Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Many Ways to Code

There are many ways to code documents in qualitative research. Here are a couple you may not have thought of.

I code using word. I insert the codes into a copy of a transcript. Then I used Google desktop to locate the coded segments.

Alankaar Sharma, a Ph.D. students at the SSW, University of Minnesota, uses the comment function of work for coding as well as NVivo.

Valandra, a Ph.D. student at the U of Minnesota, uses word's table function and puts the code in the left column, the text in the center, and observer comments/memos on the right side. The entire manuscript is in the center column.

Any of these or a combination might work. Remember, researchers are the central processors of qualitative texts.

When I first did qualitative text analysis, I used Ethnograph, but after a few years I found that the core concepts and key ideas were in my head and the segments I coded far too big and in some ways unclassifiable because their meanings change as my perspectives change. I fell back on coding in word.

Many researchers who have been at it for years no longer use specialized software for coding.

In writing proposals, it would be a good idea to state the specific software program you are using. If you have space, also describe the functions that are relevant to your proposed research.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hot Tips for Transcribing

New software makes transcription of digital recordings easier. Some people use Express Scribe which is free and downloadable at You can use a foot pedal, but you can assign functions on your computer key board for rewind, speed of playback, etc.

Transcription buddy is another software that helps with transcription of digital recordings. Find it at It’s free for 30 days trial and then it costs about $30. This program also lets you use computer keys for the functions you need for transcription.

For Mac users, Quicktime is useful for transcription and you can also find the functions you need for transcriptions of digital files.

Happy Transcribing!

Training, Funding, Conference Presentations from QI4

A group of social workers met at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry in May 2008. We identified many issues specific to social work and strategies for dealing with them.


There is an on-going need for training in qualitative social work research. Most of us got our training from members of other disciplines. As helpful and enlightening as that training is, there are issues that are unique to social work, such as research on sensitive issues, ethics, the inherent vulnerability of most of our research informants, the mismatch between our training as social workers and the realities of doing social work and researching social work, the need for approaches to social work research that match the scope of our work.

At the meeting, attendees responded enthusiastically to the suggestion that we hold summer training institutes. Jim Drisko said that Smith College is already set up for continuing education, and he would see about how to arrange training sessions there. Several other attendees said they would be willing to contribute to the planning and would also be willing to teach at Smith for short periods. Jim said attendees could get continuing education credits. These sessions would be done in one to five day formats.

Jane Gilgun said that she had talked to members of the research committee at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work about summer training. This training could be for course credit as well as for continuing education credits. Like Smith, Minnesota could give ceus but they could also give course credit.


Another topic discussed at the meeting was funding for qualitative research. Several attendeeds had funding from foundations and from state agencies and a few from federal agencies. Much of the time, the funding goes to social service agencies who then hire University researchers to do the research. Many foundations will only fund agencies and will not fund University researchers. The CDC funds social work projects, but often the money goes to agencies and that could well be CDC's preference.

So, we talked about the kinds of research that social workers do that is fundable. Of course, mixed methods is fundable, and that is always an option. Most of us have a small track record for surveys and experiments and so our chances for funding are low if we go it as sole p.i., but if we team up with a well-known survey researcher and have a credible statistical consultant, then our chances go way up.

In particular, among the kinds of research that social workers can do and that are fundable are the following

--research on implementation and uptake of interventions. Often, in RCTs, interventions appear to work but in practice they show lower success rates. Qualitative research can take a good look at what goes on during the implementation phase and how and why clients respond or do not respond to treatment. This would require interviews over time where researchers build relationships of trust with clients os that clients can be frank and also good relationships with researchers for the same reason. Observations and case record reviews would also be helpful to understand implementation and uptake. These can be intrusive and so the planning would have to be careful. Some case records are founts of information and others are not. Sometimes interventions can be tape recorded and/or videotaped and analyzed later.

--research on how programs work. Interviews, observations, and case record reviews can identify factors associated with good, poor, and mixed outcomes. This approache answers the questions what works with whom under what conditions.

--research on both the conditions we want to change and on the effects of the interventions that we craft. Einat Peled of Tel Aviv University has five year project that involves first research on family violence, then the crafting of interventions to respond to family violence, and then an evaluation of the intervention. This is ideal for many social work researchers. We often intervene into situations we don't fully understand and then our interventions don't work. A fuller understanding of the clients' situations will increase the likelihood that our interventions will be successful.

Three or Four Panels for QI5

We would like to do three or four panels on social work qualitative research to make social work more prominent on the program, to learn from each other, and to network. Many suggestions for topics came up, such as the ones that I just discussed above. There will be more on this blog about the panels, funding, and training. Stay tuned. Let us know what you think.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hi, Jane,
Thanks for revitalizing this. I wasn't at QI2008 this year because of graduation at UW-Madison and missed it last  year because I was in Mexico.  I am thrilled to have this opportunity to connect and participate.

