Researchers often employ thematic coding methods to interpret qualitative data. Consider the following text that might be seen in activist settings: "Solving climate change requires all of us to work together." Thematically, you can label this sentence with codes such as "climate change" or "problem-solving," which are useful when your research questions call for examining the substance of textual data.
However, if your research questions are aimed at examining how text is structured to achieve persuasion, you might consider using structural codes such as "call to action" or "collective change." These codes don't refer to the meaning of the text specifically, but they label specific parts of a larger text to identify how activists persuade their audiences.
The structural coding method is ideal for various reasons and research questions. We'll examine a few of these purposes in this section.
Consider studies with research questions that explore how people talk in an everyday setting. Structural coding for discourse analysis can look at features of discourse such as "open-ended questions," "disagreement," and "consensus building" so researchers can identify differences in the use of these features across cultures and contexts.
Within certain features such as "open-ended questions" or "consensus building," there are bound to be variations. Research questions that call for an inductive approach may employ a structural coding method to identify different kinds of open-ended questions or strategies for building consensus.
If your research questions employ an existing theory with defined criteria (e.g., qualities of transformational leadership), you might consider applying structural codes to observational data (e.g., "motivation," "rapport") to affirm or challenge that theory.
Structural coding has been applied in various fields, so it's worth looking at these fields to give you a sense of how structural methods of coding can be applied to your research.
If your research questions deal with how online communication differs from face-to-face or traditional, written communication like letters and memos, then your coding can focus on the differences in discursive features across different media.
The same research questions can be applied to other genres such as recipes. Think about how a recipe in a cookbook might differ from a recipe on a blog site or social media video, then consider how structural coding can explore these differences.
What makes a story funny or compelling? Structural codes can help address research questions relating to how people put together stories to achieve a persuasive effect on their audience.
How does everyday conversation differ across cultures? You might consider labeling parts of conversation with structural codes such as "small talk," "personal question," and "compliment" to compare differences across data sets.
Traditional media outlets might structure news articles differently from news blogs or alternative media, prompting researchers to employ structural coding to examine these differences.