Utilising Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software in Buddhist Canonical Analysis

June 13, 2014

Author: Fung Kei Cheng

The Current Project

This work specifies how to use ATLAS.ti 7[1], one of the leading computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS), or briefly, qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) (Lewins & Silver, 2007), in analysing the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra (henceforth called the Sūtra), the Buddhist canon adopted in the current research for conceptualising a Buddhist-based counselling framework. Therefore, it exemplifies only the relevant constituents, rather than the entire scriptural text, which aligns with the research objective and research questions.

Using computer-assisted techniques for hermeneutic purposes, an “empirical philosophy” (Malley, Hurwitz, & Duffy, 1986, p. 24) began to emerge in the 1980s. The present study employed ATLAS.ti 7, a computer-assisted programme for qualitative data analysis centred on theory-building (Muhr, 1991), to manage and analyse voluminous materials (Friese, 2012), including canonical and interview scripts in textual and image formats through the lens of interpretative phenomenological analysis (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009).Both types of data were cross-referenced and merged in order to answer the research questions. While textbooks and scholarly papers have demonstrated employment of the software package in qualitative data, this report discusses its adoption for classical Buddhist data source, which shows its equivalent usability of using in various types of qualitative inquiries.  The sophistication (Barry, 1998), flexibility, and user-friendliness (Konopásek, 2008; Muhr, 1991) of this software package strengthens the transparency, dependability, confirmability and credibility of the analysis (Friese, 2011), for which it has recently been used in different disciplines; for instance, for medical services (Baltzell et al., 2013), mental illnesses (Ritter, Broers, & Elger, 2013), industrial management (de França Heringer & de Almeida, 2013) business management (Hassan, 2011), and education (Fries, Bowers, Gross, & Frost, 2013).

With the advent of the present rapid development in technology, especially in information technology and telecommunications, the digitalisation of Buddhist materials has significantly contributed to Buddhist studies since the 1980s (McRae, 1995). Substantial volumes of “electronic texts” (Wittern, 2000, p. 462) have been computerised; for example, Buddhist scriptures, dictionaries (Huang, 2007), encyclopaedias in different languages, such as The Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association Taishō Buddhist Canon (Hui-min, Tu, Zhou, & Wang, 2005) and Sanskrit resources (Tsai, 2005). In addition to textual sources, audio, video and image archival databases are also installed on an open access basis, including the Digital Library and Museum of Buddhist Studies (2014), and the Library of [the] Luminary Buddhist Institute (2014). However, very few scholars extend this “collaborative digital research environment” (Nagasaki et al., 2013, p. 297) to conduct scriptural analysis, except Nagasaki and colleagues (2013), who have carried out a comparative analysis of a text within various languages, recensions, xylographs, exegetical literature, and annotations on the RBIB web-based platform. The scarcity of doctrinal analysis by qualitative data analysis software offers an opportunity for the present illustration, from coding the raw data to visualising data interpretation.

Analysis Aided by ATLAS.ti 7

Despite the fact that the use and development of computer-aided qualitative data analysis software has been speedily growing (Jones, 2007; McLafferty, 2006) since the early 1980s (Udo Kelle, 1995; Udo Kelle & Laurie, 1995), it is not designed to make decisions for data. Notwithstanding, this “emergent technology” (di Gregorio & Davidson, 2008, p. 2) contributes not only to searching through a vast volume of data and managing the overloaded interpretative tasks more effectively, efficiently and easily (St John & Johnson, 2000), but also enhances analysis transparency (Lu & Shulman, 2008). As a result, it can improve research quality by more “rigorous, defensible, scientific, and externally legitimised” (Lu & Shulman, 2008, p. 107) data processing, which may open up more new possibilities for data interpretation (Dey, 1993). In short, a data software package offers a tool mainly to code and group qualitative data, and to develop interpretation.

