Open, In Vivo, Axial, and Selective Coding

Open, axial, and selective coding are three distinct processes used in qualitative research, particularly in the field of grounded theory. They involve the systematic analysis and categorization of data to identify patterns, themes, and relationships.

Open Coding:

Open coding is the initial stage of qualitative data analysis. It is a method where data are initially broken down and analyzed to identify concepts, categories, or themes. It involves generating initial codes that capture the main ideas or concepts found in the data. Open coding allows for exploration and discovery, as the researcher remains open to emerging patterns and concepts without predetermined categories. The researcher reads and re-reads the data, line by line or segment by segment, to identify significant concepts, actions, and meanings. Open coding helps in developing a comprehensive understanding of the data by identifying a wide range of ideas and perspectives.

In Vivo Coding:

In vivo coding is a specific technique sometimes used during the open coding phase. It involves using participants’ exact words or phrases as codes to capture their lived experiences and perspectives. In vivo codes are verbatim representations of participants’ language, preserving the authenticity and richness of their expressions. Therefore, in vivo coding is a technique employed within the broader open coding process. It is a way to create codes based on participants’ exact words, contributing to the development of categories and themes during the open coding phase of qualitative analysis.

Axial Coding:

Axial coding is the next step in the qualitative data analysis process. It involves a more focused and systematic examination of the data to identify relationships between categories and subcategories identified during the open coding phase. Axial coding aims to establish connections and linkages between concepts, exploring how they relate to each other and contribute to the overall phenomenon under study. This process involves reorganizing and re-categorizing the codes based on their relationships, often using visual tools such as diagrams or matrices to visualize the connections. Axial coding helps to identify key themes, subthemes, and the underlying structure or framework that emerges from the data.

Selective Coding:

In grounded theory, the researcher is attempting to develop a theory or explanation that accounts for the observed phenomena. Selective coding is an important step in this process and follows open coding and axial coding. It involves further refining and organizing the data to identify a core category or central theme that captures the essence of the research. The goal is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the data and to create a theory or explanation that accounts for the observed phenomena.

Therefore, open coding is the initial phase where data are broken down to identify concepts and generate codes. Sometimes in vivo coding is employed within open coding to capture participants’ exact words and expressions to preserve authenticity. Axial coding follows open coding and focuses on finding relationships between categories and subcategories. Finally, selective coding aims to develop a theory that explains the topic of study by refining and organizing data into a core category or central theme. When conducting a grounded theory study, the goal is to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the data and create an explanatory theory, and open, axial, and selective coding are often used to achieve this.