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September 29, 2015

ATLAS.ti vs NVivo vs MAXQDA

Follow-up to Choosing the right Data Analysis Software from CES PHD Support Group

There is a range of available software that has developed over the years and distinctions have been made between kinds of CAQDAS (text retrievers, code and retrieve, qualitative comparative analysis, theory building).

During my ersearch I noticed a pattern emerging when people are talking about the "best" software (whatever that means). There is a clear distinction between three major software options and the rest of the available options. So I decided to focus on these three instead.


The purpose of ATLAS.ti is to help researchers uncover and systematically analyze complex phenomena hidden in unstructured data (text, multimedia, geospatial). The program provides tools that let the user locate, code, and annotate findings in primary data material, to weigh and evaluate their importance, and to visualize the often complex relations between them.

Advantages of Atlas.ti

  • Supports multimedia files and PDFs
  • East Asian and Middle Eastern language support
  • Google Earth is embedded
  • Multiple ways of working in the system (high flexibility)
  • On-Board Transcription Engine
  • Visual model building and "mind mapping" using the Network Editor
  • Export to SPSS, HTML, CSV

Limitations of Atlas.ti

  • Managing the project requires care because of the external database system—changes need to be carefully saved.
  • Main working code list does not have a functioning hierarchical structure.
  • Query tool lacks the ability to integrate searchers for text with searches for coded data.


Tutorials on

Videos on Youtube


NVivo is a qualitative data analysis (QDA) computer software package produced by QSR International. It has been designed for qualitative researchers working with very rich text-based and/or multimedia information, where deep levels of analysis on small or large volumes of data are required.

NVivo uses an interface similar to Microsoft making it user-friendly, while it is easily accessible from any mobile device including an iPhone, iPad, tablet, and Android phone using EverNote. These features work well for various size projects and with single to multiple person teams. Online video tutorials and support manual are available for users who wish to view a demonstration or need assistance with understanding NVivo functions.

Advantages of NVivo

  • Available in several languages (English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Simplified Chinese)
  • Allows simultaneous use and sharing of data among research team members
  • Supports data formats such as audio files, videos, digital photos, Word, PDF, spreadsheets, rich text, plain text and web and social media data
  • NCapture add-on imports data from social media sites (e.g. Facebook posts, LinkedIn comments, YouTube videos)
  • Interchange data with applications like Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, IBM SPSS Statistics, EndNote, Microsoft OneNote, SurveyMonkey and Evernote

Limitations of NVivo

  • Importing large datasets can take a large amount of time or may result in an error message
  • NVivo Mac has limited functionality (e.g. undo option not available for all actions)
  • Files from other programs, such as OneNote, not always imported accurately (i.e. missing data, change in layout).


Tutorials on

Videos on Youtube


MAXQDA is a software program designed for computer-assisted qualitative and mixed methods data, text and multimedia analysis in academic, scientific, and business institutions. It is the successor of winMAX, which was first made available in 1989. It is being developed and distributed by VERBI Software based in Berlin, Germany

Unlike most other CAQDAS, MAXQDA was not developed on the background of Grounded Theory. Instead the software is designed for both qualitative, quantitative research and (mixed methods research).

The emphasis on going beyond qualitative research can be observed in the extensive attributes function (called variables in the programme itself) and the ability of the programme to deal relatively quickly with larger numbers of interviews

Advantages of MAXQDA

  • Cloud-based, or does not require internet access
  • Excellent for mixed methods
  • Coding is made easy with drag and drop, color assignments, and weights
  • Several tutorials, user discussion boards, and support options are available via the MAXQDA product website.
  • All data is stored in one .mx5 (Windows) or .mx11 file (Mac)
  • Internal program media player
  • Import and coding of PDF and graphic files
  • Georeferencing
  • Powerful Multimedia Features – Analyze Audio and Video without Transcript
  • Literature Connection – Analyze Your Literature
  • Smart Publisher – Professional Report Generator
  • MAXQDA Mobile App – Extend the Possibilities for Your Research

Limitations of MAXQDA

  • Projects cannot be accessed simultaneously by multiple users. Rather team members must have access to the program, work separately, and then merge files together.


