On Analysis and Being Scared

I just met with my Thesis Director for the first time since returning to school and he quelled some of my fears related to analysis.  He reassured me that feeling frightened bodes well.  If the data seems vast and difficult to navigate then this signifies that one has most likely amassed enough data to create a substantive report.  Even though it felt nice to hear these warm words, the task before me still seems daunting because of its extraordinary nature.

When I sit down with a blank word document, a blinking cursor, and a pile of pertinent literature at my side, I know how to write a report.  The process has become habitual and although it can still be challenging, the end to the challenge and reward for its completion (a letter grade in Sharpie ink) is not far off.  Yet writing a paper on one’s own research, never before performed, requires a new kind of process.  I interpret this process to be a set of contradictions – both methodical and haphazard, a procedure vacillating between dead-ends and discoveries.  One must delve into the data and find the truths lurking amidst the confusion.

For me, an organization junkie and lover of the ritual of academic assignments, this new process of data exploration appears particularly intimidating.  Yet, I am excited at the same time.  The next step requires visualization of the data.  At the suggestion of my director, I plan to begin creating pictures out of the data and searching for patters in these pictures.  I’ll organize the interviews temporally and spatially (when and where they took place), sort them by basic social hierarchy (members of the city government versus citizens etc.), triangulate them to various city locations, search for relationships amongst them.   With each new arrangement I’ll search for notable arrangements of interviewee themes.

Some of these conceptualizations will prove fruitless, but ideally some of them will reveal interesting information.  Although it’s tempting to impose some rigid schedule of analysis (e.g. transcribe the interviews and query for specific terms, as designated by various urban theory books), I know that this is the way to let the data speak for itself and not instead speak for the data.  Although this may be the hardest paper I’ve ever written, if I approach the task with resolve and dedication, I believe it could be the most gratifying papers I’ve ever written as well.