ALTAS.ti 7 serves the functionality of a “code-based theory builder” and a “conceptual network builder” (Bhowmick, 2006, p. 6; Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 312; Weitzman & Miles, 1995, p. 18), strengthening hierarchal connections in order to build a theory. It fulfils the needs not only of coding, searching and indexing (Bhowmick, 2006), but more importantly, of organising, retrieving and reporting semantic networks with the aid of graphic visualisation (Lonkila, 1995). Its features of usability, utility, flexibility (Lu & Shulman, 2008) and sophistication all satisfy with the primary aim of theory building in this study.

In addition to these characteristics, user-friendliness and efficient technical support are important for novice qualitative researchers, and cost is one of the main factors for students. ATLAS.ti 7 meets these criteria, which exemplify coding, thematic networking, and diagrammatic representation as follows. Although ATLAS.ti 7 is capable of accommodating various projects and interfacing with a team of investigators for a project, this report portrays only a single doctoral project carried out by one investigator.

 Open Coding

The text was coded and labelled using key words. A quotation (a word, a phrase, or a sentence) may be coded more than one time, for which it will be highlighted in different colours. That means that a multiple coded quotation links to various codes, building intra-relationships. For instance, the quotation “如我此病,非真非有,眾生病亦非真非有” (the red circle in Figure 1) was coded in “維摩經_空”, “維摩經_空_實踐”, and “維摩經_菩薩_除愛見悲”. These three codes were highlighted in different colour bars automatically, as shown on the right pane of Figure 1 (the dark grey circle).

Figure 1-Coding on Text

Figure 1-Coding on Text

In addition to coding for texts, images are also catered for coding (Figure 2). This part can be confined and the code is presented on the right pane.

Figure 2-Coding on Images

Figure 2-Coding on Images

Acknowledgements: This segment is a copy of a Duanhuang manuscript (敦煌莫高窟文獻,唐代寫本). My warmest thanks is delivered to Mr Kam Wah Lau (劉錦華老師), who gave this present to the researcher.

The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra was assigned 116 codes in total (the pink circle at the lower left hand side in Figure 3).

Figure 3-The Code Manager Showing the Code List

Figure 3-The Code Manager Showing the Code List

Details of a code are presented; for example, “維摩經_空 (37-5)”, “維摩經_空_實踐 (30-5)”, and “維摩經_菩薩_除愛見悲 (13-0)” (the red circles in Figure 3). The first number indicates the number of quotations in a particular code, and the second one refers to the number of linked codes. In this canonical analysis, the code “維摩經_不二” contains the most congested code of “67” (the green circle in Figure 3); and “維摩經_治病” is the most complex, linking six different codes together (the blue circle in Figure 3).

The quotation manager collates the quotations in a code; for instance, “維摩經_悲 (35-4)” (the green circle on the left pane in Figure 4), listing 35 quotations (on the right pane in Figure 4) with four links to three other codes. Each quotation also records its attributes, such as identity number (for example, 1:150; where “1” describes the document number; and “150” reports the chronological coding order in the text) (the red circle in Figure 4), and history of the quotation (such as creation date and the latest modified date) (the yellow circle in Figure 4).

Figure 4-Quotation Manager

Figure 4-Quotation Manager

Theme Grouping

Code families can be created, indicating various relationships between the selected codes grouped into seven types: “contradicts”, “is a”, “is associated with”, “is cause of”, “is part of”, “is property of”, and “no name”. It combines the pertinent codes (Figure 5), in which the upper pane exhibits the families, and the lower left hand column lists the codes occurring within a particular family. For instance, the family “菩薩” (the orange circle in Figure 5) contains 35 codes (indicated by the “size” in the red circle in Figure 5), and all codes in this family (partially shown in the green rectangle on the lower left pane in Figure 5).

