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Coding up free text questions
Does anyone know if there is a piece of software that can help with categorizing responses to free text questions? I tried with Excel, but couldn't work out how to deal with answers with multiple categories like when it has part about display and part about product range and part about pricing. Is there a way to do this in Excel or do I need something else?


I don't know of any specialist software for open-ends but my guess is that some will exist. There are also tools for managing qualitative research that could possibly be suitable. Others offer text-analytics and sentiment analysis, but personally I'm wary about automated tools because I want to see the detail. My estimate is that in every about 1000 answers there will be two or three absolute gems with a surprising and insightful response that would never get picked up with an automated categorisation or would just end up in an other category.

For an Excel-based approach you first want to go through visually and pull-together a code-frame - that is a list of main categories. Ideally you want a category to be collecting at least 1-2% of the sample - so from 1000 responses, 10 similar answers would count towards a category. Anything else would go into 'Other'. If the 'Other' category gets too big you can add more categories later.

With the code frame code in one column. If an answer has multiple parts separate the responses with commas - eg '3,4,12'. Some tabulation software accepts this type of multiple coding (eg Snap Software), so when you merge the data back into the survey file, Snap would read the multiple coding correctly. If you're analysing by hand in the spreadsheet, you can set up a column per answer code and then use a formula to extract the data. So if your list of codes is in column B, to extract answer code 2 use =FIND(",2,",","&B2&",") - the extract commas are added to ensure 2, 12, 22 are seen as different. You'd have one line per respondents then copy and paste down the rows for all respondents.

Hope this helps,

Saul Dobney
Great answer, going to help me a lot :)

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