Best Practice

QDA or CAQDAS - Which acronym to use?

This article discusses the use of the acronyms QDA software and CAQDAS software. What do they stand for, and what are the reasons for and against using the short or the extended version.
Susanne Friese
Product specialist, trainer and author of the book "Qualitative Data Analysis with ATLAS.ti"
  1. QDA or CAQDAS?
  2. Pittfalls in transalting methodological steps to software functionality
  3. Current developments in Grounded Theory
  4. References


Glaser (2003) strongly emphasized the difference between classic GT and ‘QDA’ (Qualitative Data Analysis). Similarly, I have always placed value on using the term CAQDAS – Computer Aided Qualitative Data AnalysiS – compared to QDA software (cf. Friese 2011). The term QDA software is easier on the lips, but it has been causing many misunderstandings. QDA software implies that the software is doing the analysis instead of being a tool aiding the researcher (who still must do the thinking). Automation is undoubtedly an issue these days, given the massive amounts of data available. But big data analysis is different fromqualitative data analysis even if big data may consist of qualitative, i.e., non-numeric data (Friese 2016). Thus, we need to distinguish between the analysis of qualitative data and qualitative data analysis, whereby GT is a form of the latter. Knowing only one of the available packages may also lead to false conclusions. If, for instance, one was to try a GT analysis with QDA Miner, which is more apt to support deductive approaches, one can quickly become frustrated and might reject CAQDAS to be unsuitable for GT.

Figure 1: Acronym: QDA or CAQDAS software?

Pitfall in translating methodological steps to software functionality

Another common pitfall is the translation of methodological steps to software functionality. Equating the GT open coding process with the function to apply codes in a software package can be troublesome. Another issue might be that some researchers do not resist the temptation to use CAQDAS for a quick but dirty analysis. But this is no different from studies that were analyzed manually. Morse et al. (2009) wrote that many studies refer to themselves as GT-based but aren’t true GT studies. This, however, is not a reason for rejecting GT as a methodological approach, nor should quick and dirty computer-assisted studies be a reason against the use of the software. As Strauss already said: Research is ‘hard work,’ and without working hard, neither a manual nor a computer-assisted analysis will result in a good piece of academic writing. Not all GT researchers of the first and second generation, though, condemn the use of the software. Corbin writes in the current issue of Basics of Qualitative Data Analysis: The computer has the ability "to augment the human mind by doing a lot of the detailed and tedious work involved in many endeavors, thus freeing up the user to be creative and thoughtful. And this is what computer programs do for qualitative analysis" (Corbin & Strauss 2015: Chapter 11, item 5207).

Current Developments in Grounded Theory

If you want to learn more about Grounded Theory coding, read the following book chapter: Grounded Theory Analysis and CAQDAS: A happy pairing or remodeling GT to QDA? published in the latest SAGE handbook: Current Developments in Grounded Theory.

Figure 2: SAGE Handbook: Current Developments in Grounded Theory


  • Corbin, Juliet & Strauss, Anselm L. (2008/2015). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (3rd and 4th editions). London: Sage.
  • Friese, Susanne (2021). Grounded Theory Analysis and CAQDAS: A happy pairing or remodeling GT to QDA? In: Antony Bryant and Kathy Charmaz (eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Current Developments in Grounded Theory, 282-313. London: Sage.
  • Friese, Susanne (2016). Qualitative data analysis software: The state of the art. Special Issue: Qualitative Research in the Digital Humanities, Bosch, Reinoud (Ed.), KWALON, 61, 21(1), 34–45.
  • Friese, Susanne (2011). Using ATLAS.ti for analyzing the financial crisis data [67 Paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1), Article 39, (Polling: 04/07/2015).
  • Glaser, Barney G. (2003). The Grounded Theory Perspective II: Description’s Remodeling of Grounded Theory Methodology. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.
  • Morse, J., Stern, P. N., Corbin, J., Bowers, B., Charmaz, K., & Clarke, A. E. (2009). Developing Grounded Theory: The Second Generation. London: Routledge.