Using ATLAS.ti 8 Windows in Literature Reviews
Author: Dr. Ani Munirah Mohamad
The ATLAS.ti 8 Windows contains amazing features for assisting researchers in doing academic literature reviews. Either you are reviewing literature in a topic that you are already familiar with, or a new cold topic that you just began researching on, rest assured that the various features of ATLAS.ti would be able to assist you in preparing the literature review. This article gives an overview of the 15 essential tips divided into three main steps for doing literature review using ATLAS.ti 8 Windows. The three main steps, as highlighted below, are (1) preparing your literature for review, (2) going through the literature, and (3) creating reports for the literature review.
Step 1: Preparing literature for review
This step involves the collection of literature for the purpose of review, and adding the literature into ATLAS.ti 8 Windows. This is an important step because ATLAS.ti serves as a management tool for the literature for your research project.
Multiple file formats supported
First and foremost, it is important to note that we tend to get our literature in multiple file formats, such as textual (e.g. .pdf, . doc, .docx, .rtf and .txt) and sometimes in media (e.g. .png and .jpg). These file formats for your literature are all supported to be imported into ATLAS.ti 8 Windows as Documents. Sometimes, we end up with hardcopy documents such as texbooks or handout materials. We can easily scan and convert them into any of the supported softcopy formats for the purpose of importing them into ATLAS.ti.
Tips on naming the literature
Although there is no hard and fast rule on naming the literature to be added to ATLAS.ti, it is always recommended to name our literature with as much information as possible, particularly the author’s name and the year of publication. If we wish, we can also add the document title or the publication name for additional information for easier reference. This is significant especially when we are generating the textual report of our reading in due course.
Davies (2010), Benefits of Sports
John & Smith (2011), How Sports Help Athletes
Creating a project in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows
When we want to create a project in ATLAS.ti, there are multiple options we can choose from. The table below summarizes the options that we can use, depending on our situation:
Adding literature as Documents
We can add our literature as Documents to the project in multiple ways.
Method 1 – Choose the ‘Home’ tab, and click on the ‘Add Documents’ button. We can add individual or selected documents (by choosing the option ‘Add File(s)) or all documents in selected folders (by choosing the option ‘Add all from Folder’).
Method 2 – In the Documents Manager, choose the ‘Documents’ tab, and click on the ‘Add Documents’ button. The following options are similar to Method 1 above.
Method 3 – Drag the selected document(s) from your computer and drop onto the interface of ATLAS.ti 8 Windows.
Classifying Bibliographic Records into Document Groups
Very often, we will find that the literature we have in our project actually have shared characteristics, such as authored by the same person, or in the same year, or published by the same journal, or engaged upon the same research methodology, or other shared characteristics out there. Interestingly, ATLAS.ti enables the grouping of such literature into designated Document Groups, which in turn allows for comparing cross cases. Ideally, one literature could fall into more than one Document Group, depending on its characteristics (see figure 2).
Importing from reference managers
Some of us are used to using bibliographic reference managers such as EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero or other managers, for the purpose of our citation and building up the list of bibliographies in our research report. Good news! ATLAS.ti 8 Windows supports the importing of references from reference managers, and the supported file format is .xml. In other words, we would need to export all (or selected) references from our reference managers into the format of .xml so that we may then import this .xml file into ATLAS.ti as Documents. In addition to this wonderful feature, we can also customize the creation of Document Groups in ATLAS.ti based on the attributes of the exported references, such as by author name, year, type of publication, and other shared attributes (see figure 3).
Step 2: Going through the literature
Once the literature are properly managed in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows, the next step is to start going through them in order to understand the contents of the literature and making sense how each important point connects to another. This step is important because ATLAS.ti serves as a management tool for the important points in the literature, which in turn helps tremendously with the review process.
Exploration of Keywords in the Documents
Having the Documents in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows allows us to maximize the use of the features of the software to explore the words used in all (or selected) literature. We can get ATLAS.ti to run a word frequency check of our literature, primarily so that we would be able to get a general overview of the words mainly used in our literature. We can choose to view the word frequency results in a word list format (see figure 4) or a word cloud format (see figure 5).
