Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dear David Sedaris: A Fan Letter With Some Advice about Qualitative Data Analysis Software

Dear David Sedaris:  I am a longtime fan of your writing.  I love the way you can zip together a non-fiction essay.  You keep me laughing about those all too human failings we all have. 

On a recent couple of days out of town, I picked up a hard copy of your book—Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.  I guess it’s not important that it’s hard copy, but I so seldom read anything in that form anymore that it seems important to me, but not to get off-track with needless details. 

It was interesting to read about your early experiences with speed.  I am glad to hear you and Hugh have found a great place outside of London.  I don’t envy you all the travel you have to do to promote your books—book tours sound like an awful lot of work.  Luckily, none of my books have been that popular, and I haven’t had to grapple with this challenge nor do I anticipate such will be in my future. 

The essay that really struck my fancy was “Day In Day Out” (pg 225-237), where you describe how you keep your writer’s journal.  I loved it!!  Now, this may be in part due to the fact that I am a bit of a nerdy qualitative researcher.  As a group, we are kind of stuck on journals, memos, observations, recording daily life in small villages, things like that, and I seem to have a quite a bad obsession with this.

Be that as it may, you just made me tingle when you wrote about the notebooks you’ve been writing in since 1977.  I sighed when you described how they had evolved over the years—yes, I am sure they improved when you were not on speed.  But the part that really had me drooling was when you talked about INDEXING the volumes of the journal.  My heart began to beat faster, and I couldn’t put the book down.  Here is a great passage.

“Over a given three-month period, there may be fifty bits worth noting, and six that, with a little work, I might consider reading out loud.  Leafing through the index, which now numbers 280 pages, I note how my entries have changed over the years…”  (pg 232)

When I finished the whole thing, I said to myself, “WOW!!  He is doing all of this without Qualitative Data Analysis Software.  This is all by hand, so to speak.  He could do so much if he would shift to QDAS”. 

Yes, QDAS—pronounced like “Cute Ass”.  You got it. 

QDAS is a class of software created by and for qualitative researchers that allows you to create your own indexes for your texts.  You can search, extract, and compare those texts just willy-nilly using the codes you assign to the bits and pieces of your text. 

I even tried something like this myself with my personal journals (see blog entries related to “The Journal Project”).  Using a tool like this would make you so much more efficient in looking for and using those great memories you are storing away—like this wonderful item on page 231--“Volume 87, 5/15: Lisa puts a used Kotex through the wash, and her husband mistakes it for a shoulder pad.”  You could code this under “Lisa” and/or “husband”.  I might make a code for “Kotex”, with a sub-code for “used”….  Then later I could search for all the possible combinations.  As you can see, limitless opportunity awaits you.

If you want to go further with these ideas, please feel free to contact me.  I am ready, able, and willing to help you get your data into good shape using QDAS.  In the meantime, good luck with your manual methods. 

And, again, thank you for all the great essays.


P.S.  If there are any other authors out there who work like Mr. Sedaris—see me for a good time.  QDAS awaits you! 


Silvana di Gregorio said...

Great post Judy. I bet Mr Sedaris never got such a great fan letter. You must send it to him. I love how you explain how to pronounce QDAS. But remember you wouldn't want to sit with your QDAS on a CAQDAS. (For qual software nerds only)

trena paulus said...

Cute-ass indeed!! I love this, and I loved that book, too.

Judith Davidson said...

QDAS on a CAQDAS? Now, that is the true humor of the qual software nerd!