These Software Tools Can Help You Analyze Qualitative Data

An Overview of the Most Popular Options

A woman working at a computer using software to analyze qualitative data.
mihailomilovanovic/Getty Images

When we talk about software used in sociological research, most people think about programs designed for use with quantitative data, like SAS and SPSS, that are used for generating statistics with large numerical data sets. Qualitative researchers, however, also have several software options available that can help analyze non-numerical data like interview transcripts and responses open-ended survey questions, ethnographic fieldnotes, and cultural products like advertisements, new articles, and social media posts, among others.

These programs will make your research and work more efficient, systematic, scientifically rigorous, easy to navigate, and will asist your analysis by illuminating connections in the data and insights about it that you might not otherwise see.

Software that You Already Have: Word Processing & Spreadsheets

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 keywords. You can also type code words alongside entries in your notes so that you can easily search for trends within your data at later point.

Database and spreadsheet programs, like Microsoft Excel and Apple Numbers, 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 popular and highly rated among social science researchers.

NVivo

Nvivo, made and sold by QSR Internationl is one of the most popular and trusted qualitative data analysis program used by social scientists around the world. Available for computers running both Windows and Mac operating systems, it is a multifunctional piece of software that allows for advanced analysis of text, images, audio and video, webpages, social media posts, emails, and datasets.

Keep research journal as you work. Case coding, theme coding, InVivo coding. Color coding stripes make your work visible as you do it. NCapture add-on to collect social media posts and bring it into the program. Automatic coding of datasets like survey responses. Visualization of findings. Queries that examine your data and test theories, search for text, study word frequency, create cross-tabs. Easily exchange data with quantitative anlaysis programs. Collect data on mobile device using Evernote, import into program.

As with all advanced software packages, it can be costly to purchase as an individual, but people working in education get a discount, and students can buy a 12-month license for about $100.

QDA Miner and QDA Miner Lite

Unlike Nvivo, QDA Miner and its free version, QDA Miner Lite, made and distributed by Provalis Research, work stricly with text documents and images.

As such, they offer fewer functions than Nvivo and others listed below, but they are fantastic tools for researchers focusing on analysis of text or images. They are compatible with Windows and can be run on Mac and Linux machines that run virtual OS programs. Not limited to qualitative analysis, QDA Miner can be integrated with SimStat for quantitative analysis, which makes it a great mixed-methods data analysis software tool.

Qualitative researchers use QDA Miner to code, memo, and analyze textual data and images. It offers a range of features for coding and linking sections of data together, and also for linking data to other files and webpages. The program offers geo-tagging and time-tagging of text segments and graphic areas, and allows users to import directly from web survey platforms, social media, email providers, and software for managing references.

Statistical and visualization tools allow patterns and trends to be easily viewable and shareable, and multi-user settings makes it great for a team project.

QDA Miner is costly but is much more affordable for people in academia. The free version, QDA Miner Lite, is a great basic tool for text and image analysis. It does not have all the features as the pay-version, but can get the coding job done and allow for useful analysis.

MAXQDA

The great thing about MAXQDA is that it offers several versions from basic to advanced functionality that offer a range of options, including text analysis, data collected through a variety of qualitative methods, transcription and coding of audio and video files, quantitative text analysis, integration of demographic data, and data visualization and theory testing. It functions much like Nvivo and Atlas.ti (described below). Each piece of software works in any language, and is available for Windows and Mac OS. Prices range from affordable to costly, but full-time students can use the standard model for as little as $100 for two years.

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. Variety of ways of coding and organizing coded data. It is available for Mac and Windows, and a part of its popularity, also works on mobile with Android and Apple. Educational licenses are fairly affordable, and students can use it for less than $100 for two years.

Updated by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.