I am very surprised to hear that social workers feel there is little qualitative training in social work, since as a non-social worker, it seems that the profession is fundamentally a qualitatively oriented (meaning, highly interpretive) endeavor. As social workers develop their own model of qualitative research, I would recommend looking at community based research in sociology and nursing.  The CBR work in sociology is heavily influenced by practice.  So is nursing, but I would say the quality of the qualitative research publications that I have read in nursing is not good--alot of it is too descriptive of obvious practices, which in my book is "not good qual research." However, it appears that nursing has made created a legitimate niche for qual research.

Look forward to hearing what others are thinking!

Lynet Uttal
Univ of Wisconsin Madison
Human Development & Family Studies, Asian American Studies, Chican@ & Latin@ Studies, Women's Studies (not social work!)

New Directions in the Qualitative Social Work Blog

After a discussion with 15 other social workers at a meeting we held at the 4th International Congress on Qualitative Research held in May 2008, I will now take prime responsibility for blogging on this blog. Whenever I have something to say to social workers and allied disciplines I will post it on this blog.

This is an open blog, meaning anyone can blog on it. I decided to talk to the group about changing how the blog is run because after one year, no one is using it. There are many discpline-related isses that we as social workers can discuss for the benefit of our consitutents, who are service users and persons affected by social and economic justice. We have various ways of doing our work--as educators, researchers, and advocates, among others--but the goal we share is social justice and a caring society.

Training for us as social workers who do or want to do qualitative research is scant. We have had to learn from scholars in other disciplines. Within social work there is now sufficient maturity for us to start talking about and working out discpline-specific issues related to qualitative research. This is what this blog will do. In particular, I am interested in the contributions that qualitative social work can make to ameliorate social conditions. For us to do this, we must have the vision of what we can do and how we can do it.

I will stop now but will be back soon.

Jane Gilgun

Monday, January 14, 2008

SSWR is Coming Up--and The Power of Words

The annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research will start Thursday, January 17, 2008, in Washington, D.C. There will be a meeting of the qualitative methods interest group. I expect that people will want to do some networking and to learn from each other.

I think we prefer to network in person. This blog has been up since May 2007, and it is now January 2008. Two people have used it.

Censorship and Worse on the Internet

I have several places where I can write what I please, but I've also found that will not let me publish articles about child sexual abuse.

These articles are based on interviews with survivors and perpetrators of child sexual abuse. I use the lanuage that they use. The website says my language is obscene, and they will not publish the articles. I am a bit worn out from pointing out that they are part of the problem. Their stance silences children and allows perpetrators to carry on. Stay tuned. Maybe they will see the point.

Paradoxically, Language Silences Child Sexual Abuse Survivors

Children who have been sexually abused have to use the words they know to decribe what happened to them. If adults tell them these words are dirty and they should not use them, what recourse do children have?

I interviewed a 14 year-old girl who was driven to tell me what had happened to her. This is what she said about the older teen who raped her: He said to me, "You fat oomph, you oomph
my oomph."

At least she communicated something.

Narrative Analysis Workshop

On Saturday at SSWR, Karen Staller, Kathleen Wells, and I are doing a workshop on social work and narrative analysis. Karen will cover a structured interview/narrative method, Kathleen will present on Labov's approach to narrative, and I will do critical discourse analysis.

Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) looks at the power of words to construct other people and to silence people about oppressive practices. It is a role of social work to resist oppression. The example I gave above of the 14 year-old girl is an example of the effects of oppressive practices. An example of resistance is the word "queer,"which until fairly recently had negative connotations. The LGBT movement has reclaimed it and it even has surfaced in respectable circles of academia as queer theory.

The language of oppression not only leads to discrimination but also keeps discrimination going.

I hope other people use this blog. I have a book I want to tell you about but I will save that for another time.

I hope to connect with a lot of people at the SSWR conference.

Jane Gilgun

Friday, June 15, 2007

Help! My Phenomenological Work is too Graphic just rejected one of my articles called A Case of Family Murder because it was too graphic! The story is a first-person account of a man who killed his children and two women in a single day. He is a terrific narrator and anyone who wants to know what goes on in the minds of perpetrators will learn a great deal from this story.

I published in Helium because I'm writing a book on Stories Perpetrators Tell and Helium is a way to get the word out about my book.

My dilemma all along has been the graphic nature of the life stories I have collected from perpetrators of violence. I began wanting to understand how they think. I now know. I have been stuck for years figuring out how to present my material so others will read it. I have been afraid of accusations of exploitation.

I look at Criminal Minds, a TV show, and even some CSIs and I think they sometimes have no idea what is going on. They play to old tired plots rather than taking a good look at what perpetrators really think.

Darn, darn, darn. Does anyone have any idea how I can present phenomenological research on violence so other people will read it and learn from it?