3.4 Analysing data: Managing codes, developing themes

Once you have begun coding your data, you can start to organise and explore the codes by grouping them. The simplest thing to do is to make a list of all the codes, and to keep updating this list as coding develops.

In addition to simply listing the codes it is important to have a clear idea of what they mean and how they are being used. Remember: codes are part of a process of interpretation and exploration - they are not self-evident labels. Adding definitions of codes to a coding list is a crucial part of analysis. Be clear on what you mean by these codes.

Keeping a list of codes - and adding or subtracting codes as data is further analysed can:

  1. Help organise coding work - there is always a danger of using too many different codes for the same idea, or using the same codes in too many different ways. Having a 'master list' of codes can keep things under control.
  2. Provide a kind of map of the ideas that are emerging through research and analysis. It helps provide an overview of the important themes and topics in research, and to see how they are changing as the analysis develops.
  3. Make it possible to see where there are overlaps, or where several codes are closely related. Some codes may turn out to be too broad, and need to be broken down into more than one code. On the other hand, some codes could actually be grouped together.


A Theme is what you come up with when you think about your codes and group them. So we might have a theme called 'women's and girl's education'. For this theme you can then collect all data with relevant codes from a range of data sources and work out what it is telling you.