On Codes, Code Books and Coding

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

On Codes, Code Books and Coding

Margaret Kolozsvary

Within the Prosecution Project, the team goes through many steps and processes to be sure that the information that we are provide is thorough and accurate, as well as compliant with the rules that we hold within our own Code Book and Manual. Written by members of our team is our Code Book, which is used to aid us in the process of coding cases to our data set. The code book is approximately eighteen pages long, with all of the information being crucial to coding qualitative research. Explained by Johnny Saldaña in his own Coding Manual for Qualitative Research, are the three primary purposes of a coding manual. These purposes are as follows:

to discuss the functions of codes, coding, and analytic memo writing during the qualitative data collection and analytic processes; to profile a selected yet diverse repertoire of coding methods generally applied in qualitative data analysis; and to provide readers with sources, descriptions, recommended applications, examples, and exercises for coding and further analyzing qualitative data. (Saldaña, 2015)

Not only is extensive coding necessary for a research team to find concise and accurate data, but it allows for optimal understanding of a case when the research is being presented. While all code books can differ on the basis of the research being taken, they all hold the same purposes which is why understanding qualitative research approaches is important and it helps out our team to read excerpts from people such as Saldaña so that we have a better grasp on the true importance of a clear code.

As far as the code book for the Prosecution Project goes, ours is broken up into many different sections that begin with the date of the criminal charge, why it was included within our data set and ends with describing the source from which we pulled our data. These are the processes in which we “codify” a crime; according to Johnny Saldaña, “to codify is to arrange things in a systematic order, to make something part of a system or classification.” (Saldaña, 2015).  Understanding this arrangement for specific data is crucial and as far as the Prosecution Project goes. We have a vast spreadsheet with thousands of cells and data within them; they all hold different information about the specific crime and it allows for us to easily pinpoint a fact about a case.

At any time through coding a crime, it is possible to come to the realization that a case must be dropped with the chance that it fails to meet all criteria; this often occurs when coding “reason for inclusion” or “charge”–where we can run into errors such as the crime was not necessarily motivated by political or ideological violence or the defendant was never charged, which can happen in the case of death of the suspect.

In addition to all of the requirements that are stated in our code book for adding a case to our data set, it is very important that when our coders are working to build the data set, they are working with another person within the team so that there are two eyes on the case, and if one coder misses an important fact pertaining to the case, the other is likely to catch it. Successful and meaningful qualitative research would not be possible without code manuals such as that of the Prosecution Project as it is the perfect guide and aid for those working within this form of research and allows for distinct and accurate research.

Works Cited

Saldana, Johnny. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers Third Edition. 3rd edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2015. [Excerpt, Chapter 1: “An Introduction to Codes and Coding”]

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