The Pattern of Patterns

Patterns are ubiquitous in social and natural environments. Humans have a need and propensity to create patterns for order, function, or ornamentation, and those needs and thus skills transfer into our analysis of qualitative data. In a classroom or other average-size indoor environment (such as an office, small restaurant, or bedroom), look for and list all patterns observed. These can range from patterns in the architecture or décor (e.g. rows of fluorescent lighting tubes, slats in air conditioning vents) to patterns in furnishings and their arrangements (e.g. desks lined up in rows, vertically arranged cabinet drawers). Next, organize the individual items in your master list into categories—a “pattern of patterns.” For example:

  • decorative patterns: those patterns that are purely ornamental or aesthetic, such as stripes on upholstery fabric, painted marbling on a wall
  • functional patterns: those patterns that have a utilitarian purpose, such as four legs on a chair, three hinges connecting a door to its frame
  • organizational patterns: those patterns that bring order to the environment or its artifacts, such as books of similar topics shelved together, various office supplies in appropriate bins
  • other types of patterns you construct

Conduct the same exercise above in an outdoor/natural environment. However, create a different classification system for the individual patterns you observe (e.g. petals on a flower, leaves on a tree, clusters of cacti).

Next, list the patterns of actions in your own life you’ve experienced thus far today (e.g. not just what happened more than once today, but what series of actions happened today that were repeated from previous days). Formulate categories or themes to appropriately cluster and label these patterns (Saldaña, 2015, p. 45). Compare the patterns of your life with someone else’s.