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Attributional Coding

Although attribution theory has proven popular among oraganizational

researchers, one might be surprised to find it described in a book concerned with
qualitative method. Of the many studies which have explored the influends of
attributions on organizational behaviours, including sales performance and
employee turnover (Corr and Gray, 1996; Seligman and Schulman, 1986), job
satisfaction and commitment (Furrnham et. al., 1994), job seeking behavior
(Prussia et al., 1993) and attributions for subordinate performance (Kipnis et. al.,
1981 ; Knowlton and Mitchell, 1980), most if not all, have employed quantitative
methods. It has generally been assumed that attributions are internal and
essentially private cognitions which require methods such as questionnaires,
beharvioural vignettes and hypothetical or laboratory simulations in order to
render them open to investigations. Unfortunately, an important consequence of
this has been that little attention has been paid to the public or spoken
attributions that are produced when people share their understanding of the
causes of important events with one another.
The aim of this chapter is to discuss a method known as attributional
coding. This method enables the researcher to extract, code and thereby
analyse patterns of public attributions, defined here as attributions
communicated through either discourse (e.g. conversations. Team meetings,
speeches) or written material (e.g. company reports, letters, e-mail).
Attributional coding is unudual in that it is a method which can be used in
qualitative or quantitative researcher depending upon the theoretical perspective
and objective of the researcher . Qualitative material can be coded using a
prespecified coding frame in a way which permits statistical analysis and
consequently comparison across groups. Alternatively, researchers can choose to
focus upon the content of the attributions which are extracted and explore the
unique ways in which different individuals explain why particular event have
occurred. In this chapter I have chosen to focus upon some material from my
own research into candidats impression management during selections interview
as a means to illustrate how attributional coding can be used. Consequently, my
emphasis will be on use of the prespecified coding system and the identification
of common pattern of attributions typical of successful and unsuccessful
Background to attributional coding
Attribution theory concern the everyday causal explanations thet people produce
when they encounter novel, important, unusual or potentially threatening
behavior and event (Baucom, 1987; Weiner, 1981). According to attribution
theorists, people are motivated to identify the causes of such events, because by
doing so they render their