Figure 5-Code Family

Figure 5-Code Family

When the code families (namely, the emergent themes in interpretative phenomenological analysis) are generated, they can be visualised according to their networks of semantic relations by means of diagrammatic representations; such as catvāri apramānāni (the four immeasurables 四無量心) (Figure 6). This emergent theme (catvāri apramānāni) consists of four “themes” (Smith et al., 2009, p. 91): maitrī(loving-kindness 慈), karuṇā (compassion 悲), muditā(empathetic joy 喜), and upekṣa(equanimity 捨), connecting “a part of” relationships with each constituent. That is, maitrī is “a part of” catvāri apramānāni, as are karuṇā, muditā, and upekṣa. The four individual elements concatenate the “is associated with” relationships among them; for example, maitrī with karuṇā, muditā, and upekṣa, so do the other three components.

Each code links to quotations from which all or limited examples can be drawn for demonstration. For instance, the code “慈” (the light yellow one) comprises 12 quotations, within which one was selected here (the light blue box) (Figure 6). Such visuals of a key theme capture not only the linked constructs and their “spider-web” (di Gregorio & Davidson, 2008, p. 227) inter-relationships, but also the relevant citations illustrating evidence, characteristics or explanation, which displays a comprehensive picture of the theme within a meaningful landscape (Udo Kelle, 1997). More crucially, visualisation may enable analysts to view the data and their connections differently, and to inspire them to understand and interpret the data (Rademaker, Grace, & Curda, 2012). It also checks networking mistakes more easily, if any exist, and then traces and corrects them.

Figure 6-A Diagrammatic Representation of the Theme of Catvāri Apramānāni (the Four Immeasurables 四無量心) as an Example.

Figure 6-A Diagrammatic Representation of the Theme of Catvāri Apramānāni (the Four Immeasurables 四無量心) as an Example.

Each code can be marked by a different colour (governed by assigning a colour to each specific code on the Code Manager) (Figure 7); for instance, the emergent theme (the four immeasurables 四無量心) (the green circle), and the four linked themes (loving-kindness 慈, compassion 悲, empathetic joy 喜, and equanimity 捨) (the red circles). With various highlights, the graph creates a better presentation; and changing colours is as convenient as a button-click – a user-friendly operation.

Figure 7-Highlighted Codes Reflected on Graphic Representations.

Figure 7-Highlighted Codes Reflected on Graphic Representations.

Conclusion

This example articulates how the use of a computer-assisted programme in analysing classical scriptures and managing data can benefit the effectiveness and efficiency of Buddhist studies through technological advancement. One of the features of ATLAS.ti 7 for users, particularly for beginners in qualitative research, is the code-to-code visualisation (Figure 6). This graphic tree covers the inter-relationships of the chosen codes and the links between a code and its quotations, which provides clearer causality among the members within the graph. This clarity of the code-to-code network enables analysts to gain insight into a higher level of analysis, resulting in theory generation. In summary, the illustration of this report exhibits the process of coding, grouping, and theorising the data, which has accomplished the research objective (conceptualising a Buddhist counselling framework) in a flexible, user-friendly, and efficient fashion, while also enhancing rigour and analysis transparency.

Originality: This report is part of my doctoral dissertation, which is copyrighted.

Acknowledgements

My deepest gratitude is conveyed to Dr Ricardo B. Contreras, Director, Office for the Americas, Training and Partnership Development, ATLAS.ti Scientific Software Development GmbH, for his constructive comments and suggestions on the earlier draft of this work. I also thank for Dr Samson Tse, who has supervised this research project.

[1]ATLAS.ti 7, a software title, is an abbreviation of “archive for technology, the lifeworld, and everyday language”) (Muhr, 1991, p. 349), a German computer-assisted programme for qualitative data analysis.

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Muhr, T. (1991). ATLAS/ti – A prototype for the support of text interpretation. Qualitative Sociology, 14(4), 349-371.

Nagasaki, K., Tomabechi, T., & Shimoda, M. (2013). Towards a digital research environment for Buddhist studies. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 28(2), 296-300.

