October 01, 2011

Potential uses of CAQDA software packages

About a year ago, I was looking into Computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDA) software packages that may help me in doing my literature review by allowing me to code certain passages within documents into codes that I could then easily explore or retrieve.

I think one of the potentials I saw in some CAQDA software packages is that if you code useful passages within lots of papers and documents into codes (which are similar to keywords), this will make it easier for you to retrieve those stored passages of texts within different documents.

For example: if I have read 100 PDFs and assigned things that I believe relevant to my research into codes, it would be much easier to just output the passages that belong to a certain code within those 100 PDFs in 3-5 pages (since other information within each document will be hidden) showing where every passage came from and how they can relate to each other (You can use relationships between them too!). This would surely be much easier than having to check all those 100 PDFs to try and find bits and pieces here and there that belong to the topic I am trying to write about.

Another potential where I personally think CAQDA could help is building a rich research library of journal papers and different documents over the years. Because, in many cases, a PhD might be the first step of your research career, especially if you are a lecturer or someone that is interested in publishing journal papers in the same field. I guess what I am trying to say is, lets assume that while doing your PhD you come across 100 journal papers that you consider important in your research field. After that, you become a lecturer at some university where you are expected to do more research. So you read more journal papers and you assign more information to codes within the CAQDA software. After a couple of years, you could have a very rich library of papers that you have already read and classified into certain codes or keywords.

After that, all you have to do really when you want to write a journal paper is ask the CAQDA to output information related to a keyword and start writing.


For instance, you may choose to first write a background, so, you output background information which you store in a code. Next, you may choose to become more specific, so, you may want to identify previous gaps and even gaps that may still be in need of research. You output information assigned to a code "Gaps in....." and you find all different arguments by different authors, etc...

I believe that using a CAQDA helps a lot when it comes to writing, if it was used by the researcher while he was doing his literature review.

I know that some would argue that it is not good to just read certain parts of the paper and assign them and just forget the rest of the paper may see like taking things out of context, but this is only true if the researcher himself didn't pay attention to that.


Of course I am only scratching the surface here as most CAQDA have much more advanced and useful features such as reports & networks diagrams where you could visually show the relationship between different passages. For instance, you could show a number of authors disagreeing with author A while may others are supporting him.


I have been working with a CAQDA software (Atlas.Ti) mainly as part of my literature review as I believe it keeps me organised and helps me find information that I have already looked into much faster than I would usually do. I will continue to use it as I go on with my PhD and I hope that I learn more about it and try the various features available and be able to share what I find or anything new later on.


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