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Software and Qualitative Analysis

10. Choosing QDA Software

There is no one best software program for analyzing qualitative data. Furthermore, there is no one best program for a particular type of research or analytic method. Researchers will sometimes ask “what’s the best program for a study of health services,” or “what’s the best program for doing grounded theory,” or “what’s the best program for analyzing focus groups.” None of these questions has a good answer. Instead, choice needs to be approached based on the structure of the data, the specific things the analyst will want to do as part of the analysis, and the needs of the researcher around issues like ease-of-use, cost, time available, collaboration, and so on.

Four broad questions, along with two cut-across issues, can be asked that should guide the researcher to such a choice (Weitzman and Miles, 1995a; Weitzman and Miles, 1995b, Weitzman, 2003). These guidelines for choice have seen wide use in practice since their original formulation, and have proven to be effective for guiding researchers to appropriate choices. They are presented here only in outline. For fuller discussions of these choice issues, see, for example, Weitzman, 1999a or Weitzman, 2003.

Specifically, there are four key questions to ask and answer as you move toward choosing one or more software packages:

  1. What kind of computer user am I?
  2. Am I choosing for one project or the next few years?
  3. What kind of project(s) and database(s) will I be working on?
  4. What kind of analyses am I planning to do?

In addition to these four key questions, there are two cut-across issues to bear in mind:

  • How important is it to you to maintain a sense of “closeness” to your data?
  • What are your financial constraints when buying software, and the hardware it needs to run on?

With these basic issues clear, you will be able to look at specific programs in a more active, deliberate way, seeing what does or does not meet your needs.

Weitzman, E. A. and Miles, M. B. (1995a). Choosing software for qualitative data analysis: An overview. Cultural Anthropology Methods, 7: 1-5.
Weitzman, E. A. and Miles, M. B. (1995b). Computer programs for qualitative data analysis: A software sourcebook. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
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.