Rademaker, L. L., Grace, E. J., & Curda, S. K. (2012). Using computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) to re-examine traditionally analysed data: Expanding our understanding of the data and of ourselves as scholars. The Qualitative Report, 17(Article 43), 1-11.

Ritter, C., Broers, B., & Elger, B. S. (2013). Cannabis use in a Swiss male prison: Qualitative study exploring detainees’ and staffs’ perspectives. International Journal of Drug Policy, 24, 573-578.

Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: Theory, method and research. UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

St John, W., & Johnson, P. (2000). The pros and cons of data analysis software for qualitative research. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 32(4), 393-397.

Tsai, Y. M. 蔡. (2005). Internet resources on Sanskrit language and Sanskrit Buddhist texts 網路上的梵文與梵文佛典資源. Paper presented at the Symposium on Buddhist Studies in the digital age: Application and perspective 佛學數位資源之應用與趨勢研討會. http://buddhism.lib.ntu.edu.tw/BDLM/seminar/books/book03.pdf

Weitzman, E. A., & Miles, M. B. (1995). Computer programmes for qualitative data analysis: A software sourcebook. USA: SAGE Publications Limited.

Wittern, C. (2000). Buddhist studies in the digital age. Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal, 13(2), 461-501.

Baltzell, K., Elfving, K., Shakely, D., Ali, A. S., Msellem, M., Gulati, S., & Mårtensson, A. (2013). Febrile illness management in children under five years of age: A qualitative pilot study on primary health care workers’ practices in Zanzibar. Malaria Journal, 12(37), 1-10. doi: 10.1186/1475-2875-12-37

Barry, C. A. (1998). Choosing qualitative data analysis software: Atlas/ti and Nudist compared. Sociological Research Online, 3(3).

Bhowmick, T. (2006). Building an exploratory visual analysis tool for qualitative researchers. Paper presented at the AutoCarto, Vancouver.

de França H., Benedita H., & de Almeida, L. F.. (2013). Innovation or death: An organizational reality. Journal of Mechanics and Industry Research, 1(4), 66-74. doi: 10.12966/jmir.11.01.2013

Dey, I. (1993). Qualitative data analysis: A user-friendly guide for social scientists. London: Routledge.

di Gregorio, S., & Davidson, J. (2008). Qualitative research design for software users. UK: Open University Press.

Digital Library and Museum of Buddhist Studies. (2014).   Retrieved February 21, 2014, from http://buddhism.lib.ntu.edu.tw/DLMBS/en/index.jsp

Fries, K. S., Bowers, D. M., Gross, M., & Frost, L. (2013). Service learning in Guatemala: Using qualitative content analysis to explore an interdisciplinary learning experience among students in health care professional programmes. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 6, 44-52.

Friese, S. (2011). Using ATLAS.ti for analyzing the financial crisis data [67 paragraphs]. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1), Art. 39.

Friese, S. (2012). Qualitative data analysis with ATLAS.ti. UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

Hassan, S. H. (2011). Managing conflicting values in functional food consumption: The Malaysian experience. British Food Journal, 113(8), 1045-1059. doi: 10.1108/00070701111153788

Huang, C.-K. 黃. (2007). The development and application of the Chinese and cross-lingual term extraction for Buddhist digital archives 中文詞彙及跨語詞彙抽取技術在佛典數位典藏上之研發與應用. Taiwan: Funding Research Project, National Science Council 行政院國家科學委員會補助專題研究計畫.

Hui-min, B., Tu, A., Zhou, B., & Wang, Z. (2005). Techniques for collating multiple text versions in the digitisation of classical texts: The CBETA Taishō Buddhist canon as an example. Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal, 18, 299-325.

Jones, M. L. (2007). Using software to analyse qualitative data. Malaysian Journal of Qualitative Research, 1(1), 64-76.

Kelle, U. (1995). Introduction: An overview of computer-aided methods in qualitative research. In U. Kelle (Ed.), Computer-aided qualitative data analysis: Theory, methods and practice (pp. 1-17). UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

Kelle, U. (1997). Computer-assisted analysis of qualitative data. UK: The London School of Economics and Political Science, Methodology Institute.

