Analyzing Qualitative Data

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When we talk about computer programs used in sociological research, most people think about programs designed for use with quantitative data, such as SAS and SPSS that are used for generating statistics with large data sets of numbers. Qualitative researchers, however, also have several options of computer programs that can help analyze non-numerical data.

Computers are great note-taking devices for qualitative research, allowing you to edit and duplicate easily.

Beyond basic recording and storage of data, however, simple word processing programs can also be used for some basic data analysis. For example, you can use the "find" or "search" command to go directly to entries containing key words. You can also type code words alongside entries in your notes so that you can search for those keywords later.

Database and spreadsheet programs, such as Excel, can also be used for analyzing qualitative data. Columns can be used to represent categories, the "sort" command can be used to organize data, and cells can be used for coding data. There are many possibilities and options, depending on what makes the most sense for each individual.

There are also several software programs designed specifically for use with qualitative data. The following are the most commonly used by social science researchers:

NUD-IST. At the most basic level, NUD-IST (short for Non-numerical Unstructured Data Indexing Searching and Theorizing) keeps text organized and portable. It is good for simple analyses like text manuscript from focus groups or open-ended survey data to more complex theory construction and analysis.

It automates much of the tedious work that normally comes with qualitative data analysis by auto coding signified text data, importing table data, and using command files to regulate processes. NUD-IST also contains a comprehensive indexing system for coding documents, which can be anything from text files to newspaper clippings to books, photographs, maps, music, and videos.

ATLAS-ti. ATLAS.ti is a software program that contains tools to help the user locate, code, and annotate findings in the data, weigh and evaluate their importance, and visualize the relationships among them. It can consolidate large volumes of documents while keeping track of all notes, annotations, codes and memos in all fields of the data. ATLAS.ti can be used with text files, images, audio files, video files, or geo data.

Ethnograph. Ethnograph software is good for people who need to analyze large amounts of text, including interview transcripts, field notes, open-ended surveys, etc. It is used mostly for coding and compiling patterns in data that is collected during fieldwork or from interviews. When you import the data, the program automatically gives your text line numbers and formats the file. You can nest codes within the files, mark codes with memos, create a hierarchy of codes, and perform various types of searches on codes together with filters.


Babbie, E. (2001). The Practice of Social Research: 9th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson.
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