Qualitative analysis can sometimes seem daunting, particularly when dealing with large amounts of data. We have found qualitative data analysis (QDA) software to be immensely helpful with collaboration, coding, organization, and analysis. The software we use, ATLAS.ti, allows us to collaborate across platforms; co-develop, share, and organize codes; and analyze data through different techniques. Below are important points to consider when selecting and using any qualitative analysis tool:
- Look at collaboration capabilities across platforms. When choosing QDA software, consider your organization’s collaboration needs. Do team members use a single platform, or is there a split between PC and Mac users? ATLAS.ti has recently expanded to allow for file sharing across platforms, which is particularly helpful when analyzing large data sets. Each team member can take and analyze a section of the data on a PC or Mac, and the analysis can later be merged into one master file on either platform.
- Consider ways to create and share your codes. As part of the coding process, we use a shared Excel codebook with predetermined codes that can be revised as team members identify emergent codes. A shared codebook allows our team members to easily share, collaborate on, and organize our thematic codes. ATLAS.ti also has an internal codebook function that allows users to define predetermined and emergent codes; however, we have not found an effective way to make this codebook continually accessible to all team members.
- Find ways to organize your codes. One of the strongest benefits of QDA software is the amount of organization it offers. Within ATLAS.ti, we can merge multiple thematic codes into one larger code, break apart codes, and organize codes through color coding and the creation of larger code groups. This is particularly helpful when the analysis process begins with “lumping” data to look for overarching themes and then moves into “splitting” the data in those themes to look for more detailed themes or smaller categories.
- Understand that QDA software will not run an analysis for you. While QDA supports various analyses (e.g., content analysis, thematic analysis, analytic induction), it will not run an analysis for you. Unlike SPSS or SAS, you cannot select an analysis method and have the program run the analysis or provide an output of results. Qualitative analysis is still subject to the skills of the individual, but QDA software offers one tool for better collaboration, coding, and organization.