Interview with Dr. Christina Silver, an expert in diverse qualitative data analysis methods and software
We are pleased to present Dr. Christina Silver. Dr. Silver is a renowned expert in qualitative research and the use of qualitative data analysis software. We had the pleasure to interview Dr. Silver and learn more about her work and the ways in which she uses ATLAS.ti.
Welcome, Dr. Christina Silver! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Director of QDA Services Ltd. (https://qdaservices.co.uk/ ) a research, training and consultancy business which helps researchers develop expertise in their chosen qualitative software program. I get involved in designing analytic strategies to implement in the software as well as teaching the software itself, so I see lots of types of research across disciplines as well as different ways to use the software. That’s something I love about what I do, because I learn from those I work with.
I also manage the CAQDAS Networking Project (https://www.surrey.ac.uk/computer-assisted-qualitative-data-analysis) in the Sociology Department at the University of Surrey. Dedicated qualitative software programs like ATLAS.ti are generally referred to as either CAQDAS or QDAS programs. I’ve been working at the CAQDAS Networking Project since 1998, providing impartial information, advice, training and support for a range of CAQDAS packages. I also co-direct the Sociology Department’s Day Courses in Social Research programme which runs qualitative, quantitative and mixed-methods courses throughout the year.
What kind of work do you do?
Overall, I help others to harness software like ATLAS.ti for their analytic needs. I do a lot of training workshops, week in and week out, but I see myself as a facilitator rather than a teacher or trainer. The difference is subtle but important. I don’t tell students and researchers how they should be using software like ATLAS.ti but encourage them to flesh out their own analytic strategies into a formal plan that drives the way they use software tools.
I’ve done research on many topics using both qualitative and mixed data. My main research interest is the relationship between technology and methodology, and how students and researchers learn to harness CAQDAS programs. This has resulted in co-developing – with Nicholas Woolf – the Five-Level QDA method (https://www.fivelevelqda.com/). The method is a CAQDAS pedagogy that can be used with any methodology or CAQDAS program. Our book Qualitative Analysis using ATLAS.ti – The Five-Level QDA method was published in 2018 (https://www.routledge.com/Qualitative-Analysis-Using-ATLASti-The-Five-Level-QDA-Method/Woolf-Silver/p/book/9781138743656).
How do you typically use ATLAS.ti?
There’s no typical way that I use ATLAS.ti because different analysis projects call for using the software tools in different ways. One of the principles behind the way I think about and teach ATLAS.ti is that it is the analytic strategies of a particular project that drive the way we use the software. This underlies the Five-Level QDA method.
One of the great things about ATLAS.ti is its flexibility and array of tools that can be harnessed for many different purposes. I believe there is no ‘ideal’ way to use the program, no ‘best’ ways to use each tool, or a particular step-by-step sequence in which tasks ‘should be’ undertaken. It all depends on the needs of the given project.
A key distinguishing feature of ATLAS.ti is its architectural structure – specifically that quotations (segments of data), once identified by the user, are independent objects. The ramifications of this are profound in analytic terms, because quotations have status in and of themselves – for example they don’t need to be coded to be retrieved (which is what is required in most other programs).
When you create a quotation, you’re marking a segment of data that can later be retrieved and reviewed. You might know right at that point how and why it’s interesting or meaningful, in which case you can immediately capture that – by re-naming it, commenting on it, coding it, linking it to e.g. another quotation, or a memo. But if you don’t yet know, you can just create the quotation, and come back and think about it later, perhaps when you have a better overview of the data set in its entirety and are ready to conceptualise meaning in relation to your research objectives.
One of my favourite things about ATLAS.ti is that quotations can be visualised and worked with in a graphical window, i.e. the ATLAS.ti networks. The content of quotations can be seen within the network, and quotations can be linked, commented upon, and also coded in that visual space. This is very useful if you like to work visually or are used to analysing qualitative data manually in a visually way with highlighters, white-boards, post-it notes etc. Networks can also be used as visual interrogation spaces – for example to review quotations which have more than one code attached, which is very powerful. And everything you do in the network is connected throughout the ATLAS.ti project.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?
Just like any other software, ATLAS.ti provides tools that we use according to our needs. For example, my garden shed contains lots of tools that I can pick and choose among depending on the needs of the task at hand. If I need to prune my apple tree, I’ll use a different tool from when I need to cut the grass, which is a kind of pruning but not the same task at all. Similarly, ATLAS.ti’s many tools can be used to accomplish many different analytic tasks. This flexibility means that I am always the architect of the analysis.
Thank you, Dr. Christina Silver!
You can contact Dr. Christina Silver by writing to [email protected]
You can see the official website of QDA Services Ltd. here: https://qdaservices.co.uk
For more information on the CAQDAS Networking Project, see here: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/computer-assisted-qualitative-data-analysis
To learn more about the Five-Level QDA Method, see here: https://www.fivelevelqda.com
To order the Five-Level QDA Method book, see here: https://www.routledge.com/Qualitative-Analysis-Using-ATLASti-The-Five-Level-QDA-Method/Woolf-Silver/p/book/9781138743656