Documentary method – proposal for the use of QDA software.

A simplified example, implemented with f4analysis.


We show here as an example the technical implementation of the evaluation steps according to the Documentary Method with f4analysis. Of course, the content of this example has been simplified in order to provide a quick and vivid overview. It does not replace an own examination of the method. For this we recommend, for example, the explanations by Frank Kleemann, Uwe Krähnke and Ingo Matuschek in: „Interpretative Sozialforschung. An Introduction to the Practice of Interpretations“ (2013). There one can also find a compact introduction to the research program, basic concepts, and methodological approach of the documentary method. For a deeper insight into the method, we recommend working through the sources on the last page:

Steps of Analysis

  1. Selection of data and sequencing
    The code system for sequencing and forming thematic headings helps here.
  2. Formulating interpretation
    The code system can also be used for this task. Fine interpretations can be recorded in memos.
  3. Reflective Interpretation
    Reflective interpretation can be recorded in a memo directly at the relevant text passages.
  4. Case description
    The case description is recorded in the text commentary.
  5. Case comparison and typology
    Adding/importing additional texts to the project allows for more case descriptions and later comparison. For the final report, all results can be exported as RTF files for further editing, e.g. in Word.

1. selection of data and sequencing

This is how we implemented it in f4analysis:

  • First, we create a new text and add the appropriate audio file to it. (pencil symbol behind the text). And exactly, there is no text content yet!
  • For the later thematic structuring we create a main code with the case name. (In our example text name: group 1 / code name: segmentation group 1).
  • With the key F4 (start/stop) we listen to the interview.
  • If there is a change of topic, we write the word “to” and put a time marker behind it with the F8 key./li>
  • We code this time marker with a new code, which we create as a subcode, entering the topic of the spoken section as the name.
  • After listening to the whole interview, we select the passages relevant for the analysis. As a visual marker, we color the code of the selected passage in a different color.
  • We transcribe the relevant passage(s) directly in f4analysis by listening, pressing the F4 key (start/stop playback) and typing.

Figure 1: Structuring of segments by

Assignment to codes. The yellow coded segment has been selected as relevant for analysis and transcribed.

2. formulating interpretation

This is how we implemented it in f4analysis:

  • We carefully read the first segment to be analyzed and identify themes (what is being talked about).
  • The Formulating Interpretation is recorded in the name of a new subcode to the code of the sequence. For a better overview we use different colors for each additional subcode. (For this purpose it is useful to set the “Insertion position of new codes” to “bottom” in the settings of f4analysis).
  • The corresponding text passage is assigned to the appropriate subcode.
  • In the code tree all formulating interpretations can now be read in sequential order.
  • We then record the formulating fine interpretation in a memo for each passage. To do this, we select the passage, click on Memo and type in the fine interpretation.

Figure 2: Formulating interpretation by sequential assignment of codes

3. reflective interpretation

This is how we implemented it in f4analysis:

  • Each passage that we previously coded in the formulating interpretation, we now read through to make a reflective interpretation.
  • We add the results of the reflective interpretation to the memo for each segment.

Figure 3: Reflective interpretation in a memo

4. case description

This is how we implemented it in f4analysis:

  • We reread all reflective interpretations of the interview and summarize them in a case description in the comment field below.

Figure 4: Text with reflective interpretation and case description in the comment below.

5. export for case comparison and typology

This is how we implemented it in f4analysis:

  • As described above, we process additional sequences and cases.
  • For each new case we create a new main code for this purpose. The main themes and formulating interpretations of the interview are then grouped into subcodes.
  • Using the “Export” function in the menu bar, we select the entry „“Memos and comments…”“ and export all text sections, topics, interpretations and case descriptions as an RTF file. This file can then be further edited, e.g. with Word.
  • In the „Text comments“ section of the document we find the listing of all case descriptions. The subsequent „Memos“ section contains all reflective interpretations with the corresponding supporting documents.
  • We use the “Codes and Coding” export to display the thematic progression of the cases.

Figure 5: Export of case summary in Word


Bohnsack, Ralf (2007): Reconstructive social research. Introduction to qualitative methods. UTB, Stuttgart. 8th, rev. ed. Aufl.

Bohnsack, Ralf; Nentwig-Gesemann, Iris & Nohl, Arnd-Michael (eds.) (2013): The documentary method and its research practice. Foundations of qualitative social research. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. 3rd ed.

Kleemann, Frank et al. (2013): Documentary method. In: Kleemann, Frank, Krähnke, Uwe & Matuschek, Ingo (Eds.): Interpretative Social Research. An introduction to the practice of interpretation. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. 2nd ed. pp. 153-195.

Nohl, Arnd-Michael (2012): Interview and documentary method. Instructions for research practice. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. 4th ed.

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