Software for Qualitative Research

Software for Qualitative Research

The following module provides an introduction to the use of qualitative data analysis software (QDA) including definitions and guides for choosing an appropriate software package.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the use of qualitative data analysis software
  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using a software package
  • Describe the basic factors that should be considered when choosing an appropriate package


A researcher may have a carefully formulated research question, appropriate methodology, and great data collection. However, for the research project to have meaningful findings, the data must be analyzed and interpreted in an appropriate manner. More and more researchers are using computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software to assist in the analysis of the data. Researchers have long been using software to analyze quantitative data using statistical software packages, but increasingly, researchers are finding value in qualitative software. Qualitative researchers commonly store and organize their data electronically. The software packages take it a step farther by being able to code data, disaggregate it manageable segments, categorize and name those segments, and organize data in ways that make it meaningful to the researcher. The software also allows the researcher to identify themes and concepts that can easily be coded and recorded throughout the process. While the software packages offer the researcher advantages for these reasons, it is important to remember that in qualitative research the software acts as an organizational tool that aids in the process, but it cannot do the actual analysis for the researcher.  Therefore, qualitative software can be viewed as a "facilitator" of qualitative data analysis.  Following is a list of ways that qualitative software packages can assist in analysis:

  • Recording notes, memos and write-ups
  • Storing data and coding it in categories
  • Data linking by forming categories, clusters, or networks of data
  • Counting frequencies, sequences or locations of words and phrases
  • Searching and retrieving data that can easily be displayed and reviewed
  • Drawing and verifying conclusions based on and supported by the stored information
  • Building theories by systematically developing explanations and testing hypothesis
  • Mapping of data that depicts findings or supports theories
  • Preparing of reports

There are many software options available to qualitative researchers and there are numerous helpful, web-based tools to help researchers sort through the choices and make software selection easier. The following resources are available to help researchers review their choices and choose the option that best matches their approach, methodology and data set.

Choosing an Appropriate CAQDAS Package - This resource provides a great map for choosing an appropriate software product for qualitative analysis. 

Using Software in Qualitative Research: A Step-by-Step Guide - This site provides a guide for using qualitative software, as well as links to the most commonly used software products.

Qualitative Data Analysis Software Comparison - This site provides a chart that offers a side-by-side comparison of commons QDA software that is a quick way to determine which software package meets your needs.

NVivo - The NVIvo software package is commonly used at GCU and provides an excellent set of tools to qualitative researchers. This link provides the product overview, questions and answers, and product downloads.

Finally, the following YouTube video, The Basics of Using Qualitative Software, provides an excellent summary of the advantages and disadvantages of using software for data analysis, as well as an overview of software options.



Suggested Readings

Coffey, A., Holbrook, B., & Atkinson, P. (1996). Qualitative data analysis: Technologies and representations.
Dey, I. (2003). Qualitative data analysis: A user friendly guide for social scientists. New York, NY: Routledge.
Drisko, J. W. (2013). Qualitative data analysis software. Qualitative Research in Social Work, 284.
John, W. S., & Johnson, P. (2000). The pros and cons of data analysis software for qualitative research. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 32(4), 393-397.
Leech, N. L., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2007). An array of qualitative data analysis tools: A call for data analysis triangulation. School Psychology Quarterly, 22(4), 557.
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Weitzman, E., & Miles, M. B. (1995). Computer programs for qualitative data analysis: A software sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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