Coding with Hierarchical Structures

February 15, 2014

Author: Ricardo B. Contreras

As you may all know, the codes in the ATLAS.ti Code Manager are organized following a flat structure.  This means that codes are grouped together at the same conceptual level.  However, does this mean that we cannot organize our codes hierarchically? No, not really. It just means that we are given time to reflect upon the data and, once the evidence is clear, we can proceed to create our hierarchical structures.  Of course, this process is iterative, it is continuous: we always have to revisit our structures and adjust them according to the evidence.

So, how do we organize our codes in hierarchical structures?  I can think of a set of steps: first, rename your codes using prefixes that represent larger categories. Secondly, explore the hierarchical relationships between codes using the Code-to-Code Network tool (also known as “Semantic” network or “strong-link” network). Hierarchical relations are “is part of” and “is a”.  So, as you place your codes in the network tool, and relate them with each other using one of these two relations, you will be building a simple tree structure, or taxonomic structure.  This structure, of course, should evolve as your understanding of the data advances. See figure 1 below.


Figure 1. A code-to-code semantic structure

Now, what if I want to code using the tree structure I have created?  Can this be done? Yes, you can code using the tree structure.  To do so, open the Code Forest, which will show you all the codes that are on top of a hierarchical structure, and underneath them, at different levels, the codes that are under it in the tree. Just place this Code Forest on the side and drag and drop the code(s) of your preference into the text.


Figure 2. The Code Forest

You may also experiment with the Code Tree, which allows you to see the hierarchy for a selected code only. See the figure below.


Figure 3. The Code Tree

Just a final note: In ATLAS.ti you are not restricted to building tree structures using the “is a” or “is part of” relation. You are free to create all kinds of non-taxonimical structures as well. These structures can also be seen using the Code Forest and Code Tree tools. Just try these tools and find out for yourself their real potential.

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