Identifying Meaning Units in Reflective Lifeworld Research

Parts-2, participant 3. Photo by Janet Symmons. CC0 licence

In Dalhlberg et al.’s (2008) whole-parts-whole approach to data analysis identifying and placing meaning parts together is an integral factor to explicating the essence of a phenomenon. However, there remains a paucity of examples for creating meaning units in reflective life research. This sparsity is an advantage and a challenge to researchers using this methodology.

My familiarity with Braun and Clarke’s (2006) thematic analysis laid the foundations of my understanding and practice with meaning units as I read through the interview transcripts of my current project. Unfortunately, after a few attempts, I was left with vague meaning units that didn’t adequately connect with each other. I tossed another document in my computer trash bin and started yet agin.

I needed a break from my computer. I selected several textbook from my bookshelf, along with a notepad, pencil, and eraser, and relocated to my kitchen table. Sometimes a slight change of scenery is like a cognitive breath of fresh air. With a steaming cup of coffee in hand and refreshed mindset, I cracked open a recently acquired used research book and began scanning the pages for useful nuggets of information.

Marshall and Rossman (2011) illustration of a mindmap (p. 216) was a inspiration I needed to move forward. I’ve always had problems creating mindmaps because I want a clearly organized paper as I scribble. I like to visualize the entire plan before taking the pencil to paper. But with my paper at a standstill, I had nothing to lose but 15 minutes of my afternoon, but I had so much to gain if I could overcome my orderly approach to information.

My first attempt looked like the usually lillypad of ideas connecting with a few subtopics. This was a giant leap forward for me as the disorganized clutter emerging on the paper would usually wind up in the trash. Nonetheless, the mindmap didn’t offer the details I’d hoped, but it illustrated some connections.

I started afresh on the second interview and added additional information that allowed me to illiterate some depth of detail. I hit my stride as I worked on the third interview as I added pithy quotes, nuances, and drew the paths connecting thoughts.

I’m now on interview 7, after revisiting the first two interviews, similar meanings are emerging from the interviews. Although the process is time-consuming, it’s providing the insights needed to better understand the phenomenon.

Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Dahlberg, K., Dahlberm H., & Nystrӧm, M. (2008). Reflective lifeworld research (2nd ed.). Studentlittertur.

Marshall, C. & Rossman, G. B. (2011). Designing Qualitative Research (5th ed.). SAGE

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