Kelle, U., & Laurie, H. (1995). Computer use in qualitative research and issues of validity. In U. Kelle (Ed.), Computer-aided qualitative data analysis: Theory, methods and practice (pp. 19-28). UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

Konopásek, Z. (2008). Making thinking visible with Atlas.ti: Computer assisted qualitative analysis as textual practices [62 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2), Art. 12.

Lewins, A., & Silver, C. (2007). Using software in qualitative research. UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

Library of Luminary Buddhist Institute, 香. (2014).   Retrieved February 21, 2014, from http://www.gaya.org.tw/library/index.html

Lonkila, M. (1995). Grounded theory as an emerging paradigm for computer-assisted qualitative data analysis. In U. Kelle (Ed.), Computer-aided qualitative data analysis: Theory, methods and practice (pp. 41-51). UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

Lu, C.-J., & Shulman, S. W. (2008). Rigor and flexibility in computer-based qualitative research: Introducing the Coding Analysis Toolkit. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 2(1), 105-117.

Malley, J. C., Hurwitz, R., & Duffy, G. (1986). Hermeneutics: From textual explication to computer understanding? (pp. 1-41). USA: Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massauettes Institute of Technology.

McLafferty, E. (2006). Analysing qualitative research data using computer software. Nursing Times, 102(24), 34-36.

McRae, J. R. (1995). Buddhism. The Journal of Asian Studies, 54(2), 354-371.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). An expanded sourcebook: Qualitative data analysis (2nd ed.). USA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Muhr, T. (1991). ATLAS/ti – A prototype for the support of text interpretation. Qualitative Sociology, 14(4), 349-371.

Nagasaki, K., Tomabechi, T., & Shimoda, M. (2013). Towards a digital research environment for Buddhist studies. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 28(2), 296-300.

Rademaker, L. L., Grace, E. J., & Curda, S. K. (2012). Using computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) to re-examine traditionally analysed data: Expanding our understanding of the data and of ourselves as scholars. The Qualitative Report, 17(Article 43), 1-11.

Ritter, C., Broers, B., & Elger, B. S. (2013). Cannabis use in a Swiss male prison: Qualitative study exploring detainees’ and staffs’ perspectives. International Journal of Drug Policy, 24, 573-578.

Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: Theory, method and research. UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

St John, W., & Johnson, P. (2000). The pros and cons of data analysis software for qualitative research. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 32(4), 393-397.

Tsai, Y. M. 蔡. (2005). Internet resources on Sanskrit language and Sanskrit Buddhist texts 網路上的梵文與梵文佛典資源. Paper presented at the Symposium on Buddhist Studies in the digital age: Application and perspective 佛學數位資源之應用與趨勢研討會. http://buddhism.lib.ntu.edu.tw/BDLM/seminar/books/book03.pdf

Weitzman, E. A., & Miles, M. B. (1995). Computer programmes for qualitative data analysis: A software sourcebook. USA: SAGE Publications Limited.

Wittern, C. (2000). Buddhist studies in the digital age. Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal, 13(2), 461-501.

About the Author

FungFung Kei Cheng, presently a doctoral candidate at The University of Hong Kong, passionately focuses on applying Buddhist philosophy to a variety of disciplines, such as counselling, mental health interventions, complementary and alternative medicine, conflict resolution, peacemaking, sustainable development, gender studies and business management. Her current cross-disciplinary project aims at conceptualising a Buddhist-oriented counselling framework through a synthesis of canonical analysis and qualitative fieldwork. This hybrid research design contributes not only to the significance of primary data sources in such similar studies but also to the provision of Buddhist direct voice that differs from the available therapeutic models. Equally important, this work offers philosophical underpinnings to the Buddhist-influenced counselling approaches, which likely supports their further development theoretically and pragmatically.