Handling Qualitative Data

A Practical Guide


A Welcome from the Author

Welcome to the companion website for Handling Qualitative Data, third edition. The book is designed for researchers who have qualitative data and want to do justice to it. The chapters walk you through basic processes of designing data, handling data records, interpreting and reporting findings.

This website provides two sets of highly unusual resources to accompany the book:

  • Methods in Practice: real researchers talk about real projects
    The stories of ten projects, (from eight countries and as many qualitative methods), are told here, in the researchers' own voices. How was the project set up, what data were sought and created, how did the researcher work with the data, what actually happened during analysis and reporting?
  • Qualitative Software: this is not a summary of the current state of the various software products aimed at qualitative researchers. But it does tell you where to go for such summaries. And more importantly, it advises you before you go shopping for software. Should you use qualitative software, and how? How to find impartial, useful and non-marketing advice about software products? And it then provides help on how to manage your relationship with your software, including a brief handbook of advice to help you ask the necessary questions as you start stepping into software

To discuss these materials, or the book, go to the SAGE Publications Methodspace site. It's free and open, and you can talk there to other researchers, students, readers of the book and users of this site, to the authors of the Methods in Practice reports, and to me. They - and I - will be alerted to any questions about their projects, and interested to engage in debate about their experiences of setting up, handling and analysis of the data and how they reported their projects.

If you want to contact me personally, please email lyn.richards@rmit.edu.au.

I hope these pages are not only useful but enjoyable, and that they help you towards the task of doing justice to your data.

Lyn Richards,
RMIT University, Melbourne.

About the book

This new edition of Lyn Richards' popular book provides an accessible introduction to qualitative research for students and practitioners. Recognising that for many novice researchers, data, rather than methods and their philosophical underpinnings, are the starting point, the book helps the reader to acquire the skills and understanding of methodological issues that they need as they work through their research project. This enables the student to handle, reflect on and get results from small amounts of data right from the start.

Handling Qualitative Data also covers using software, when this is necessary, and the challenges that researchers might encounter. For those who wish to work with computer software, resource pages and tutorials covering the issues and techniques in each chapter are available on the book's companion website.

For this third edition the book has been revised, with new extended coverage of key topics in qualitative research including ethics, reflexivity, and the relationship between research questions and methodological choices.

This website has also been updated. In the ‘Methods in Practice’ section, designed to show students and practitioners what qualitative data analysis looks like in real life, researchers have been asked to reflect back on their project and what they might have done differently.

The Qualitative Software section contains new links to current resources and research, and critical discussion of the contributions and challenges of current qualitative software and its relevance to project tasks. 

The book also considers the debates about the nature and interpretation of qualitative data and the goals of valid and useful outcomes from qualitative analysis, enabling the reader to do justice to their data, whatever their background or training.

About the author

This website happened because for years I have been concerned that qualitative researchers can't easily find honest accounts with detail of what people actually do with data if and when they get any. The literature has always given very little help to those treading the sometimes perilous paths to qualitative analysis, and it has hardly noticed when those journeys changed radically with computer assistance.

I'm a sociologist and qualitative researcher who taught qualitative methods at undergraduate and graduate levels before leaving academia to help design qualitative software and services that worked for qualitative researchers. This was a very personal path. I always claimed that the NUD*IST software was developed because one day my baby son ate a quotation from my current research project. (Back then, like most qualitative researchers, I coded by copying textual material and filing segments by topic, then reviewed them on the living room floor!) My computer scientist husband, Tom Richards, acknowledging responsibility for the child, rashly suggested he might be able to develop software that would help me do what he thought I was trying to do with data - and the rest is history.

Together we designed the NUDIST software (for Nonnumerical Unstructured Data, Indexing, Searching and Theorizing) and later founded a company, QSR, to develop and distribute it and its successor, NVivo. We learned the hard way about the chasm between research goals and corporate processes! Meanwhile, I taught and consulted in projects in 13 countries, teaching thousands of researchers at all levels of seniority in all sorts of research settings, and learning of their challenges and their strategies. This meant a lot of my time was in writing methods texts and software documentation. I also personally trained, and always learned from, most of the 70 trainers worldwide who supported the software in those years. Many of these remain firm friends.

I am now an independent teacher, writer and consultant and Associate Research Fellow for the Centre for Applied Social Research (CASR), at RMIT University Melbourne. My tenth book (if you count books on software) was Handling Qualitative Data: A Practical Guide, and this website accompanies its third edition. It was a brain-spill of the experience of helping researchers who often had minimal or even no academic methods training but wished to do justice to their data, across countries, disciplines and contexts. Like my earlier book, with Janice Morse, Readme First, it's for those who want practical plotting of routes and advice on preparation for and conduct of the wonderful and often terrifying journey from making qualitative data to making something of the research. The Methods in Practice projects on this site are designed to give you a series of real-life accounts of other people's paths through a project, how they arrived at an analysis, and what they have learned, looking back The Qualtiative Software pages share what I've learned, from developing, using and teaching qualitative computing, about the limitations and the strengths of computer assisted qualitative research, and how best to approach software and use it well. While this book assumes you will use the software, it is also written in the conviction that the path to qualitative computing is poorly documented and little critiqued and can be perilous to those ill prepared. I hope the book and these pages assist you in starting out on that path. 



Want even more help in analysing your data?

Visit SAGE’s Qualitative Data Analysis Software Resource Centre for extra help with your research. There you’ll find books and online resources covering every aspect of the process from choosing a software programme and getting started on your project, to data management and coding:




This website may contain links to both internal and external websites. All links included were active at the time the website was launched. SAGE does not operate these external websites and does not necessarily endorse the views expressed within them. SAGE cannot take responsibility for the changing content or nature of linked sites, as these sites are outside of our control and subject to change without our knowledge. If you do find an inactive link to an external website, please try to locate that website by using a search engine. SAGE will endeavour to update inactive or broken links when possible.