Using Emoji for Qualitative Data Analysis

It is possible to use emoji instead of words for codes, I was curious. I had not come across this before, and became intrigued about how emoji might be used for coding as well as analysis.

Using Emoji for Qualitative Data Analysis

Qualitative research is one of my favourite things to think about. In particular, I have a keen interest in understanding  what influences and affects the analysis process, as well as the way we, see and interpret the data. Two years ago, over a Zoom catch up, Andreas Müller was showing me how to use MAXQDA, and mentioned that it was possible to use emoji instead of words for codes, I was curious. I had not come across this before, and became intrigued about how emoji might be used for coding as well as analysis.

I sent out a tweet about it:

I didn’t know it at the time, but an encouraging response to this Tweet by Dr Helen Kara launched a two-year journey into the exploration of what it means to analyse data using emoji instead of words.

I didn’t know if anything would come if it. The work was truly grounded in the sense that nothing like this had ever been done before, and also because I had never thought or conceptualised anything like this before. I didn’t even know how to start.

Thankfully, at about the same time I started working with someone who is an expert in how people use emoji in communication. Dr. Lauren Gawne is a linguist and has written about emoji for academic and general audiences. Having Lauren as my emoji mentor meant there was critical thinking in the choice of platform used for emoji analysis. Different platforms have slight variations in how emoji are depicted, and different copyright restrictions on reproducing emoji.

We chose to use emoji from Google Docs, for ease of use, ability to share, and affordability (I wasn’t paid for this work- it was all done in my own time).

One of the most important aspects of this project was open communication, the maintenance of a research journal, and lots of reflexivity. Being the first of its kind, there were plenty of stumbling blocks. Some included:

• The actual mechanics of coding (at one point I printed out thousands of emoji to manually peruse)

• Finding and deciding which emoji to use (it was like learning another language)

• Documenting and justifying the choice of emoji (which almost took as much time as choosing the emoji)

• Transferring this into a way that could be easily conveyed to those outside of the analytical process.

I managed to resolve all of those issues using Google docs, but it took time. These very basic stumbling blocks made it difficult to get into the actual analytical process, however, once addressed, the analysis and deep thinking started to flow.

A few of the things I discovered about the analysis using emoji:

• It wasn’t simply using emoji for gesture like it often is everyday contexts

• It allowed for coding in a way that added depth, insight and representation of relationships that was not as easily accessible with words

• Actual analysis using emoji, not only coding. Emoji could be used to provide, and depict analytical depth at the coding stages of the research

• The software and tech used makes a big difference with what you can do with emoji

This last point is really important. Not only does software affect the practicalities of using emoji to assist with analysis, but it also influences the depth of analysis, how we document and display that analysis at various stages of the process.

Quirkos recently launched a feature where you can use emoji instead of words for coding. I had a go at using it, and was surprised by the extra level of depth and analysis you could go to using their platform with emoji.

I have long been impressed with the Quirkos interface since I first saw it, but the vast flexibility in the positioning of Quirks (or codes) means that there is greater scope in how emoji can be used for analysis and coding.

A workshop on using emoji for analysis is a world first. I am thrilled that the very first workshop on Using Emoji for Analysis will be done using Quirkos, and so excited to be sharing this with everyone.

Register for Anuja's free workshop on coding and analysis with emoji July 21st 2022!

And try Quirkos Web with emoji support today!