Grounded Analysis With Symphony
Projects centered on Grounded Theory can be challenging. Knowing that the data can take you almost anywhere means that there is a strong potential to see early promising conclusions dry up as your analysis progresses. Even if you're lucky and your eyes fall on the most representative data from the outset, your analysis most definitely involves constant evolution of your coding structure -- moving codes around, renaming them, sometimes merging codes and sometime refining them into sub-codes. Depending on the tools you are using, each of these activities can be tedious if not error-prone. And the deeper you are into your analysis and the closer your deadline looms, the more tempting it is to be pragmatic and settle for "good enough".

Symphony has several features that collectively solve these issues, reducing the time you spend managing your coding structure, so you have more time to produce the result that is going to yield the maximum value. Here's some tips on using some of them:

Create Codes from Comment Text

Early in your coding process, you might see words or phrases in comments that strike you as likely candidates for themes, or at least high-level categories that are subsequently refined into themes. It can be useful to create codes for them as place-holders. To do this, highlight the word or phrase, then right-click and choose "Create Code from Selection" (or press Alt-F1). A new code is created from the selected text and inserted into the coding structure where the comment is located. If the comment is in Unassigned, the code is inserted as a top-level code. You can then code the comment either by dragging it onto the new code, or by clicking the code's icon. This feature is most useful early in your analysis, when individual words or phrases might be related to recurring themes. 

Word Group View

As an alternative to guessing whether words or phrases are going to recur enough to be significant, you can know with certainty in Symphony's Symphony's Word Group view. Symphony's Word Group view creates a list of all words or phrases ocurring in your project, showing you how often the ocurr, and how many respondents use each. Symphony also generates a score, which is intended to give you an idea of how likely the word or phrase is thematically significant. The phrase "It is" would score exceptionally low because the words themselves have a low value. The phrase "market shareyou can " would score moderately high if these two words appear frequently in your data, and would score higher if they tended to appear in proximity to one another. After the high value phrases have been identified, you can click on one to see what comments it is contained in. Because the comments are grouped together, you can code some or all of them at the same time by selecting them and either dragging them onto a code, or by clicking the code's icon.

Symphony's Code Suggestions Component

Symphony includes a "Code Suggestion Component", attached to your coding structure. By default it is hidden and inactive, but you can show it by clicking the Show/Hide button on the mini-toolbar at the top of the coding structure. When it is activated, the Code Suggestion Component monitors your coding progress. Each time you code a comment or modify your coding struture, Symphony evaluates the currently-selected comment and comes up with a list of codes that are most likely fits for the comment. Essentially, the Code Suggestion Component is saying, "based on how you've been coding, here's how I think you should code that comment." You can then code the comment to one of the suggested codes either by dragging the comment onto it, or by clicking the code's icon. As your coding structure grows, this can be a big time saver, since the code you need might be in this short list, making it much easier to find.

Merge Codes

After you've created several codes using the Create Codes from Comment Text feature, you might see that the underlying comments are thematically close enough that you want them coded together. In this case, you want to move the comments from one code into the other then delete the now-empty code. This can be done in one step: using your right-mouse button, drag the code you want to get rid of onto the other code and drop it. The comments in the dragged code will be moved and the dragged code will be deleted. If the dragged code contains sub-codes, their comments will also be moved and the codes deleted as well. So you can merge entire trees of codes into one. (By default, Symphony will prompt you to confirm this action. You can turn the confirmation off by going to Configuration/Drag/Drop.)

Split Multi-Theme Comments

Symphony supports coding comments to multiple themes, but depending on your objectives -- for example if will be producing a verbatim report -- you might want comments to be "single-barreled", meaning that each comment is to contain one theme. The first thing that comes to mind of course is to cut the text containing the second theme from one comment and use it for creating another, the code the new comment. Symphony provides a shortcut: In the Content Editor (the region that displays the complete text of a comment at the bottom of most views) or on the Comment's properties form, highlight the text you want to split to another comment, then simply drag it onto a code. Symphony will remove the text from the current comment, create a new one, code it, and attribute it to the same respondent as the original.

Cluster Analysis View

Symphony's Cluster Analysis view is useful both for identifying potential themes and for matching comments with existing themes. Grounded methodologies can use both -- the first at the beginning of your analysis, the second later on after your coding structure has matured.

Identifying Themes

Symphony's Cluster Analysis view has a setting for "Emergent Analysis". If you choose this option, Symphony will compare all the comments in your project against each other, identifying similaries, and then grouping as many as it can into "clusters". The clusters become your candidate codes. You can convert the clusters in to codes which automatically codes the comments in the clusters. Alternatively you can create codes youself and drag the comments into them. The point is that you are able to make coding decisions on large numbers of comments at once instead of reading them individually.

Using Existing Themes

If you have already coded some of your data and have the sense that most of your important themes have at least been identified, you can still use Symphony's cluster analysis view. In this case you want to use Symphony's "Model-Based" preset, and specify that you want the uncoded comments to be compared with your project's codes and coded comments. What happens is performs an action similar to the Code Suggestion Component, but instead of doing it for a single comment it does it for all of them at once and displays them as clusters. Coding them is now a simple matter of selecting the clustered comments and dragging them into a code. The Cluster Analysis view has many options that allow you to fine-tune your analysis. No changes are actually made to your project during the analysis - Symphony merely displays the results. The changes are made when you move the comments into codes. So you have the latitude to try different settings to see how the results are affected.