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Software and Qualitative Analysis

8. The Role of Computers

Fundamental to the analysis practices described in this chapter is the need to be able to organize the data.

To carry out the procedures described here, we need to be able to find our way through our data, whether by chronology, narrative structure, topic, case type, theme, or by some other kind of relationship between one piece of text and another.

We may need to be able to pull together all the pieces of text that have to do with a topic or theme. We may need to be able to see each utterance in its original context to know what it means. When confirming findings, we may need to be able to find the data to support a proposition, or we may go looking to see if there is disconfirming evidence to contradict it. When working with the often enormous piles of text generated in qualitative research, being careful, diligent, and thorough can be a tremendous challenge, both because of the volume of the data, and the complexity of the thought required to analyze it. For all of these tasks, computers can be a big help (e.g., Weitzman and Miles, 1995b; Weitzman, 1999a, 2000, 2004, 2006).

There are the obvious ways computers already help: we use them to write, search, store data, create tables and diagrams, edit pictures and audio and video, and so on. Software for qualitative data analysis (QDA software) allows the analyst to systematically index and organize (or code) qualitative data, and then to reliably and flexibly retrieve that data in many different ways (for a fuller discussion of the varieties of types of software, see: Weitzman and Miles, 1995; Weitzman, 1999a, 2006). For example, it can facilitate finding all the data the analyst has previously coded for a particular theme or conceptual category, and it can facilitate parsing these data into subgroups based on demographic or other categorical or quantitative variables. It can also find all the cases where a theme was not present, or where combinations of themes are present, and so on. With the use of Boolean operators, the analyst can construct queries of arbitrary complexity, and execute them nearly instantly. The speed and consistency with which QDA software can carry out such operations make it far more feasible to regularly carry out the kinds of analyses discussed above.

Weitzman, E. A. and Miles, M. B. (1995b). Computer programs for qualitative data analysis: A software sourcebook. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Weitzman, E. A. (1999a). Analyzing qualitative data with computer software.  Health Services Research, 34 (5), 1241-1263.
Weitzman, E. A. (2000). Software and qualitative research.  In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.) Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd Ed (pp. 803-820).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Weitzman, E. A. (2004)  Advancing the scientific basis of qualitative research.  In C. C. Ragin, J. Nagel, & P. White (Eds) Workshop on the scientific foundations of qualitative research. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.
Weitzman, E. A.  (2006). Computer-aided/mediated Analysis. In G. Ritzer, Ed. Encyclopedia of Sociology. Blackwell.
Weitzman, E. A. and Miles, M. B.  (1995). Computer programs for qualitative data analysis:  A software sourcebook. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Weitzman, E. A. (1999a). Analyzing qualitative data with computer software.  Health Services Research, 34 (5), 1241-1263.
Weitzman, E. A.  (2006). Computer-aided/mediated Analysis. In G. Ritzer, Ed. Encyclopedia of Sociology. Blackwell.