What is Analysis Software for Qualitative Research?
Computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software has become a basic tool for qualitative researchers; a tool to aid them in their process of analysis. Cutting with scissors and pasting with glue–the traditional way of systematizing data–is now seen as archaic. However, we cannot forget that that way of systematizing was widely used by every qualitative researcher round the world until a decade ago; even today some researchers still use index cards and file cabinets to organize their data.
What are the advantages of using qualitative analysis software to assist qualitative data analysis? These programs facilitate the processes of segmenting, categorizing, annotating, retrieving, and searching within and across documents and categories. All of this can be done in a fast way, and the original documents are not fragmented. Researchers can find what they want just by doing the right selection, and the qualitative analysis software can store lots of documents that otherwise required big cabinets and folders. The qualitative analysis software by themselves are neither good nor bad for qualitative research.
It is the way that qualitative researchers use them that influences qualitative research methodology.
Even so, in some cases, qualitative analysis software has replaced the method, if we are not careful. It is a fact that some programs, especially those based on Grounded Theory, include new tools that were not used before in qualitative methods. These new tools imply new ways of doing qualitative analysis but are not intended to be a method by themselves.
Every qualitative researcher who uses CAQDAS/qualitative analysis software is responsible if the program replaces the method. Overall, it is a responsibility of every researcher who trains others in the use of CAQDAS: Qualitative researchers must bear in mind four critical issues when training or being trained in the use of CAQDAS: giving more information, promoting critical thinking, the possibility of analyzing participant’s own data, and knowing the wide variety of programs. These issues would prevent a misuse of CAQDAS and would strengthen qualitative research methods. Qualitative analysis software programs are the tools, the researchers are the artisans.
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Analysis software designed for social and market researchers is radically changing the way people learn how to do analysis in commercial research today. With a professional analysis software package for qualitative data such as ATLAS.ti, the process of analysis becomes not just more flexible but more visible and transparent. Newcomers, students and trainees can thus be shown clearly how experienced researchers search, interrogate and interpret data to reach complex insights and conclusions for clients.