Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Data analysis: When it starts to make sense—also known as “breakthrough”

mkoole, · Categories: PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , ,

Yes, that title says what I want it to say. I’m hoping that by sharing this in my blog, it provides some hope for doctoral students groping through the dark depths of their data.

Urquhart Castle ruins off Loch Ness, 2011

Admittedly, I have been procrastinating somewhat—a few months, actually. I have done the initial coding of my transcripts using discourse analysis techniques derived from the work of Gee (2010), Potter (1996), and some other significant authors. Then, I did some additional coding for some salient and potential phenomenographic categories that I saw emerging—some expected; some not so expected. I exported from Atlas-TI quotes according to the code categories. I have read through all of them in Word, highlighting and jotting down additional notes in on the pages themselves and in my extremely messy journal. I have plodded along in faith that something would one day make sense, and with an unspoken knowing that these steps would lead me to that place.

As a result of this seemingly blind journey, I started seeing categories of description emerge. And, I am getting a sense for the variation in experience associated with the categories of description.

During my last meeting with my supervisor in which she shared some newly discovered ideas from another student’s viva, I crossed my most profoundly deep threshold of understanding. I am now coding for some additional code-perspectives. And, I can see how discourse analysis strongly supports the study of liminality–sub-liminality, in particular. My supervisor and I discussed the idea of discourses and sub-liminality (hyphenated spelling is intended), and I found the relevant literature by the threshold-concept-gurus in my notes. (Thank gawd for the notes I took on my resources—invaluable.) Today, it feels as if it is just coming together.

At the time of writing this, I was in one of my favourite, sunny coffee-spots, and I was starting to code with these new codes. Suddenly, I saw significant meaning and patterns. I could see the connection between discourse analysis, threshold concepts, Harré’s Vygotsky cycle, and my data emerging as if it is the most natural thing in the world. Whoa. Breakthrough. Now, I must find more time to code.

Of course, my experience in writing my master’s thesis had taught me to expect these moments of lucidity to be punctuated with moments of feeling overwhelming out-of-control. Alas, these are natural ripples in the pond. Keep going.


Edwards, D. (1997). Discourse and Cognition (p. 368). London, UK: Sage Publications, Inc.

Gee, J. P. (2011). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method (3rd ed., p. 224). New York, NY: Routledge.

Potter, J. (1996). Representing reality (p. 265). London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd.

Wooffitt, R. (1992). Telling tales of the unexpected: The organization of factual discourse (p. 217). Hertfordshire, UK: Harverster Wheatsheaf.