Analysing survey data with ATLAS.ti 8 Windows & Mac

October 25, 2018

Written by: Dr. Neringa Kalpokaite & Ivana Radivojevic


Conducting surveys can be a great way to get a wide range of information about your research topic. But, how can we keep all this data organised? How can we analyse the results for overarching patterns and trends? ATLAS.ti 8 Windows and Mac can help you manage and draw insights from your survey data. Not only can ATLAS.ti automatically organise all the responses, but it can also pre-code the data in one click. In this article, we will outline how you can import your survey data and take advantage of ATLAS.ti’s tools to kick-start your analysis.

How does it work?

A typical work flow looks like this:

  1. Create an online survey and collect responses
  2. Download and save the survey data in an Excel file
  3. Edit the column headers to tell ATLAS.ti how you want the data organised
  4. Import the responses (Excel file) into ATLAS.ti 8 Windows/Mac
  5. And that’s it! Each participant becomes a document, and content is collected from the answers to the open-ended questions. Document groups are created from single and multiple-choice questions. Quotations are created for each answer and coded with the respective question (you may use whichever code you wish). This accomplishes a lot of tedious pre-coding in a few seconds.
  6. Now you can get started with what really matters: your analysis!

You can import a mix of closed-ended and open-ended questions. Each row of the Excel spreadsheet (i.e., each respondent) will be converted into one document; so, if you have 30 respondents, you will have 30 new documents in your project.

How do I prepare my survey data?

All you need to do is insert specific prefixes in the column headers of your survey data Excel spreadsheet to tell ATLAS.ti how you want the data organised. By entering a ! (exclamation point), ATLAS.ti will use the information in that column as the name of each imported document. A ^ symbol turns the information in that column into the author of each document. The ~ symbol adds that column’s information into the comment of each document. If you want ATLAS.ti to ignore a certain column, just enter the < symbol.

Let’s say you have a survey with open-ended questions as well as multiple-choice questions about participants’ demographic information. ATLAS.ti can automatically group together all the participants who share the same demographics, such as gender, age, profession, and so on. To do so, just enter a : (colon) in the column header of the closed-ended question in the Excel spreadsheet, and ATLAS.ti will group together all respondents who gave the same answer.

What do we do with open-ended questions? Well, if any column header does not have a prefix, ATLAS.ti will interpret the column header as a code name, and the text in the cells will be added as the content in the document. Therefore, ATLAS.ti would automatically code all responses with the respective question. If you want to specify your own code (instead of coding the responses with the question itself), you can enter any code name you would like. To keep track of the wording of your original question, simply include a :: (double colon), followed by the full question. For example, if you write “Favourite features::What are you favourite features of ATLAS.ti? Please explain why” then all of the responses will be coded with “Favourite features” and the full question will appear in the comment space of that code.

This is just a brief overview, and you can see the full details on the different prefixes in the table below. For more detailed information, please see the full manual. You can see a sample survey data Excel spreadsheet here:

Table 1. Prefixes for importing survey data

Prefixes to be added to column headers of Excel file
!This column defines the document’s name
~This column defines the document’s comment
^This column defines the document’s author
&This column defines the document’s date. Expects ISO8601 format
<Ignore this column. Use this to exclude stuff inserted by the survey tool
.Document group from the field name. Currently, the cell needs to contain 1 or yes to be applied.
:Document groups from the field name plus the actual cell value
#Document groups from field name plus values
::The information before the :: will be used as a code name, all information after the :: will be included in the comment space of that code
Every column header that has no prefix is interpreted as code for an open-ended question and the content of each cell in that column as data content that will be added to the document for each case.

How do I import my survey data into ATLAS.ti 8 Windows/Mac?

Once your survey data in the Excel spreadsheet is ready, you can import it into ATLAS.ti 8 Windows/Mac. In ATLAS.ti 8 Windows, you will find the survey import option under the “Import & Export tab”. In ATLAS.ti 8 Mac, you will find the survey import option under the “Project” menu (see the figures below).

Figure 1. Import survey data in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows


Figure 2. Import survey data in ATLAS.ti 8 Mac

Click on “Import survey,” select your Excel file, and that’s it! You can now see all of your participants added as individual documents. In each document, you will see that participant’s responses to the open-ended questions, and these have already been pre-coded. If you open the document manager, you can see all of the automatically created groups (see figures below). From the code manager, you can explore the created codes, their comments, and the associated quotations.

