The Importance of Coding Data

I chose to code my transcripts and expanded fieldnotes by looking for repeated ideas. I arbitrarily defined “repeated” as occurring three or more times within the transcripts and fieldnotes. I started off by carefully reading each transcript and set of fieldnotes and writing down any common themes I noticed. Next, I went through the text again, this time highlighting certain parts of the transcript and fieldnotes and adding comments. Each comment was a short description of the idea/topic that showed up three or more times.

The codes developed for the interview and focus group transcripts were: social/cultural gap, student group gap, cultural cohesion, language barrier, stereotypes, and the American Dream. I started off my research with a general idea of the gap between the Chinese American and international Chinese communities, and my interviews and focus group helped me develop several definitions or specific ways of viewing the gap.

For example, the divide can be seen as a gap between social and cultural norms or it can be seen as a gap between international student groups and Chinese American student groups.

The language barrier and negative stereotypes seemed to come into play in both of those definitions. The American Dream was a topic that appeared specifically in my life history interview with a Chinese professor, but it appeared three times, which allowed it to qualify as a code based on my criteria.

In future interviews, I would ask not only about the gap between Chinese American and international Chinese students, but also about instances of cultural cohesion.

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My interviewees and focus group attendees gave a significant number of examples of cases in which they saw some kind of collaboration between the two sides. Although my original focus was on the differences between these groups, I realize now that learning about the similarities can be very useful as well and can contribute to questions that are less leading in a specific direction.

For the fieldnotes, I developed the following codes: unfamiliar with the system, rushing through the station, variety of people, and no attendant. There were a lot of things I mentioned twice, not three times, so if I adjusted my criteria, I could potentially double the number of codes. Through my observations, I learned much about the unspoken rules of the transportation center.

In general, most people rush through the station very quickly, being familiar with the system and hurrying to their destinations. They do not stop to help those who are unfamiliar with the card machines and other technologies in the station. There is an attendant available to assist people, but not many people asked for help at first. Instead, they spent some time puzzling it out on their own, eventually getting what they wanted. The low visibility of the station attendants could have contributed to this attitude.

Also, I learned a huge variety of people use the station. I started my observations with the assumption that it was used mainly by people commuting to and from work, but I saw many students and shabbily-dressed people (i.e. not dressed to go to work) present as well. To learn more about the people who use the train station, my next steps would be to record observations on the L, Metra, and Pace Bus 208. By observing solely at the train station, I can learn only a limited amount of information about the patrons because they move through the station so quickly.

Expanding my range of observations would increase my knowledge of how people use public transportation in Chicago. Asking people for interviews might be a sound option as well, but it may be very difficult to find someone willing to stop and arrange an interview with a stranger.

Coding my data was a rewarding process that helped me see connections between the seemingly disparate elements of my transcripts and fieldnotes. Having even more material to work with might make my process easier since repeated themes canappear more clearly and outliers can be discounted. It would also make for a more complete set of codes.

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The Importance of Coding Data. (2023, May 17). Retrieved from

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