Software and Qualitative Analysis

3. Conducting Rigorous Qualitative Research

A key to establishing the scientific soundness and acceptability of qualitative research lies in the rigor with which analyses are carried out: doing analysis thoroughly and carefully, so that it has demonstrable reliability and validity (Weitzman, 1999b; 2003). Traditional notions of reliability and validity, as developed for quantitative research, require adaptation for application to qualitative research. Yet, they provide a starting point.

Some of the very advantages of qualitative research can also turn out to be weaknesses. It is a strength that the researcher can look at the text of what people had to say, and use his or her intelligence flexibly to consider multiple possible interpretations of what it all means. This also means there are multiple conclusions a researcher might arrive at, not all of them necessarily of equal validity. Miles and Huberman (1994) argue that verification of conclusions is a critical step; they sum up the situation thus:

“Qualitative analyses can be evocative, illuminating, masterful—and wrong. The story [the researcher relates], well told as it is, [may] not fit the data. Reasonable colleagues double-checking the case [may] come up with quite different findings. The interpretations of case informants [may] not match those of the researchers.” (Miles and Huberman, 1994:247)

This possibility calls for methods that account for such pitfalls.
Weitzman, E. A. (1999b). Rigor in qualitative research and the role of computers.  Keynote address at the first International Conference of the Association for Qualitative Research, Melbourne, Australia.
Weitzman, E.A. (2003). Software and qualitative research. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Data. London: Sage
Miles, M. B. and Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis:  An expanded sourcebook, 2nd Ed.  Thousand Oaks: Sage.