Figure 3. Document manager in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows after importing survey data


Figure 4. Document manager in ATLAS.ti 8 Mac after importing survey data

Now that your survey data is added, organised, and pre-coded, you can proceed to analyse your data! Manually code the responses, use auto-coding, write and associate memos to your data, create networks, and use the different advanced analysis tools to draw your insights and conclusions.

Continue analysing your survey data in ATLAS.ti

Do you want to obtain a quick global overview of your participants’ responses? Conduct content analyses with one click by generating word clouds and word lists. You can generate word clouds and word lists in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows from any individual document or from the document manager, and you can generate word lists in ATLAS.ti 8 Mac by using the word cruncher tool (see figures below). These content analyses can easily be exported and included in your final report or presentation.

Figure 5. Word cloud in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows


Figure 6. Word cruncher in ATLAS.ti 8 Mac

Do you want to explore the connections across your data? You can use networks to examine all the associations among your codes, quotations, documents, and any other part of your project (see figures below). You can also draw semantic relations between your codes, and you can create hyperlinks between quotations to describe how the different responses relate to one another. You can then export these networks and include them in your final report or presentation.

Figure 7. Network editor in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows


Figure 8. Network editor in ATLAS.ti 8 Mac

Wrapping up

ATLAS.ti is a powerful tool for analysing survey data and open-ended responses, because the software can help you instantly organise and pre-code your data, whether you have 30 or 30,000 survey responses. Kick-start your survey analysis with ATLAS.ti, so you can then focus on analysing your data in-depth, gathering insights in memos, drawing connections in networks, and tell the story of your data.



Kalpokaite, N., & Radivojevic, I. (2018). Best Practice Article: Analysing survey data with ATLAS.ti 8 Windows & Mac. Retrieved from


About the authors:

Dr. Neringa Kalpokaite has dedicated her professional career to qualitative methodology. From her doctoral thesis for which she received the cum laude award in the Complutense University of Madrid to working as a visiting researcher at Harvard University, all of her research projects have been qualitative and carried out with ATLAS.ti. During her 15 years of professional work, she has published numerous articles in a variety of high-impact journals, she has given over 450 trainings, and she has helped over 8,500 people carry out qualitative research. In addition to leading the Europe Team of ATLAS.ti and being the CEO of NkQualitas, she is also a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research and a professor at the international IE University. Following students’ demand for more rigorous training in qualitative research, she pioneered and taught the qualitative research and ATLAS.ti course at IE University. She continually participates in international conferences to continue sharing knowledge, and she is part of a team of reviewers of articles from high-impact journals. She has repeatedly received awards for excellent teaching in qualitative research. She has also received several research grants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Government of Lithuania, and Harvard University. Her latest publications include “Demystifying Qualitative Data Analysis for Novice Qualitative Researchers“, “Teaching qualitative data analysis software online: A comparison of face-to-face and e-learning ATLAS.ti courses“, and “Leading a successful transition to democracy: A qualitative analysis of political leadership in Spain and Lithuania“.

Ivana Radivojevic, a former student of Dr. Neringa Kalpokaite’s Qualitative Research course, is passionate about qualitative research and ATLAS.ti. After finishing her training, she was invited to join Neringa’s NkQualitas team and has been participating in numerous qualitative research projects since 2015, resulting in multiple publications in high-impact journals. She is currently the Project Coordinator of ATLAS.ti and is a Senior Professional Trainer. She has given numerous courses, including over 250 webinars, and she has helped over 3,000 people learn to use ATLAS.ti and conduct qualitative research. She continually participates in international conferences to learn and share knowledge with the scientific community. Her latest publications include “Demystifying Qualitative Data Analysis for Novice Qualitative Researchers“, “Teaching qualitative data analysis software online: A comparison of face-to-face and e-learning ATLAS.ti courses“, and “Leading a successful transition to democracy: A qualitative analysis of political leadership in Spain and Lithuania“.

Share this Article

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we offer temporary easy home-use licenses for institutional license holders, 25% price-reductions on courses and 10% on all licenses. We have new courses both free and premium at our ATLAS.ti ACADEMY and free semester licenses. See here for more -->