Monday, October 3, 2011

The Truth about Qualitative Data Analysis Software

Victorian Toronto - stampsImage by yorkville via FlickrI am up to my eyeballs in two very large sets of data--both stored in NVivo 9:  1) the Journal Project; 2) the Sexting Project.

The Journal Project is large with journal entries and photos of art pieces as primary items.  The Journal Project was a one-woman show (me).

The Sexting Project is an effort of a whole team and includes focus group transcripts, a literature data base, and memos from many people.

It's unusual to have projects in Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS) of relative size and complexity.  From what I can tell a lot of people give up before they get to this place.  We don't have many sizable examples to look at, poke around in.  Thank goodness for the doctoral students I have worked with--and the projects they have produced.  That's given me a lot of ways to 'look into' the shape these things take and the ways they look at various points.

I was thinking about this issue this morning as I had my tea, and I realized that qualitative researchers who don't use QDAS think (this is what I think they think) that QDAS organized projects are somehow neat, streamlined, efficient, like an industrial kitchen--approved and 'up-to-code' (get it...that's a joke...code?!).

But this is not so.  No matter how many standards are set they tend to become idiosyncratic, individualistic, unique (inefficient).   The labyrinth is a better metaphor than the industrial kitchen.  Or maybe they are like software packages that have developed over time and has old code in different corners...and then I stumbled on what really seemed like the right metaphor:  a Victorian home with backstairs, window seats, and closets that are surprisingly large.  I lived in such a house as a child and the metaphor suddenly connected to experience. 

In my QDAS projects I have certain ways of putting things for reference.  I have redundancies.  I have shelves and furniture that I hide away in some pretty expansive closets.  I keep things I don't need...just in case.  Basically it is like me.  Like my office.  Like my brain.  

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Silvana di Gregorio said...

Hi Judy,

Of course it's like you! I am currently reading about 'extended cognition' ( and also augmented cognition - but that is another story). Basically, any software package is linked to your brain - you think through the package - the same way as you develop your thoughts through writing. See the TED talk by David Chalmers:

Marie Bastian said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have been looking for qualitative data analysis software, and this has given me a lot of great information!

Tom Hardy said...

So I don't really know much about this and I am trying to get into it. But I have been recommended to get the best qualitative data analysis software that I can find. Is this a good or bad move?