How to Investigate the Use of Medicines by Consumers
(2004; 98 pages) View the PDF document
Table of Contents
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentPreface
Open this folder and view contents1. Why study medicines use by consumers
Open this folder and view contents2. What influences medicines use by consumers
Open this folder and view contents3. How to study medicines use in communities
Open this folder and view contents4. Prioritizing and analysing community medicines use problems
Open this folder and view contents5. Sampling
Close this folder6. Data analysis
View the document6.1 Introduction
View the document6.2 Sorting and ordering data
View the document6.3 Making quality control checks
View the document6.4 Processing qualitative data
View the document6.5 Analysing qualitative data
View the document6.6 Processing quantitative data
View the document6.7 Analysing quantitative data
View the document6.8 Conclusion
Open this folder and view contents7. Monitoring and evaluating rational medicines use interventions in the community
View the documentBack cover

6.4 Processing qualitative data

In qualitative studies using techniques such as observation and semi-structured interviews, variables have not been identified prior to data analysis. Data processing and analysis in such studies are ongoing processes. Try to expand and organize these notes as soon as you can during and after the fieldwork. Immediately after each interview or FGD, make sure to transform raw field notes into a well-organized set of notes. During the interviews it is not necessary to do a word-for-word transcription. You should make enough notes, with key statements that can be expanded for analysis. When reading through/reviewing such expanded field notes you may find that, no matter how good the discussion guidelines were, the informants jump from topic to topic. You may also find that your notes contain information that is not immediately useful, or is totally irrelevant. As such data may be useful later on do not discard them.

To make the analysis easy, qualitative data have to be ordered. Ordering is best done in relation to the research questions or discussion topics. If you have a lot of data, it is helpful to use codes for ordering the data. The list of topics/questions in your interview guide can serve as an initial set of codes. Read through the expanded notes of your interviews and/or transcripts of tapes to add to this list of codes. Unexpected topics may come up. Codes for these topics should be included in the analysis. You may need to review your data several times before you decide on a final coding system.

Unlike quantitative data, where codes are usually numbers, the codes for qualitative data are usually labels which can be remembered easily. In an FGD about treatment of common illnesses in a village, you might code the data in the following way:


Causes of illness


Signs of illness


Persons sought for first form of treatment


Medicines used for first form of treatment


Result of first treatment

Note: Devise codes that you and your co-researchers can easily understand. The codes should usually follow the topics of the discussion guide or of the checklist for observations.

Qualitative research findings are basically a set of texts (observations, interview records, reports of FGDs). In order to facilitate coding, make sure the texts have a wide margin. Once you have decided on the set of codes, you can apply them to the texts in the margins. Use the same codes where possible for the different datasets (observations, interviews etc.).

While reading through the texts, also make analytical notes: these are notes on the relation between factors; i.e. why people take drugs in specific irrational ways. Also make methodological notes: how did the interviewer influence the respondent? What additional questions need to be asked in a next round of interviews? What is unclear?

Data-processing and analysis in qualitative research is an ongoing process: data are summarized and new questions raised. Ideally in conducting qualitative research you have time to go back to the field to collect additional data or to verify conclusions.

Qualitative research involves processing of large amounts of textual data. This is usually done manually. Qualitative data analysis software is available, which can support data-processing. Such programmes help to organize, code, and search and retrieve data. Commonly used ones are Atlas (see:, Ethnograph (see: and Kwalitan (see: In this chapter we focus on manual processing and analysis. If you understand how to analyse qualitative data manually, you will also be able to apply the principles to a computer assisted anlaysis. It continues to be the researcher who determines all the steps in the process.

to previous section
to next section
The WHO Essential Medicines and Health Products Information Portal was designed and is maintained by Human Info NGO. Last updated: December 1, 2019