Interview with Dr. Trena Paulus, an expert on using ATLAS.ti to gain insights from naturally-occurring conversations in online spaces

October 25, 2018

In this issue of ATLAS.ti case studies, we interview Dr. Trena Paulus, a prolific researcher and expert in qualitative analysis who specializes in the application of language-based methodologies to online conversations. Dr. Paulus is a professor of Qualitative Research Methods at the University of Georgia in the United States of America, and she is also a Certified ATLAS.ti Professional Senior Trainer. Dr. Paulus has authored multiple books that have helped qualitative researchers all around the world learn how to make sense of their data. We are delighted to interview Dr. Paulus and learn from her extensive experience conducting qualitative research and using ATLAS.ti.

Welcome, Dr. Trena Paulus! Could you please tell our readers a bit about yourself?

I am originally a Hoosier from Indiana in the USA. I studied English, philosophy and history as an undergraduate student at Franklin College and then joined the Peace Corps to teach English in Lesotho, Southern Africa. I earned my Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics at Ohio University and taught ESL for two years at Michigan State University before going to Indiana University to earn my Ph.D. in instructional systems technology and computer-mediated communication. I’ve been a professor now for almost 16 years. Currently, I am a professor of Qualitative Research Methods at the University of Georgia, and prior to coming to UGA, I was an associate professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While at the University of Tennessee, I coordinated the Discourse Analysis Research Team whose alumni include Jessica Lester (now at Indiana University), Amber Warren (now at the University of Las Vegas-Reno) and Rachael Gabriel (now at the University of Connecticut).

As a research methodologist I focus on two areas: the impact of technological innovation on qualitative inquiry methodologies (a research technologist, if you will) and the application of language-based methodologies (conversation analysis, narrative analysis and discourse analysis) to online conversations. I typically analyze online conversations from a variety of sources – asynchronous discussions from online courses, posts to online support groups and hobby groups, and GoFundMe campaigns to name a few.

What kinds of things are you working on right now?

We have a Ph.D. program at the University of Georgia in Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methodologies as well as an online and residential graduate certificate program.  I also work as a methodologist on a variety of research projects for people interested in better understanding how conversations and “talk” function in online environments. I help people answer questions like: How is learning made visible online? How are crowdfunding campaign narratives constructed? How do people with medical conditions talk about their treatments? What insights can I gain from an analysis of naturally-occurring conversations in online spaces? One of my current areas of interest is how to use computational methods to initially “scope” social media data prior to a deeper qualitative analysis. Our book on this topic, Researching Insight, Transformation and Learning in Online Talk: A Research Framework will be published by Routledge in early 2019 (with Alyssa Wise at New York University).

How do you use ATLAS.ti in your work?

I use ATLAS.ti for every phase of a research study – from the literature review to data collection and management to analysis. Jessica Lester and I are working on a second edition of Digital Tools for Qualitative Research which highlights how tools such as ATLAS.ti should be envisioned as an integral part of research studies from start to finish. I decided to use ATLAS.ti about ten years ago, when I had a large dataset to handle and several colleagues were interested in ATLAS.ti, so we got a grant to purchase and learn it. I find that the free-standing quotations make ATLAS.ti unique, as does the robust network/hyperlinking tools. These are particularly useful for language-based analysis such as conversation and discourse analysis.

Do you have any advice for our readers?

Attend a face-to-face, hands-on workshop if you can – it will really help you get started. Build a community of other users that you can turn to for support. And check out Woolf and Silver’s Five-Level QDA Method to get a “birds-eye view” of how to think about the role of qualitative data analysis software in your work. For anyone interested in using ATLAS.ti with online conversational data, there can be some challenges that require a lot of innovative thinking, and I would be happy to talk with anyone attempting this for the first time.

We thank you Dr. Paulus for sharing your experience and insights with us!


You can get in touch with Dr. Trena Paulus by writing to her at [email protected].

For more information, you can visit her website:


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