The term code is used in many different ways. First, we would like to define what that term means in qualitative research, and then in ATLAS.ti.

Coding means that we attach labels to segments of data that depict what each segment is about. Through coding, we raise analytic questions about our data from […]. Coding distils data, sorts them, and gives us an analytic handle for making comparisons with other segments of data.
Charmaz (2014:4)

Coding is the strategy that moves data from diffuse and messy text to organized ideas about what is going on.
(Richards and Morse, 2013:167)

From a Methodological Perspective

  • Codes capture meaning in the data.

  • Codes serve as handles for specific occurrences in the data that cannot be found by simple text-based search techniques.

  • Codes are used as classification devices at different levels of abstraction in order to create sets of related information units for the purpose of comparison.

A section of coded data

The length of a code should be restricted and should not be too verbose. If textual annotations are what you want, you should use quotation comments instead.

Keep code names brief and succinct. Use the comment pane for longer elaborations.

From a Technical Perspective

Codes are short pieces of text referencing other pieces of text, graphical, audio, or video data. Their purpose is to classify data units.

In the realm of information retrieval systems, the terms "tag", "keyword", or "tagging" are often used for "code" or "coding."

Further information can be found in the sections Coding Data and Working With Codes.


Charmaz, Kathy (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage.

Richards, Lyn and Janice M. Morse (2013, 3ed). Readme first: for a user’s guide to Qualitative Methods. Los Angeles: Sage.