Tutorials on

Videos on Youtube

License comparison

Before you buy your student license make sure you have a look at this comparison in cost and features.

Software Atlas.ti Nvivo MAXQDA
Windows/Mac Windows and Mac OS X* Windows and Mac OS X Windows and Mac OS X
License duration 2 Years 1 Year 2 Years
Installation 1 2 2
Free trial period 30 Days 30 Days 30 Days
Promotions     Includes MAXDictio
Student License Cost $99 – PC+Mac/$69 – Mac 120 $** 115 $
Download Demo Link Link Link

* ATLAS.ti for Mac OS X requires OS version 10.8 ‘Mountain Lion’ or higher. Nvivo is less demanding and it requires Mac OS X 10.7.5 or higher and MAXQDA is the least demanding and it requires Mac OS X 10.7 or higher.

** As a student at Warwick University you get Nvivo license for free (read more here/ Login and Download here)

Further reading

A.Hariri's Blog post on Atlas.Ti 6 vs NVivo 9: A Comparison (a bit outdated but still insightful)

'Choosing a Qualitative Data Analysis Software Program' from the Medical Anthropology Wiki

'Choosing an appropriate CAQDAS package' from University of Surrey's CAQDAS Networking Project

September 25, 2015

Choosing the right Data Analysis Software

Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) is an term, introduced by Fielding and Lee in 1991, for software used to support research and analysis of qualitative (and sometimes quantitative) data. Before going into details about the different available software (in an upcoming blog post) here's what you need to know about CAQDAS.

Understanding the limits of the software

It is important to know what the software is capable of doing beforehand. Unrealistic expeditions can lead to disappointments.

Here’s a list of what the software can and cannot do (Source: Online Qualitative data analysis)

The software does..

  • Structure work: Enables access to all parts of your project immediately,
  • 'Closeness to data' interactivity: Instant access to source data files (e.g transcripts),
  • Explore data: Tools to search text for one word or a phrase,
  • Code and Retrieve Functionality: create codes and retrieve the coded sections of text,
  • Project Management and Data Organisation: Manage project and organise data,
  • Search and interrogating the database: Search for relationships between codes,
  • Writing tools: Memos, comments and annotations,
  • Output: Reports to view a hard copy or export to another package.

The software does not..

  • Do the analytical thinking for you (though it can do things that help you do that thinking),
  • Do the coding for you. In general, you need to decide what can be coded in what way. Some software supports automatic coding the results of text searches, but it is still important to check what has been automatically coded. One program, Qualrus, after you have coded a passage, makes suggestions about how else you might code it. The same warning applies here. It is up to you to decide if what is suggested by the program makes sense.
  • Reduce bias, improve reliability or, on its own, improve the quality of your analysis (though it does have functions that can be used to help improve the quality of analysis),
  • Tell you how to analyse your data. (No-one thinks a word-processor can write a report for them.)
  • Does not calculate statistics, though some programs will produce simple counts and percentages.

Next Guest, McQueen, & Namey (2012, p. 224) recommend this graph for deciding when to use qualitative software


Main talking points about CAQDAS

1. Size of dataset

A clear advantage of using a CAQDAS software is the ability to work work with larger datasets. However, large datasets can lead to a focus on breadth rather than depth Seidel (1991). This means there’s a chance of losing detailed insight into the social situation being investigated.


2. Quality

With a COQDAS It is easier to keep track of the material and manage the data (Tesch, 1990). One advantage of using a COQDAS is allowing a trail of analysis to be preserved which makes it easier to replicate the research (Conrad and Reinharz, 1984). Another is the ability to repeat the retrievals and searches on data in a consistent way. Which in turn allows retrospective checks (Fielding and Lee, 1998).

