Best Practice

Writing memos when analysing qualitative data

Writing is an important part of analysis in qualitative research. When using software, it is easy to fall into the code trap. Always remember that coding the data is only a means to an end.
Susanne Friese
Product specialist, trainer and author of the book "Qualitative Data Analysis with ATLAS.ti"
Embarking on your analytic journey with ATLAS.ti
  1. Writing memos in the early stages of analysis
  2. Memos for different stages of your project
  3. References

Writing memos in the early stages of analysis - your research diary

Suppose you write a thesis or dissertation or work on a research project. In that case, it is a good idea to write a research diary that you can later refer to when writing up your method section to document the analytic process. You could do this in a Word document but using an ATLAS.ti memo has some advantages. After an analysis session in ATLAS.ti, you can immediately write down what you have done and timestamp it without opening another program. It becomes part of your evolving project and can later be submitted together with your project data. But there is more to it than just adding transparency: research diaries are helpful reminders for the analyst. It isn't easy to keep everything in mind when a project continues over months or even years. The research diary can be reviewed, for example, when it comes to writing the method chapter for a thesis or a publication.

When writing a research diary, it is good to keep track of when you wrote what. This can be done quickly by inserting the date above each entry. In the Mac version, you can use the shortcut Ctrl+D; in the Windows version, you find a button Insert timestamp in the ribbon of the Memo editor.

Memos for different stages of your project

Project memo

To stay focused, adding a memo with your research questions can be done at an early analysis stage. You might already have a list of research questions. You can add further questions and ideas to this list with progressing investigation.

Idea memo

If you have a great idea but no time to follow it up right away, write it down before it gets lost. However, do not write a memo for every single thought you have! Collect all the good ideas in one memo that you might entitle ‘Great ideas to follow up.’

To-do memo

Like the idea memo, you can have a memo that contains a to-do list for the following work session or a plan for the next week or analysis period.

Team memos

When working in a team, all the members can add a team memo to their sub-projects. In the team memo, they can write down things that they want to discuss at the next team meeting. If you put all the team memos together after merging, you already have your agenda for the next meeting.
Team memos are also crucial for communicating about the code system. If you start with a list of codes that everyone in the team should use, no one should make changes to those common codes. If a team member wants to change the name of a code or modify the code definition, this should be recorded in a memo. Existing codes in the code system should not be modified. The suggested changes regarding the code system should be discussed after merging all sub-projects, and changes to existing codes should only be made in the new Master project. This way, you avoid conflicts or code duplication when merging.

Theory or literature memos

This type can be used to add information from secondary sources to the project, such as excerpts from the relevant literature, main theoretical concepts, etc. These memos partly serve as reminders; instead of switching programs or looking through a stack of papers to remind you of important theoretical concepts and their definitions, they are right there within your ATLAS.ti project. Additionally, these memos can be used to collect empirical evidence for theories proposed in the literature. When you come across a data segment that ties in with other authors' ideas presented in the literature, you can connect the respective memo to this data segment.

The following video tutorial shows you how to create and work with memos in ATLAS.ti windows:

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When you need more input regarding how to write memos, see, for example, the third or fourth edition of Basics of Qualitative Research by Corbin and Strauss (2008/2015), Wolcott (2009), or Charmaz (2014). Learning how to write good memos is experiential. Reading about it and seeing examples of how it can be done is one part, but you need to do it yourself and practice it.


  • Charmaz, Kathy (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage.

  • Corbin, Juliet and Strauss, Anselm (2008/2015). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (3rd and 4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Richards, Lyn (2009, 2ed). Handling qualitative data: a practical guide. London: Sage.

  • Richards, Lyn and Janice M. Morse (2013, 3ed). Readme first: for a user’s guide to Qualitative Methods. Los Angeles: Sage.

  • Wolcott, Harry E. (2009). Writing Up Qualitative Research. London: Sage.