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Software and Qualitative Analysis

10. Choosing QDA Software

Exercise 4

Review the following worksheet considering a project you have done or are planning. Record your answers and make notes about implications (be brief, character field limited). Once you have filled out the worksheet, you can print it using the "print" function in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

Click on the exercise preview below to see the full exercise:

Exercise 4

Based on your answers, identify the candidate program that would best suit the needs of this project. Click on the categories below to return to the section of the chapter where each are discussed in detail.

For example, if you are working on a complex evaluation study, with a combination of structured interviews, focus groups, and case studies, you will need strong tools for tracking cases through different documents. You might find good support for this in a program’s code structures, or through the use of speaker identifiers that track individuals throughout the database.
Weitzman, E.A. (2003). Software and qualitative research. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Data. London: Sage.
Weitzman, E. A. (1999a). Analyzing qualitative data with computer software.  Health Services Research, 34 (5), 1241-1263.
Weitzman, E.A. (2003). Software and qualitative research. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Data. London: Sage.

Level 1: You have begun using a word processing program, learning to use your computer's operating system (e.g., Windows or Mac) and getting comfortable with the idea of creating text, moving around in it, and revising it.

Level 2: You are acquainted with several different programs, use your operating system easily, and feel comfortable with the idea of exploring and learning new programs.

Level 3: You are a person with active interest in the ins and outs of how programs work, and feel easy with customization, writing macros, etc.

Level 4: You’re a "hacker," a computer geek, a person who lives and breathes computing.

Text Retrievers

Text retrievers specialize in finding all the instances of words and phrases in text, in one or several files. They typically also allow you to search for places where two or more words or phrases coincide within a specified distance (a number of words, sentences, pages, etc.), and allow you to sort the resulting passages into different output files and reports. Free, easy to use search programs available on the web, such as Google Desktop, do these basic things very well. Many of the programs qualitative researchers typically turn to, on the other hand, may do other things as well, such as content analysis functions like counting, displaying keywords in context or creating concordances (organized lists of all words and phrases in their contexts), or they may allow you to attach annotations or even variable values (for things like demographics or source information) to points in the text. Examples of text retrievers are Sonar Professional, and a variety of free (but hard to use) GREP tools available on the WWW.

Textbase Managers

Textbase managers are database programs specialized for storing text in more or less organized fashion. They are good at holding text, together with information about it, and allowing you to quickly organize and sort your data in a variety of ways, and retrieve it according to different criteria. There are programs—some free, like Zotero—that specialize in storing web-based material. Some are better suited to highly structured data that can be organized into “records” (that is, specific cases) and “fields” (variables—information that appears for each case), while others easily manage “free-form” text. They may allow you to define fields in the fixed manner of a traditional database such as Microsoft Access® or FileMaker Pro®, or they may allow significantly more flexibility, for example, allowing different records to have different field structures. Their search operations may be as good as, or sometimes even better than those of some text retrievers. Examples of textbase managers are askSam and TEXTBASE GAMMA.

Code and Retrieve

Code-and-retrieve is the dominant paradigm for qualitative analysis software, but at this point most programs with code-and-retrieve capability have evolved to the more sophisticated code-based theory builder category discussed next. These programs are often developed by qualitative researchers specifically for the purpose of qualitative data analysis. As a baseline, the programs in this category have specialized in allowing the researcher to apply category tags (codes) to passages of text, and later retrieve and display the text according to the researcher’s coding. These programs have at least some search capacity, allowing you to search either for codes or words and phrases in the text. They may have a capacity to store memos. Even the weakest of these programs represented a quantum leap forward from the old scissors-and-paper approach, being more systematic, more thorough, less likely to miss things, more flexible, and much, much faster. Examples of code-and-retrieve programs were the earlier versions of The Ethnograph, HyperQual2, Kwalitan, QUALPRO, Martin, and The Data Collector. Today, we occasionally see free tools made available on the web that fit this category.

Code-based Theory Builders

Code-based theory builders today appear to attract most of the qualitative researchers who employ software for their analyses. Most of these programs are also based on a code-and-retrieve model, but they go beyond the functions of code-and-retrieve programs. They do not, nor would you want them to, build theory for you. Rather, they have special features or routines that go beyond those of code-and-retrieve programs in supporting your theory-building efforts. For example, they may allow you to represent relations among codes, build higher-order classifications and categories, or formulate and test theoretical propositions about the data. For the most part, these programs allow you to create hierarchical trees of codes, but some, notably Atlas/ti and HyperRESEARCH, allow for non-hierarchical networks as well. They may have more powerful memoing features (allowing you, for example, to categorize or code your memos), or more sophisticated search-and-retrieval functions than did the earlier code-and-retrieve programs. They may have extended and sophisticated hyperlinking features, allowing you to link segments of text together, or to create links among segments of text, graphics, photos, video, audio, web sites and more. They may also offer capabilities for “system closure,” allowing you to feed results of your analyses (such as search results, or memos) back into the system as data. One program, QUALRUS, uses artificial intelligence techniques to suggest coding.

Conceptual Network Builders

These programs emphasize the creation and analysis of network displays. Some of them are focused on allowing you to create network drawings: graphic representations of the relationships among concepts. Examples of these are Inspiration, Mindjet, and Visio. Others are focused on the analysis of cognitive or semantic networks, for example, the program MECA. Still others offer some combination of the two approaches, for example, SemNet and Decision Explorer. Finally, ATLAS/ti, a program also listed under code-based theory builders, also has a fine graphical network builder connected to the analytic work you do with your text and codes, while others, like MAXqda and NVivo, offer an integrated drawing module which does not manipulate underlying relationships.

All your data on a case may come from a single document, e.g., and interview. Or, you may be collection data on a case from many different sources. Say your case is defined as a student, and you talk with several teachers, the student’s parents and friends, the principal, and the student herself.