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Software for qualitative data analysis (QDA) allows the analyst to systematically index and organize the data and then to retrieve the data reliably and flexibly in many different ways. For example, it can facilitate finding all the data the analyst has previously identified as indicating a particular theme or conceptual category, and it can facilitate parsing these data into subgroups based on demographic or other categorical or quantitative variables. It can also find all the cases where a theme was not present, or where combinations of themes are present, and so on.
There is no one best software program for analyzing qualitative data. Furthermore, there is no one best program for a particular type of research or analytic method. Researchers will sometimes ask ”what’s the best program for a study of health services?” or ”what’s the best program for doing grounded theory?” or ”what’s the best program for analyzing focus groups?” None of these questions has a good answer. Instead, choice needs to be approached based on the structure of the data, the specific things the analyst will want to do as part of the analysis, and the needs of the researcher around issues like ease of use, cost, time available, collaboration, and so on.
Qualitative data analysis software is not an analysis methodology and it will not automatically analyze data. It provides tools which, in the hands of a competent researcher, can make possible analyses of great depth and rigor. It can facilitate the analyses of data sets of sizes that would not be feasible by hand. However, a cautionary note is in order here: there has been an increasing number of projects in recent years in which researchers, believing that software will make it all possible, collect data sets of sizes that make meaningful analyses back-breaking, even with software. QDA software, appropriately matched to a project’s needs and thoughtfully applied, can greatly enhance the qualitative research enterprise.
- Weitzman, E. A. (2003) Software and qualitative research. In: Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (eds.), Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials, 2nd edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 310—39.