Imagine you go into a charity shop and find a jigsaw. The picture on the box is one you like, and the price is right. When you go to pay for it, a staff member tells you there are some other jigsaw pieces mixed into that box, which shouldn’t be there. You don’t mind this and buy it anyway. When you open the box to piece the jigsaw together, there are far more pieces than you realised, you’ll have to sort through them to filter out the ones you don’t need and the ones that you do. This means you have to look at each piece, decide if it fits the colour scheme of the picture on the box, does the pattern on it belong in that picture and so on.
Once you’ve sorted out which pieces you need, you start to look for the corners and edges. You start to put them together to create a border for your jigsaw. Then you start to pick out pieces for the middle sections, you know approximately what it will look like, after sorting through the pieces in detail to find what you need, you might not want the picture on the box any more. You start to see details of the pieces that fit together, clouds, trees. As you do this, putting together chunks of the middle, you realise the border you started is too small. So you rearrange that to fit the rest of the pieces, it’s starting to come together now and look like a picture.
You’ve been staring at individual pieces for so long that you are finding it difficult to see where they would go in the larger picture. You need to stop looking at them as individual pieces and look at the chunks they create. Where does the cloud go in relation to the tree? Is the border still the right size? Do all the chunks you have fit together properly? As you do this, you can start to see the whole picture better and eventually you finish the jigsaw. You go back and look at the picture on the box to compare. The one you’ve made is so much more detailed, you never noticed the flowers at the bottom of the tree when looking at the box, but now they stand out as a main feature of the jigsaw.
A friend asks you what the jigsaw looks like when you mention you’ve finished it. You could tell them the details of all the pieces after the amount of time you’ve spent with it, but you realise this isn’t necessary, you tell them the main features. It’s a picture of a field with some rabbits grazing at flowers under a tree. They tell you it sounds nice and they’d like to see it some time.
This is pretty much what it feels like to write the results chapter of a qualitative thesis. You have all this data, in glorious word by word detail; you break it down and then build it back up to create a theory. It can be difficult to come away from seeing individual pieces to finding themes or the bigger picture; it almost feels like leaving things out. You want to show all the work you’ve done; it’s tempting to go through every point of interest in great detail; but that isn’t helpful for the person reading your work. They need to see the larger features and how they link together. The story the data tells altogether is more important than what each piece says alone. You’ve gone through all that work and detail so that other people don’t have to. You’ve put together the jigsaw so that other people can admire the picture.