• Coding It Wrong on the Right Side of Town

    Photograph of Elephant and Castle on a rainy day in London through rain-streaked window
    Credit: Photograph by Keven Law under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

    Image: Photograph of street near Elephant and Castle on a rainy day in London through rain-streaked window

    I’m about halfway through my initial coding of the motivation essays collected last April.  I should have been done this months ago, but I’ve somehow been scared to do it.  I think the big reason behind that is I’m afraid that I’m doing it or will do it incorrectly.  As I am going through and creating codes, I cannot help but feel that I am not always focussing on the motivation issue, which is the primary question. I am generally coding for content or themes I see appearing in the essays.  As an example, an essay may express that the author is more likely to assist someone else if they feel that other person has put some effort and thought into their character.  That is not their motivation for playing, but I have still created a code for it as “assist others”.  When I get to the end and review the list, I will not be able to tell which ones refer to motivation.  Some probably are where a participant has expressed it as a motivation, but other instances, even of the same code, might just be a theme that was raised.

    At the moment, I have the following free nodes in NVivo:

    • achievement
    • administrating a guild
    • assisting others
    • attached to characters
    • being helped
    • belonging
    • build skills
    • challenge
    • character creating
    • community
    • D&D player
    • discrimination
    • escapism
    • exploration
    • exploring
    • fantasy lore
    • fighting
    • friendship
    • fun
    • gained confidence
    • gender equality
    • giving
    • grinding
    • identity freedom
    • immersed
    • improve social skills
    • influenced by friends
    • introduced as part of course
    • introduced by a friend
    • introduced by boyfriend
    • introduced by husband
    • introduced by relative
    • keeping in touch with friends
    • killing
    • kindness
    • learning
    • learning a language
    • left WoW
    • levelling or skilling up
    • made friends
    • making friends
    • meet people
    • non-linear progression
    • play with friends
    • play with others
    • practicing a language
    • puzzles
    • questing
    • recommended by friend
    • relax
    • reputation
    • rewarding
    • roleplaying
    • scenery
    • sense of purpose
    • social
    • socialize at home
    • socializing
    • storytelling
    • stress relief
    • talking to people from other countries
    • teaching
    • teamwork
    • things to do
    • thinking
    • use of voice comms
    • variety
    • veteran gamer
    • visually appealing
    • vivid world
    • women in WoW
    • world as art

    Feeling a little insecure, I thought it might be time to consult a book I bought late last year but had yet to open: The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers by Johnny Saldaña (2009).  While I have many books now on research methods and specifically on qualitative analysis, I have found it difficult to get a grasp on the mechanics of coding.  I am somewhat reassured to read in the first chapter that “Rarely will anyone get coding right the first time” (p.10).

    Saldaña differentiates between themes and codes, based on work of Rossman & Rallis: “think of a category as a word or phrase describing some segment of your data that is explicit, whereas a theme is a phrase or sentence describing some more subtle and tacit processes.” (Saldaña 2009, p. 13, his emphasis).  He goes on to say that “SECURITY can be a code, but A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY can be a theme.”   He recommends avoiding coding thematically initially and to instead note potential themes down in an analytic memo.

    In examining my list, aren’t most of my existing codes themes rather than categories, even if they’re a single word?  Maybe not necessarily.  If an essay’s author says they play World of Warcraft as stress relief, “stress relief” is an explicit thing.  That’s a category?   I am still unsure.  For the moment, I think I will continue on as I am.  This is only the first iteration and I can always improve it later.  However, I think I should start explicit coding some passages as “motivation” to delineate it from other points of interest that may also arise within a given essay and then go back and do the same for essays prior to case S1-028.

    I suspected I was deviating from the main goals of the survey while doing my coding.  Saldaña addresses this by supporting the recommendation of Auerbach & Silverstein to make a one-page  summary of your research concerns, central research question, theoretical framework, goals of the study, and any other major issues (Saldaña 2009, p.18).  Then, keep that in front of you to aid you in maintaining your focus during coding.  Some questions were suggested as being applicable to coding field notes for all research by Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw (quoted in Saldaña 2009, p. 18):

    1. What are people doing?
    2. How, exactly, do they do this?  What specific means and/or strategies do they use?
    3. How do members talk about, characterize, and understand what is going on?
    4. What assumptions are they making?
    5. What do I see going on here?  What did I learn from these notes?
    6. What did I include them?

    I have trouble seeing the applicability of those questions to my current task.  I do, however, agree with Saldaña’s addition of “What strikes you?”, suggested by Creswell (Saldaña, 2009, p.18).  I suspect it is that question that helps save all my existing work from having been useless, even if I did forget the purpose behind the study at times.

    One thing I know I have not done is be rigorous about the codebook or code list.  MacQueen (quoted in Saldaña 2009, p. 21) recommends that a codebook entry should contain “the code, a brief definition, a full definition, guidelines for when to use the code, guidelines for when not to use the code, and examples.”  As I have created codes, I usually have not done any of that, although the odd one here or there has a brief description.  I have a plan to go back and “clean up” the codes.  For example, some codes need to be merged, like “exploration” and “exploring”.  Perhaps I can review how the codes have been used and write up descriptions for them at that point as well.

    At the moment, I feel very much like the person looking through a rain-streaked window: everything is distorted and unclear. If I persevere, the hope is eventually the rain will stop and the streaks will fade away.


    Saldaña, J. (2009) The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers, London, United Kingdom, Sage Publications Ltd.