1 Read – Chapters, Journal Articles, and Research Blogs: Find top research articles to cite and enrich your reading with your ready-made bibliography of qualitative research from SAGE books, journals, and other credible sources. Use the discussion questions online to practice thinking critically about research.

15.1 More about the academic discussion of QDAS

If you want to learn more about how QDAS has been discussed in academia, I highly recommend the excellent meta-analysis provided by Jackson, Paulus and Woolf: ‘The Walking Dead Genealogy: Unsubstantiated Criticisms of Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS) and the Failure to Put Them to Rest’ (The Qualitative Report, 2018, vol. 23, no. 13).

Guiding questions:

-     Reflect: Based upon the readings, what are key criticisms related to QDAS use? And what are issues in the academic discussion around QDAS related to these criticisms?

-     Reflect: Why do the authors use the metaphor of ‘Zombies‘ when they talk about how authors talk about hopes and fears regarding QDAS? What are they trying to convene with this metaphor?

-     Speculate: How does the ‘cherry picking‘ of citations and positions impact the current perception of QDAS, according to the authors?

15.2 Representation of data and the role of space

In 1945, the inventor and scientist Vannevar Bush described in his essay ‘As We May Think‘ how researchers in the future might use technology to access and make sense of large amounts of information. This essay has inspired many engineers and inventors.

Get started

●    Access Vannevar Bush’s essay on The Atlantic website.

●    Read sections 6 and 7 of the essay.

Guiding questions

●    Reflect: To what extent is QDAS similar to the futuristic research machine Bush is describing?

●    Reflect: Describe the tension between the machine’s logic and the way humans think, according to the essay. How does this tension translate to technology you use every day (and in your research)?

●    Describe: According to Bush, what are the physical dimensions and hardware features of this futuristic device? What is the role of display space in using such a machine, based on how Bush describes researchers’ interaction with this device?

●    Compare: To what extent does your own computer setup resemble Bush’s idea of a future analysis space?

Take this exercise further:

●    Read how the researcher Amana Marie Le Blanc explored data with QDAS in the article ‘Disruptive Meaning Making: Qualitative Data Analysis Software as Postmodern Pastiche’ (Qualitative Inquiry 2017, vol 23(10), 789-798).

●    Compare & describe: Pull up Le Blanc’s and Bush’s articles on a laptop screen, and read them side by side. Describe the connections between the two pieces that you see.

●    Reflect: For Le Blanc’s article, reflect on the role that space plays when it comes to representing complex data and processes.

●    Reflect: How did it feel to read the texts side by side on a laptop screen? Compare this with reading two printed papers side-by-side. Compare this with reading two papers on a larger monitor (e.g., in a library or research lab). How did each of these modes of display facilitate or inhibit thinking, exploration, and note taking? Which gave you the most satisfaction and engagement?

15.3 Your learning journey

If you like to learn more about teaching QDAS, I recommend my article on ‘Qualitative data analysis software as a tool for teaching analytic practice: Towards a theoretical framework for integrating QDAS into methods pedagogy‘ (Qualitative Research, 2020, vol. 20, no. 4).

Additionally, visit the online materials of this book to read about how researchers learned to use QDAS, and what struggles they experienced. Based on the readings, reflect on your own learning journey: How can you currently learn how to do an analysis? What learning experiences do you prefer – and which ones do you have access to?

Guiding questions

For the article, reflect:

What kinds of learning experiences do you currently have access to? What kinds of learning experiences are you missing?

For the following interview transcripts, describe:

Based on the researchers’ stories: What role does having a community of peers play for the researchers when it comes to learning the use of QDAS and analysis? If you want to practice QDAS use: import the interviews in the QDAS of your choice and explore some of the analysis functions as you’re answering the questions.

Connect: In your experience, how important is contact to a community when it comes to learning something new? How do you prefer to be in contact or part of that community?

Discuss: Talk to your methods teacher, advisor or senior students. Ask them how they learned to do analysis – and how they wish they would have learned to do analysis. Then discuss your own needs as a learner and together identify places, groups, classes or activities that you can engage in to meet those needs.

Example 1: Taylor’s learning journey

Interviewer: So you’ve been telling me a little bit about how you learned or how you learned things from methods books. Can you maybe tell me a little bit more broadly how you learned to analyze data? What’s the story of you learning how to analyze data?

