Counting in Qualitative Research: Why to Conduct it, When to Avoid it, and When to Closet it

David R. Hannah and Brenda A. Lautsch of Simon Fraser University, discuss their article recently published in the Journal of Management Inquiry‘s OnlineFirst: Counting in Qualitative Research: Why to Conduct it, When to Avoid it, and When to Closet it.
Who is the Target Audience for this Article?
The target audience is anyone who has dealt with or will confront the difficult question of when counting is an appropriate strategy for the analysis of qualitative data.  We therefore think that it will be of particular interest to qualitative researchers and anyone who is responsible for the evaluation of qualitative research.    
What Inspired You To Be Interested In This Topic?
As qualitative researchers ourselves, we have been in situations where reviewers or editors asked us to count our data, but we felt that counting would not improve the quality of our work.   However, in those frustrating situations we had no published work that we could refer to in order to determine whether our feelings were justified, or whether there might be some unanticipated benefit from counting.   
Were There Findings That Were Surprising To You?

Since this is not an empirical paper there were no findings, but when we started this work we were more familiar with the arguments against counting than we were with the arguments about when counting could improve the quality of qualitative research.  We both feel that we now have a more balanced perspective about the role of counting.   (We expect that some of our colleagues will disagree with that statement!)

How Do You See This Study Influencing Future Research And/Or Practice?

We believe this article could influence future research in two ways.  First, we hope it provides some much-needed guidelines for when counting is and is not an appropriate means of qualitative data analysis.  As we developed this paper and presented it at conferences, researchers who were struggling with these issues often contacted us to ask for our advice.  This has made us hopeful that our ideas will be useful to many people.  Second, we hope that our ideas can stimulate a broader discussion on the topic of counting.  This is a controversial topic, and we do not intend for this paper to provide the last word about counting.  As we state in our conclusions, we hope that we have provided a set of ideas that others can consider, agree or disagree with, and build on in order to improve our understanding of this very important issue.

How Does This Study Fit Into Your Body Of Work/Line Of Research?  

Both of us have published qualitative research in the past (e.g. Beyer and Hannah, 2002; Hannah 2007; Lautsch 2002; Lautsch & Scully 2007).  This project added to our knowledge about qualitative research methods.

How Did Your Paper Change During The Review Process?  

We re-wrote this paper numerous times, and in the process of developing it received useful feedback from many of our colleagues.  We were particularly lucky that our final reviewers and editor helped us to turn the paper from a set of what we felt were interesting but loosely connected ideas into a more coherent “story” about counting.

What, If Anything, Would You Do Differently If You Could Go Back And Do This Study Again?

While we are happy with the final paper and the fact that it is being published in a prestigious outlet, we would like to have arrived at this happy outcome sooner.   However, we did receive a lot of useful feedback along the way, so the development process, while lengthy and at times very frustrating, was ultimately very useful.


Beyer, Janice M. and Hannah, David R.  2002.  Building on the past: Enacting established personal identities in a new work setting.  Organization Science, 13: 636-652.

Hannah, David R.  2007.  An examination of the factors that influence whether newcomers protect or share secrets of their former employers.  Journal of Management Studies, 44: 465-487.

Lautsch, Brenda A. & Maureen Scully.  2007.  Restructuring time: Implications of work-hours reductions for the working class.  Human Relations, 60:  719-743.

Lautsch, Brenda A. 2002.  Uncovering and explaining variance in the features and outcomes of contingent work within firms.  Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 56:  23-43.

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