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If you’re in a research methods course, you might be studying qualitative methods and have heard of grounded theory. If you’re interested in performing a grounded theory approach to data analysis (or sharing a fresh example with your class), this blog post is for you.

Or, you might be reading this because I mentioned in my research-in-brief article in Public Relations Review that a list of open codes, properties, and examples of participants’ words from my study about Millennial practitioners are available on my blog (that would be this blog post).

One of the challenges of understanding the grounded theory approach to data analysis results from the abstract nature of the explanation:

Open coding: Basically, you read through your data several times and then start to create tentative labels for chunks of data that summarize what you see happening (not based on existing theory – just based on the meaning that emerges from the data). Record examples of participants’ words and establish properties of each code (see my charts below).

Axial coding: Axial coding consists of identifying relationships among the open codes. What are the connections among the codes? This will be easier to understand when you see the last chart of this blog post.

Selective coding: Figure out the core variable that includes all of the data. Then reread the transcripts and selectively code any data that relates to the core variable you identified. Again, this is easier to understand through the last chart of this blog post.

The study I’m using as an example is about relationship building with the Millennial generation of practitioners who work at PR agencies. The data came from asynchronous online discussions (via Focus Forums) with 50 participants and emailed data from one participant.

Research question one: How do Millennial practitioners who work at public relations agencies describe their generation of public relations practitioners?

Open codes for RQ 1

Open code Properties Examples of participants’ words
Wanting experiential learning Seeking credentials
Feeling ambitious
Seeking excitement
Being eager
Seeking experience
Ambitious
Hungry for responsibility
Want to be the next big thing
Driven
Ready to roll
Always looking for a new thrill
Grow quickly
Learn things on our own
Pioneering social media and easily adapting to change Being comfortable with social media
Wanting to lead
Creating and embracing new ideas
Not being afraid of technology
Risk-taking
Being fresh
Creating and accepting new ideas
Embracing a rapid fire speed
Being creative
Feeling entitled due to unique qualifications, as compared to previous generations Coming equipped with a public relations education and several internships Mostly PR majors instead of majoring in other fields
Being educated in public relations
Starting jobs with several internships under the belt
Having a great foundation from majors and internships
Craving immediate feedback and being motivated by feeling appreciated Desiring attention
Wanting to impress
Wanting a mentor
Want to feel valued and appreciated
Want to be recognized
Want feedback
Want to be rewarded for good work
Advocating a
work-life balance
Seeking personal fulfillment
Recharging by enjoying a rich personal life
Being raised to believe they could have it all
Don’t want to work our lives away
Want to have room for a life outside of work
Raised to expect excellence in our personal lives
Possessing the personal skills and characteristics needed Getting along well with people
Being intelligent
Valuing ethics
Friendly, sociable
Motivated by friendships at work
Smart, clever, sharp
Ethical


Research question two: What can be learned about cultivating a long-term relationship with Millennial public relations agency employees based on their own perspectives?

Open codes for RQ 2

Open code Properties Examples of participants’ words
Being groomed Being mentored
Getting to work on new accounts
Getting to have face time with the client
Being included in discussions about personal long-term goals and organization’s long-term goals
Getting funding for graduate school and skills workshops
Mentored
Trained to specialize in a needed area
Assigned to new accounts
Included in new business planning
Involved in conversations about the long-term outlook of the department
Meeting about long-term goals and incentive packages
Sent to professional development sessions
Paid for graduate school
Face time with the client
Constantly learning Having intriguing work
Developing professional skills
Intriguing work
Constantly learning, training
Receiving verbal encouragement and making observations Feeling appreciated
Noticing low turnover and receiving messages about growing the company from within
Asked if I’m happy
Talk about the future
Get regular reviews
Constant congratulations
Get messages about growing the company from within
Very little turnover
Being cared for as a whole person Caring about personal well being by both the organization and senior management
Encouraging and enabling a healthy personal life
Personal development fund
Lacking a personal touch (negative evidence)
[Senior exec.] like a second mother
Long hours, low pay (negative evidence)
Working in a good environment Working in an organic culture
Feeling like they fit in
Working with great people
Agreeing with the organization’s philosophy and values
Personality of the office
If I fit in
Open and honest communication
I love the environment
Wonderful people
We don’t have titles. My old large agency put so much emphasis on titles and I think it hindered work quality
The organization isn’t as dynamic as other employers (negative evidence)
Having interests and preferences accommodated Getting to choose projects, dress and hours Get to choose my accounts
Get to wear jeans
Flexible hours


Research question three: What irritates or upsets Millennials when receiving feedback on their work?

Open codes for RQ 3

Open code Properties Examples of participants’ words
Getting called out Detesting verbal vomit and being ridiculed
Feeling discouraged
Getting ripped apart
Chewed out
Bashed
Chastised
Criticized
Thrown under the bus
Negative tactics don’t motivate us
Not being heard Having work changed, which results in their voice not being heard
Working so hard makes this frustrating
Believing they don’t have power to say anything
You slave away and they’ve completely changed what you’ve done
My art was changed, which I worked really hard on
People are always going to change what you do. Always!
Co-worker presented my ideas as her own; no way to address those issues
Mind reading and expectations for a miracle worker Believing they have a combination of vague instructions and specific expectations, some of which areunrealistic Vague instructions
Having to mind read
Inadequate explanation
I’m not a miracle worker


Axial codes and selective code based on the open codes

Open codes Axial codes Selective code
Wanting experiential learning; constantly learning; working in a good environment;pioneering social media and easily adapting to change; feeling entitled due to unique qualifications, as compared to previous generations; possessing the personal skills and characteristics needed; being groomed Believing they are ready to be set loose on accounts Wanting to make a difference
Craving immediate feedback and being motivated by feeling appreciated; detesting getting called out; receiving verbal encouragement and making observations Seeking external validation
Mind reading and expectations for a miracle worker;getting called out; not being heard Silently blaming employers for failures
Advocating a work-life balance; being cared for as a whole person; accommodating interests and preferences Wanting a meaningful experience at work and outside of work

For more information on grounded theory, I recommend Kathy Charmaz’s “Constructive Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Data Analysis.”

If you’re interested in reading the summary of my study, you can find it here, or you can email me for the full-length study at derville(at)uoregon(dot)edu.

Happy researching!

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