it matches a specified string or set of strings of characters

Thematic analysis

See Qualitative thematic analysis.


A recurring issue or an idea or concept either derived from prior theory (e.g. in template analysis) or from respondents' lived experience (in interpretive phenomenological analysis) that emerges during the analysis of qualitative data. It can be used to establish a code with which text can be coded.

Theoretical elaboration

The stage of analysis in which the patterns into which data have been organized can be clarified and categorization and coding of the data can be used to test out ideas you have about what is going on in the study.

Theoretical framework

The conceptual underpinning of a research study which may be based on theory or a specific conceptual model (in which case it may be referred to as the conceptual framework).

Theoretical notes

Notes about the observer's interpretation of observed activities found in field notes.

Theoretical sampling

A form of purposive sampling in a naturalistic research study in which the selection of individuals is based on findings that emerge as the study progresses. Section is done to ensure that key issues are adequately represented and that emergent theory is adequately grounded.


In its most general sense a theory describes or explains something. Often it is the answer to 'what', 'when', 'how' or 'why' questions.

Thick description

A term adopted by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz to refer to descriptions of settings, people and interactions that are rich, multi-layer, natural, accurate and vivid enough to bring the reader close to the natural life of the study object. It is most common in qualitative research.


The process whereby the analysis of a text (particularly a written text or interview transcript) focuses on the world constructed in the text and the ways that the text achieves that. This involves bracketing (q.v.) the truth claims made in the text and avoiding treating the text as a resource with information about the world beyond the text.


See de-ontological.


The process of transferring audio or video recordings of speech or hand-written notes into a typed or word-processed form. In some cases special characters may be used to indicate aspects of how words were spoken.

Transcription Notation

A form of transcription developed by conversation analysts to capture the many subtle pauses, cross-over's and changes of intonation characteristic of talk, but which are not easily represented using the normal conventions of transcription. See also Jefferson system of transcription.


A study is said to be transferable if the findings 'fit' contexts beyond the immediate study situation. In order to transfer the findings elsewhere, readers need sufficient information to be able to assess the extent to which a specific research setting is similar to other settings. Equivalent to external validity in positivist research (it may also be referred to as applicability).


The hierarchical, branching arrangement of tree codes or nodes in NVivo, and MAXqda. Ideally, codes in a tree relate to their parents by being 'examples of...', or 'contexts for...' or 'causes of...' or 'settings for...' and so on.

Tree node

In NVivo and a node stored in the node tree.


This term is used in a research context to describe the use of a variety of data sources or methods to examine a specific phenomenon either simultaneously or sequentially in order to attempt to produce a fuller or more accurate account of the phenomenon under investigation. The idea is associated with realist approaches but is treated with skepticism by non-realists who reject the view that revelation of a single truth is the object of research.


A term used to describe whether naturalistic research has been conducted in such a way that it gives the reader confidence in the findings. It can be assessed using the criteria of credibility, dependability and transferability, q.v.


The expectation, built into talk, that one person speaks after another and the way in which one person starts to talk after another. This is examined in conversation analysis which has developed accounts of the hidden expectations within talk.


An arrangement of items into different types.

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Union search

A search that finds all the text referenced by any of the specified items (codes, nodes, variables, attributes or text strings).

Unobtrusive methods

Methods which collect data without needing the personal involvement of the people being studied. Often this is done by the use of documents and other sources that the people studied have created or left.

Unstandardised Questions

See open-ended questions.

Unstructured interview

The researcher asks open-ended questions which give the respondent considerable freedom to talk freely on the topic and to influence the direction of the interview since there is no predetermined plan about the specific information to be gathered from those being interviewed.

Unstructured observation

The researcher uses direct observation to record behaviours as they occur, with no preconceived ideas of what will be seen; there is no predetermined plan about what will be observed.

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The extent to which an account accurately represents the social phenomena to which it refers. In realist research it refers to the degree to which the research provides a true picture of the situation and/or people being studied and is often referred to as internal validity. External validity refers to the extent to which the data collected from the group or situation studied can be generalised to a wider population. Postmodernists, who contest that research can ever provide a single true picture of the world contest the very possibility of validity.


The research position according to which researchers should avoid bringing their own or others’ values into their work. A familiar belief in the natural sciences is that this is possible and that research can be objective. This view is not common in the social sciences.

Value neutrality

The idea that while the choice to research one topic rather than another reflects one’s own or others’ values, once chosen it is both possible and necessary to avoid the influence of values on both data collection and analysis.

Value (within a variable or attribute)

An instance (a category or numeric measure) of one of the range of a variable or an attribute. For example, if the attribute is gender then the value (category) might be female, if the variable is height then the value (numeric measure) might be 1.8m.


Normative or ethical positions held either by a researcher or by those being researched. Such values may be the subject of the research, the motivation behind research, or a potential source of bias in research. C.f. facts


In quantitative analysis, a general characteristic or quality shared by all cases in the study, such as their social class, gender or attitudes. Variables have two or more values and usually each case is assigned just one value (or a small number of values). Values may be numeric or categories. In NVivo this kind of information is stored in attributes. In much quantitative work and especially experimental work, it is important to define which is a causal (or independent) variable, and which is an effect (dependent) variable.


Literally the German for understand. Max Weber used this word to describe the approach to social research that  attempts to understand the meaning of social action from the actor's perspective.

Visual data

Data in the form of images (e.g. video, film, photographs, drawings) which may or may not be converted into textual data for analysis. Visual data may be ‘read’, that is, they have a meaning which can be interpreted

Visual Reduction

The use of representational devices (tables, diagrams, maps and graphs) to highlight patterns within complex textual or numerical date.

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Weight score

Also known as Relevance Score. In MAXqda you can indicate the relevance of a segment to the code used to code it by giving an optional Weight score that varies from 100% to 0%. These weights can be used to control retrievals.


A character (or term) in text search that controls a special matching process. E.g. in NVivo a full stop (.) stands for any single character.

Within-case displays

Graphical devices (tables, charts etc.) designed to highlight the existence or non-existence of patterns within cases, as distinct from cross-ease displays.

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