Analysing exceptions within qualitative data: promoting analytical diversity to advance knowledge of ageing and physical activity

Cassandra Phoenix, Noreen Orr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)


Looking for patterns of meaning within data to identify central themes is a common form of analysis within qualitative research in sport, exercise and health. Far less analytical scrutiny has been directed toward how researchers might deal with ‘exceptional’ data. That is, data which, while telling us something about a central theme, deviates significantly from its defining plotline and characteristics. The purpose of this predominantly methodological paper is to examine exceptions in data gathered from interviews with 51 (m=23; f=28) physically active older adults (60 – 92 years of age). Exploiting exceptions within our data revealed unique perspectives within the central themes of: healthy ageing, relationships, and bereavement. Problematising the rise of – and indeed pressure for - methodological simplicity within qualitative research, we assert the continued need for complexity for progressing the intellectual agenda of ageing and physical activity. Engaging with methodological multiplicity, particularly at the level of qualitative data analysis (e.g. via a focus on exceptions), produces important and original knowledge, which has direct relevance for the development of theory, methods and health policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-284
Number of pages14
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number3
Early online date20 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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