Articulating the 'bleeding obvious'

By Christina Silver on Jun 02, 2016 at 07:20 AM in Five-Level QDA issues & ideas

Articulating the 'bleeding obvious' It's obvious

by Christina Silver, 2nd June 2016

Nick emphasized in his first blog post that Five-Level QDA is not a new or different way of doing qualitative data analysis but a method of teaching how experienced CAQDAS users unconsciously harness their chosen software. This is a critical point that I want to bring to life by sharing an eye-opening conversation with Dr. Michelle Salmona of the Institute for Mixed Methods Research.

Nick and I recently went to the 12th International Congress for Qualitative Inquiry at University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. In the Digital Tools Stream we presented two papers discussing the genesis, principles and implementation of Five-Level QDA. These papers were pretty important to us because they were the first outing of the full method to our peers in a formal conference setting. We’ve been using Five-Level QDA in our own work for several years and know from students who have learnt a CAQDAS package in our workshops and from researchers who are using 5LQDA in their own research that it makes sense and it works. We’ve also discussed it with several close colleagues, including Professor Trena Paulus, Ann Lewins, Dr Sarah Bulloch and Liz Pope, all of whom have contributed to its refinement. But when you stand up in front of CAQDAS developers, established methodologists and teachers who you greatly respect, you’re inevitably somewhat apprehensive about what they will think.

Is the 'obvious' worthy of mention?

It somehow doesn’t matter how confident you are in something, you still wonder if others will ‘get it’, or think what you’re saying is so obvious that it’s not worthy of mention. The need for external validation is human nature. We want Five-Level QDA to prompt a step-change in the way students and researchers think about, learn, teach and discuss CAQDAS packages, and that’s not going to happen unless the CAQDAS community of practice work together. We were therefore really pleased with the feedback to our presentations, the inspiring conversations that followed and the plans that are now hatching with several colleagues to move this forward. It seemed that the audience did ‘get it’. 

But something Michelle said over a post-conference drink made me stop and think. She said “You and Nick have managed to capture and articulate the bleeding obvious”. That was it! We’re conditioned to think we have to do more than this to further knowledge and contribute something significant. But Michelle’s statement reminded me of how I felt when I heard Nick talk at the 2013 ATLAS.ti user conference in Berlin when he first presented the theory of Five-Level QDA.

My ephiphany

That September afternoon was somewhat of an epiphany for me. Everything Nick said resonated with my experience of using and teaching CAQDAS packages. His descriptions of the contradictions between qualitative strategies and software tactics and the alternative ways we can go about reconciling them – the central underlying principles of Five-Level QDA – made total sense to me. Throughout his keynote paper I was thinking “yes, yes, yes”. His explanation voiced what I had been thinking for many years but hadn’t been able to coherently express. I remember telling my husband when he asked me how the conference was going that I hadn’t learnt anything new but I now saw it all clearly. Nick had articulated the ‘bleeding obvious’ to me.  

The 'bleeding obvious' is powerful

And Michelle has made me realize what a powerful thing this is. Most experienced CAQDAS users have been through many years of trial and error to develop their expertise, certainly both myself and Nick did. We undertook many projects and made many mistakes along the way. What we’re aiming to do with Five-Level QDA is to enable new CAQDAS users to develop their own expertise without having to go through that same lengthy process. Five-Level QDA isn’t a new way of doing analysis because it simply unpacks what expert CAQDAS users already unconsciously do. It’s a way of articulating what is obvious to experts to those who have yet to develop that expertise.


I highly recommend Nick Woolf's workshops. I learned more in two days than in months of tinkering on my own. Nick does a masterful job of blending didactic instruction with one-on-one coaching.
Kimberly Jinnett, Ph.D.
Senior Evaluation Officer, Wallace-Readers Digest Funds, The University of British Columbia