Importing and analyzing survey data with ATLAS.ti 9 Windows

October 25, 2021

This Certified Trainer Case Study was written by Lorenza Entilli (Independent Certified ATLAS.ti Professional Junior Trainer). We publish these articles to share the diversity of approaches to qualitative research. Although the ATLAS.ti Core Training Team publishes regular content that is endorsed by ATLAS.ti GmbH, we also wish to give voice and respect to independent trainers’ experiences as well, because qualitative research is so vast and flexible!

The beauty of qualitative research resides in the possibility of diving into data richness, being inspired by it, and being guided through an in-depth exploration. However, when using extensive amounts of data, or when the research design requires it, it is useful to rely on tools that allow quick, automatic coding and grouping. In case we dispose of quantitative and qualitative data, possibly collected through an online survey, ATLAS.ti allows us to import and automatically code data from an Excel spreadsheet (.xls or .xlsx files). We can use this tool, for example, to carry out a quick preliminary analysis of open-ended questions of a survey.

Before importing the Excel document, it is important to verify that all data have been prepared with a precise syntax so that the software will be able to code all the data according to our needs. Preparing survey data is very easy and could save us a great amount of time.

Preparing survey data

To prepare our data to be imported into ATLAS.ti, we will have to work on our Excel spreadsheet.

Based on specific prefixes or symbols that you add to your variable names on the Excel spreadsheet, ATLAS.ti interprets the Excel table’s column headers and cells differently and turns them into documents, groups of documents, or codes as soon as the import is finished.

Let’s suppose we have collected the age, gender, employment status of our participants, as well as some keywords about family and open-ended answers to the question: “would you like to start a family at the current time?”. Figure 1 shows how the Excel spreadsheet would look.

Figure 1. Excel spreadsheet of survey data

Note* several online survey tools allow you to export your data as Excel™ file, so this ATLAS.ti feature is really convenient.


Now, let’s add the syntax.

For our single choice question (e.g., Yes/No), we can create a different document group by adding “.” at the beginning of the label name.

For single choice questions that have more than two options (e.g., 20 to 30 y.o, 31 to 40 y.o., 41 to 50 y.o.), we can create a different document group by adding “:” at the beginning of the label name.

For the answers to an open-ended question (e.g., “I am not thinking about starting a family at the moment “), we will not have to add anything to the label name; the answers will automatically become the content of a quotation.

In case we have multiple-choice questions and would like to have a different document group for each answer in the column, we add the value “#.”

See Figure 2 to see how the text in the Excel table has changed.

Figure 2. Excel spreadsheet with survey syntax added for ATLAS.ti import

You can find a detailed table of all the syntax in the manual by clicking here.

Importing survey data

When we have prepared the table, we can proceed with importing the Excel table.

The survey import option can be accessed on the ribbon under Import/Export. Select the Import/Export tab and then the Survey button. Select the Excel file to be imported and click Open. You will see a progress report, and ATLAS.ti will inform you when the import is finished.

Once the procedure is finished, we can check in our project how ATLAS.ti has coded the data for us.

How has the data been imported? 

Let’s check the documents section from the Explore panel. Data are imported case-based: each row of the Excel table that is imported is transformed into a document. If you do not specify a name for each case, the software will automatically name it Case 1, Case 2, Case 3, and so on.

Figure 3. Documents of imported survey data

ATLAS.ti automatically creates a document group (named “Imported Survey Data”) that contains all the survey data we have just imported. This could turn out useful in case you work with data from multiple sources. Based on the syntax added in the Excel table during the preparation phase, also the other document groups (e.g., Age, Gender, etc. ) have been created automatically.

Codes are generated automatically based on the names of the variables in the Excel table: you can note that the headings of the column “Intention over creating a family” has become a code. If you click on it, you can see the code has been automatically added in the newly created documents.

Figure 4. View automatically coded survey data

Now you can start your analysis. You can select the code regarding the open-ended questions and quickly explore the most recurrent words with the Word list and Word cloud tools or code further with the auto-coding tool found under the Search & Code tab

Exporting codes from a survey 

Codes can also be exported in Excel format and re-imported into a new project for which we may want to use the same codes. To do so, we must export the Codebook.

Let’s suppose you have completed your coding and would like to utilize the same codes for a different set of data, or, alternatively, that you would like to pass your codes to a colleague continuing the analysis over a similar topic.

Figure 5. Export (and import) the codebook

You can export your Codebook from the ribbon tab Import/Export. Select the Codebook icon with the arrow facing up. Select where to save the Excel file. When the export has finished, you will have an Excel table ready to be shared with others and imported in a different ATLAS.ti project.

To import the new Excel spreadsheet, use the icon with the arrow pointing down, then select the document you need to import.

The same logic goes for Document Groups. To export Document Groups to Excel, select the Import/Export tab in the ribbon and from there the Document Groups button with the up arrow. This opens a File Manager. Select a location for saving the Excel file.

Import and Export tools are pivotal for ensuring quick and strategic coding of survey data. If you also dispose of a large amount of text data, click here to find more information about the Search & Code tools.

Now you can start analyzing your survey data with ATLAS.ti 9!


Share this Article