Data Visualization in Qualitative Research

Categories: Focus Series, Instruction, Mixed, Other, Presentation, Visuals, and Creativity, Qualitative, Teaching

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A MethodSpace focus for May is on ways to use visuals to represent key ideas, themes in the data, and results of the study, in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research and evaluation. Find all posts in this unfolding series.

Learn about creative ways qualitative and mixed methods researchers use data visualization in these multidisciplinary open access books and articles.

Visual Brokerage: Communicating Data and Research Through Visualisation (Allen, 2018)
Abstract. Researchers increasingly use visualisation to make sense of their data and communicate findings more widely. But these are not necessarily straightforward processes. Theories of knowledge brokerage show how sociopolitical contexts and intermediary organisations that translate research for public audiences shape how users engage with evidence. Applying these ideas to data visualisation, I argue that several kinds of brokers (such as data collectors, designers and intermediaries) link researchers and audiences, contributing to the ways that people engage with visualisations. To do this, I draw on qualitative focus groups that elicited non-academic viewers’ reactions to visualisations of data about UK migration. The results reveal two important features of engagement: perceptions of brokers’ credibility and feelings of surprise arising from visualisations’ content and design. I conclude by arguing that researchers, knowledge brokers and the public produce – as well as operate within – a complex visualisation space characterised by mutual, bi-directional connections..

Data Visualization and Evaluation (Azzam, Evergreen, Germuth, & Kistler, 2013)
Abstract.This chapter elaborates on the definition of data visualization, highlights its historical development, and offers examples of how data visualization has been used in evaluations to help aid understanding, collect data and information, conduct analysis, and communicate to a variety of stakeholders. This chapter also outlines future trends in data visualization and their potential influence on evaluation practice. The chapter concludes with some of the main limitations and cautions that are associated with data visualization.

Sketch Maps and Qualitative GIS: Using Cartographies of Individual Spatial Narratives in Geographic Research (Boschmann & Cubbon, 2014)
Abstract.Mental and sketch maps have a long tradition in modern geography. Little theoretical and methodological distinction has been made, however, between different hand mapping approaches. Mental maps emerged from behavioral geography of the spatial science tradition as a technique to understand human behaviors based on peoples’ perceptions of their spatial environment. More recently, sketch maps have been used in participatory and qualitative geographic information systems (QGIS) to develop cartographies of group and individual spatial narratives. They are a tool that helps achieve QGIS’s objectives of collecting unique spatial data of individual experiences, visualizing socio-spatial processes, breaking down particular barriers of positionality in research, and developing new uses of GIS. Two case studies illustrate the use of sketch maps in research, including a project examining job accessibility among working poor individuals and a study of the experiences of fear and safety in public spaces among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community members. Sketch maps in QGIS have many methodological merits. They add an invaluable dimension to the qualitative interview process, offer countermapping perspectives, generate detailed spatial information of individuals, and facilitate data interpretation.

Grounded Visualization: Integrating the Analysis of Qualitative and Quantitative Data through Grounded Theory and Visualization (Knigge & Cope, 2006)
Abstract. Our purpose in this paper is to conceptualize and demonstrate an integrated analytical method for using both qualitative and quantitative data through geographic information systems (GIS) and ethnography. We acknowledge that the use of both types of data has been possible in GIS for some time, particularly for representation purposes. However, a recursive integration of different forms of data at the analysis level has been less explored and minimally theorized. Drawing on recent work in critical GIS and feminist perspectives, we suggest that visualization offers a strong technique for this effort but we approach it from the analytical base of grounded theory. Thus, we present an example of how grounded theory and visualization might be used together to construct an integrated analysis strategy that is both iterative and reflexive, both contextual and conceptual. We use Knigge’s work on community gardens in Buffalo, New York, to provide a substantive example of the proposed methods.

Pictorial Narrative Mapping as a Qualitative Analytic Technique (Lapum et al., 2015)
Abstract. Qualitative analysis is often a textual undertaking. However, it can be helpful to think about and represent study phenomena or narrative accounts in nontextual ways. In this article, we share our unique and artistic process in developing and employing pictorial narrative mapping as a qualitative analytic technique. We recast a nontextual, artistic–analytic technique by combining elements related to narrative mapping and narrative art. This technique involves aesthetic attunement to data and visual representation through pictorial design. We advanced this technique in the context of a narrative study about how arts-informed dissemination methods influence health-care practitioners’ delivery of care. We found that the Pictorial Narrative Mapping process prompted an aesthetic and imaginative experience in the analytic process of qualitative inquiry. As an analytic technique, Pictorial Narrative Mapping extends the inquiry process and enhances rigor through artistic means as well as iterative and critical dialogue. Additionally, pictorial narrative maps can provide a holistic account of the phenomenon under study and assist researchers to make meaning of nuances within complex narratives. As researchers consider employing Pictorial Narrative Mapping, we recommend that they draw upon this technique as a malleable script yielding to an organic process that emerges from both their own data and analytic discussions. We are further curious about its imaginative capacities in social and health science literature, its possibilities in other disciplinary contexts, and the prospects of what Maxine Greene refers to as becoming more wide awake—in our case, in future research analytic endeavors.

Listening to Voices and Visualizing Data in Qualitative Research: Hypermodal Dissemination Possibilities (Rasheeta, Erica, & Henry, 2015). Abstract. One of the tenets of qualitative research is the emphasis and honoring of the participants’ own words as generative of meaning and knowledge; yet it is rare to hear the actual voices of the research participants in a presentation or in text. Qualitative research dissemination has relied on dense transcribed text; these “mountains of words” do not lend themselves to the space limitations of academic journals or condensed visual elements such as summary charts, tables, or graphs. Technological advancements have the potential to revolutionize dissemination efforts, especially for qualitative research. The use of audio clips in poster and oral presentations, as well as embedded within written manuscripts plays with the interstices between the research participants and the observer. Infograms are effective ways of conveying a story visually. We demonstrate how combining audio clips and infographics can be a unique hypermodal dissemination possibility for qualitative results.

Related MethodSpace Posts


Allen, W. L. (2018). Visual brokerage: Communicating data and research through visualisation. Public Understanding of Science, 27(8), 906-922. doi:10.1177/0963662518756853

Azzam, T., Evergreen, S., Germuth, A. A., & Kistler, S. J. (2013). Data visualization and evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 2013(139), 7-32.

Boschmann, E. E., & Cubbon, E. (2014). Sketch maps and qualitative GIS: Using cartographies of individual spatial narratives in geographic research. The Professional Geographer, 66(2), 236-248.

Knigge, L., & Cope, M. (2006). Grounded visualization: Integrating the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data through grounded theory and visualization. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 38(11), 2021-2037. doi:10.1068/a37327

Lapum, J. L., Liu, L., Hume, S., Wang, S., Nguyen, M., Harding, B., . . . Yau, T. M. (2015). Pictorial narrative mapping as a qualitative analytic technique. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 14(5), 1609406915621408. doi:10.1177/1609406915621408

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