Taylor: Yeah I would say I learned primarily through being a part of a research group. And so when I was in graduate school I was a part of a large project. And I learned to analyze data by having joint coding sessions with more advanced graduate students. So we had – first of all, I learned how to organize a – a large data set within a program and how to code it because we had – we had a project with thousands of pages of text data. And we had – we were working in “nvivo” and we actually had a schedule where you would be assigned let’s say a four-hour block. And during that block, you were the person who was supposed to be logged in and doing that co – that coding. And then you know other people would take on after you because we couldn’t all be logged into the project at the same time. And so that was a constraint but that also taught me how to develop a good workflow around blocking off time to code for several hours at a time. And to figure out how to be effective in a couple hour block.

And then I would say most useful is when we worked together. So, we would go into the research lab and we would dedicate entire evenings to working with data together, where we would sit down and code data collaboratively in groups of I would say two to four, probably two to three most of the time. I – there was a group of students who I was pretty close to and they were a little bit further along than I was, and so they had a little bit more experience with coding and analysis. And so a lot of what I learned early on was by having those joint coding sessions with them. And then, we would occasionally have sessions or meetings where the whole research group was together and we would look at data or even work with data together. And that would be with the PI and the whole group. But, I think I learned the most when I was having those long, day-long or evening sessions with other graduate students. And then I utilized a lot of those practices when I was on my own with my dissertation data.

Example 2: Alex’ learning journey

Interviewer: Yup. Mm-hmm. So I’d like to switch gears a little bit and now focus a little bit more on how you learned all that. You touched on some of these things already. But can you please tell me the story of how you learned to analyze data, qualitative data?

Alex: Oh, yeah. So once upon a time, my graduate school advisor was like, hey, we’re gonna have some open-ended data. Could you figure out how to analyze that? And I was like: maybe. And so, back then ‘ATLAS.ti’ was the available software at my university. And so, you know, I picked that up a little bit and kind of poked at it and found it hard and, you know, I don’t know. I was trying to finish up my dissertation and such. But I – I turned around and looked at him and I was like, I don’t know about this.

So that was my first effort. And I’m a quant by nature, right. I do survey work and I run regressions and on and on, right. But since I do media, right, I always kind of knew about I actually do care about the message. And so, I knew that content analysis was going to be something I was going to want to do. So after that initial kind of, oh, I don’t think this is going to work for us, I got my current job. And I’m surrounded by qualitative people. […]

I’ve got all these people around me who spend time with words and out in the field and interviewing people. The field and interviews are not things that I do. I study [topic] for a living. And so, it’s kind of hard for me to roll up on people and be like, what about [topic]. […]

So, I come to this floor, I’ve got all these people, right? And they’re like, hey, we’re using this thing. This thing is really great. What are you doing with those highlighters and your students, you know? And so, I decided, it must have been going into the summer of [year]. I think that’s the first time I – I ran the lab. I was like, OK, I’m gonna start to figure out how to do this. And so, you know, I spent – I – I decided to pick it [CS: a specific QDAS package] up in the summer. And so, maybe I spent like a month or so familiarizing myself with it before I then turned over and try to start teaching my research students how to do it. Again, like we were just trying to figure out [topic] at that point. So then in thinking about the actual process of me like learning how to do it, the documentation is fantastic. And so I, you know, have the – the manual. You know, it’s a bookmark. […]

[Interviewer:] So – so, can you say a little bit more about how that looks like when you’re working with your – or when you’re learning with from your colleagues and friends?

Alex: So, it’s definitely – Most of the time, it’s I’m walking by and their door is open and I’m like, oh, hey, buddy. Can I come in here? It’s definitely not like scheduling meetings and such. Although, you know, I would be interested in perhaps going to like a big workshop. I know you’ve offered some stuff on campus. You know, I think especially with that other stuff but I don’t know how to do it, I think that could be really interesting. But, yeah, it’s definitely informal, hey, can I come by, or hey, look at this awesome thing that I came up with, right? Like I come with questions, I also come with examples and stuff. So I think that that’s been really helpful.

Online resource material for this chapter authored by Christian Schmieder.