‘Auto-coding’ for general overview of the words used in context
Now that we already have the general idea of the words primarily used in our literature from the previous step, we can move on to the next step i.e. to examine the context in which the word or string of words are used. The function is called ‘auto-coding’, which allows us to search for a specific keyword in our literature, to create a quotation out of the segment in which the word is used (such as word, sentence, or paragraph) and to code it with a specific code name. We also have the option to confirm each time the search hits a segment of our choice, or to automatically code that segment with our chosen keyword (see figure 6).
Deductive coding following a framework
When we have a specific list of priori codes for our literature review, then it is recommended to add the list of codes in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows. By adding such codes, we are enabling the deductive coding of the text segments in our literature following the priori codes list that we have identified earlier (see figure 7).
Inductive/open coding for emergent ideas
Sometimes, we come across new ideas in the literature which could be generalized to the context of our own literature review, and related to our research at hand. In such a situation, we would be adopting the inductive/open coding over the emergent ideas that we come across in the literature (see figure 8). It is amazing that ATLAS.ti 8 Windows caters for both deductive and inductive codings of our literature, which in turn allows for more flexibility on our part to further read and make sense of our literature.
Visualising the entire (or part of) the review
We also have the option to visualize our entire (or part of) review by using the ‘networks’ function in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows. The advanced and improved networks capability of the software allows for more space and features to visualize our works, and coming up with additional thoughts and ideas along the way. Since the display of the networks is highly customizable, we can actually change or edit the appearance of our networks according to our needs (see figure 9). We can further export the network as an image file for our use in word or presentation editors.
Revisiting the list of Codes
Realising that it is significant in presenting the conceptual and theoretical frameworks of our literature review in the most effective way, ATLAS.ti 8 Windows also provide the avenue for revisiting the list of codes in our project. By using the Codes Manager in the software, we would then be able to examine any similarities and differences among the codes, and see if there are any overlappings or redundancies that we can reduce by deleting any codes or merging such codes with other codes (see figure 10). The flexibility of the structure of the codings system in the software allows for ample room for us to always be on top of our research hence we would always be in control of our research project, albeit using a computer software for the management of the important points in our literature review.
Making use of the Memos function
Another amazing feature we can make use in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows is the memos function. It is a space for ideas, reflection, interpretation, commentary or simply anything relating to the review of the literature in the project. Memos enable us to always document our review process, and keep all the notes and ideas relating to the project in one central location for easy retrieval upon demand – the Memo Manager! (see figure 11).
Step 3: Creating reports for the review
The third step in preparing your literature review with ATLAS.ti 8 Windows is to create the reports from within the software itself. You can either create textual reports or numerical reports. These reports will be helpful and serve as guidance for us in preparing the review.
Textual reports can be created in ATLAS.ti for a variety of elements, such as documents, quotations, codes, memos (see see figure 12). Textual reports can be saved in .docx or .pdf formats. The use of these textual outputs is primarily to guide us in writing the literature review.
We can also run a code frequency count, known as ‘Codes-Documents Table’. This feature allows for showing the frequency of the codes (or codes belonging to a group) cross documents (or documents belonging to a group) based on two indicators, either the quotation count (see figure 13) or the word count (Please see figure 14) of such code(s) cross such document(s). Needless to say, this feature enables us to examine the document(s) which contains the most (or least) frequency of the codes, which in turn provides rich explanation or elaboration of the literature in our review.
ATLAS.ti 8 Windows contain many amazing features to facilitate our literature review process, right from the step of preparing our literature for review, going through the literature and preparing the written reviews. For a video tutorial on each of the tips aforementioned, you may want to visit this link.
About the Author
Ani Munirah Mohamad is Manager of International Projects with Training & Partnership Development. She is responsible for the implementation of training services in the English and Malay languages, with a particular emphasis on the Southeast Asian market. She holds a PhD in Law from Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia, and a bachelors degree in law (LLB Hons.) and a masters degree in comparative law (MCL) from the International Islamic University Malaysia. She specializes in cyber law, information technology law and research methodologies.