3. Creativity and Thinking

CAQDAS software can, at least, perform technical and clerical tasks quickly and efficiently (Tesch, 1991)

4. Efficiency in Data Management

using CAQDAS saves time and is more efficient (Tesch, 1990). However, this means that organising the database still requires a researcher to be systematic (Fielding and Lee, 1998).

5. Distance from data

Weitzman and Miles (1995) identified the importance to researchers of feeling close to the data they are analysing.

Proponents of manual methods might argue that although it is easier to move around the database than shuffle paper, it is easier to flip a page than scroll down, quicker to read from a printed page than from the screen, easier to annotate in a number of different ways.

Weitzman and Miles (1995) have argued that distance from the data could be reduced with improvements in the interface design.

6. Methodological approaches

Drass (1989) noted that many programs supported thematic approaches to analysis (particularly grounded theory) but were not suitable for certain methodologies that did not use themes.

Seale (2000) agrees that CAQDAS programs were not suitable for conversation analysis and discourse analysis.

7. Speed and superficiality

Fielding and Lee (1998) cautioned, is that computers facilitate quick and dirty research with the possibility of premature closure. Seale (2001) noted that many did very little more than a simple code and retrieve which then formed the basis of a thematic report.

8. Teamwork

CAQDAS software makes teamwork easier. However, this means that everyone should have a copy of the software and that, generally speaking, only one user can alter the data at a time (which is not necessarily true of all the latest software).

9. Coding

CAQDAS software does not lock the analytic procedure into a rigid coding schema and iterative processes of coding and recoding are natural parts of CAQDAS use

However, this could lead to an over-reliance on the ‘coding’ method (Coffey and Atkinson, 1996)

10. Quantitative data

Ragin and Becker (1989) argued that CAQDAS software would narrow the gap between quantitative and qualitative data

Tesch (1989) pointed out, is that many quantitative researchers think CAQDAS software is just about the quantification of qualitative data (for better or for worse).

11. Support and Awareness

Fielding and Lee (1998) pointed out that computer staff providing support for the programs often have a background in natural science and therefore found it difficult to relate to the CAQDAS software.


Debates about the software, Taylor, C., Lewins, A. & Gibbs, G.R., 2005.

CAQDAS Networking Project, University of Surrey


  • Coffey, A. and Atkinson, P. (1996) Making sense of Qualitative Data, London: Sage.
  • Conrad, P and Reinharz, S (1984) 'CAQDAS software and qualitative data: editors’ introductory essay',Qualitative Sociology, 7 (1/2): 3-15.
  • Drass, K. A. (1989) 'Text analysis and text-analysis software: a comparison of assumptions'. in Grant Blank, James L McCartney and Edward Brent (eds), New in Technology in Sociology: Practical Applications in Research and Work. New Brunswick: NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  • Fielding N.G. and Lee R.M. (1998) Computer Analysis and Qualitative Research, London SAGE.
  • Guest, G., MacQueen, K. M., & Namey, E. E. (2012). Applied Thematic Analysis. Sage Publications, Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Ragin, C.C. and Becker, H.S. (1989) 'How the microcomputer is changing our analytic habits', In: G. Blank et al. (eds), New Technology in Sociology: Practical Applications in Research and Work. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  • Seale, C (2000) Using CAQDAS software to Analyse Qualitative Data, In: David Silverman (ed) Doing Qualitative Research – A Practical Handbook. London: SAGE
  • Seidel (1991) 'Method and Madness in the Application of Computer Technology to Qualitative Data Analysis'. In Nigel G. Fielding and Raymond M. Lee (eds), Using Computers in Qualitative Research, London: Sage.
  • Tesch, R. (1990) Qualitative Research: Analysis Types and Software Tools. London and Philadelphia: Falmer Press.
  • Tesch, R. (1991) 'Software for qualitative researchers analysis needs and program capabilities', In Nigel G. Fielding and Raymond M. Lee (eds), Using Compluters in Qualitative Research, London: Sage.
  • Weitzman, E.A., & Miles, M.B. (1995). Computer Programs for Qualitative Data Analysis: A Software Source Book. Thousand Oaks: Sage

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