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How to affinity map using the canvas

22 January 2024
Patrick Sweeney
Lisa Nguyen

Affinity mapping is a powerful tool for synthesizing qualitative data.

By visually grouping your research, you can identify patterns and insights that may otherwise been difficult to spot. Dovetail's Canvas view lets you affinity map in the same place your research lives. Here's how to get started.

Gather your data

Step one is to gather your data: survey responses, interviews, customer feedback, or any other qualitative research you may have done. Make sure you collect enough data to get a good sense of the patterns that may exist. Combining data sources leads to a deeper analysis and a more nuanced understanding of user needs.

Highlight and tag

Tags and highlights structure data that would otherwise be difficult to interpret. Tagging in Dovetail is incredibly simple—for a complete walkthrough, click here.

Set up your Canvas

Once your data has been highlighted and tagged, set up your Canvas in Dovetail. To create a Canvas view, click Add a view under Highlights and select Canvas.

Affinity map your data

Once your canvas is set up, start grouping related highlights into clusters. It’s easy to make this a group exercise—Canvas view supports collaboration with unlimited teammates as long as they have a Contributor or Manager account.

Get a quick start on your synthesis. Clicking Smart Arrange will automatically group your highlights by Tag or Note.

Refining your clusters from here is as simple as dragging and dropping highlights into new or different groups. To get started:

  1. Identify the types of insights you want to cluster. Are you looking for patterns in user behavior, attitudes, or preferences?

  2. Read through your data and make the first pass at grouping similar highlights.

  3. Create named themes for the different groups you have identified. You can add labels using the Text button.

  4. For each theme, consider if it relates to others. If applicable, simplify further by grouping these similar themes.

  5. Once you have identified the different clusters, add visual representation. Provide clear visual borders between groups by using the Rectangle tool, or add labels to each theme by clicking the Text button. This will help you better understand the relationships between your themes.

Summarise patterns into insights

Once you’ve organized your data, it's time to summarize it into insights. Select a theme, and click Add to insight. This newly created insight will contain all of the highlights in your theme.

Insights are important, and a great insight can radically update how stakeholders see the world. When creating insights, it can be helpful to follow a few principles. At Dovetail, we believe that insights should be:

  • Surprising. If everybody immediately nods their head, it isn’t an insight. Insights should reveal something that wasn't previously known or expected.

  • Empirical. Insights should be grounded in data, not subjective bias. This allows stakeholders to draw conclusions based on the evidence rather than relying on intuition or guesswork.

  • Simple. Insights should be written in plain English—direct and free of jargon. Simple writing builds trust, as the reader is more likely to trust you if the message is easy to understand.

  • Tailored. Insights should be written with your specific audience in mind. By understanding your stakeholders and their needs, you can tailor your writing to be more persuasive and engaging, making it easier for them to understand and act on your message.

  • Recommendation-based. Without a clear recommendation, it can be challenging to understand what should be done with your insights. Recommendations provide a framework and actionable steps to address the issue, allowing stakeholders to make informed decisions quickly.

Share your results

Finally, it's time to share your results with the rest of your team. You can share your insights directly with stakeholders or by using the Dovetail Slack integration. Alternatively, share your raw affinity diagram with your team or stakeholders to review and discuss. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding user needs, preferences, experiences, and behaviors.

Affinity mapping is an invaluable tool for any researcher or analyst. With Dovetail's Canvas View, you can quickly and easily visualize your data and uncover valuable insights. Following the six steps outlined above, you can make the most of the tool and get the most out of your research.

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