Research Software Comparison

For several weeks now I have made an effort to finally come to a decision concerning which software to use for my research.

In 2004 in a class on research methodology I heard about CAQDAS – Computer Assisted Qualitative Analysis Software – for the first time. A professor introduced us to ATLAS, C-I-SAID, Ethnograph, HyperResearch and NUD*IST. I downloaded several of them and did some experimenting with it. Eventually, I decided to test ATLAS during this class. I had to code two interviews and was very happy with the coding process and the possibility to produce a graphic representation of the relationship between these codes.

For some time now, I knew I would need to buy one of these programs to analyze the interviews which I did in 2007. Some time last year I made a new effort to look at the different options. Among other things I discovered the CADQAS networking project and Text Analysus Info, and an article comparing the different software packages “Choosing a CADQAS package” by Ann Lewins and Christina Silver (July 2006, which is now available as book by Sage publications). The article compared the following software packages: ATLAS.ti 5, HyperRESEARCH 2.6, MAXqda2 (MAXdictio & MAXmaps), N6, NVivo2, NVivo7, QDA Miner, Qualrus and Transana. I downloaded several of them as trial versions, but did not get much further than that.

Now I had to come to a decision as there was more and more material that needed thorough filing and coding. After looking again at the article, I installed several of the demo programs but realized soon that ATLAS or MAXQDA are most appropriate for what I want to do. I liked certain features that Qualrus could offer (a digital sorting of notes) but when I looked at the program I realized it would take more programing than I was willing to learn. NVivo also came highly recommended but the pricing options were less attractive. ATLAS and MAXQDA offer a student price while NVivo requires a yearly subscription.

Since I had already tested ATLAS in the past, I started using MAXQDA. After some time, I tried to do the same kind of testing with ATLAS and realized that both program are excellent, but there are features that I love in one program that are not available in the other. I started making a list of advantages and disadvantages. For days I would go back and forth weighing the arguments for one or the other software. Now, I have finally come to a decision but it was not an easy decision.

In the following table you can see the features and aspects that seemed important to me and where the two software program differed from each other. In the margins I marked which features spoke for one or the other software.

ATLAS

MAXQDA

document organization:
+ imports many types of data including photos imports only RTF files, but it is possible to past tables and graphics into a document
cannot import PDF cannot import PDF
documents are listed in a long list without any sorting and can be sorted later documents can be organized in different text categories +
documents can be grouped in families but this is not reflected in the document listing documents are listed in hierarchical order, according to their text category, which provides clarity (Übersichtlichkeit)
+ easy to zoom in on a text with a small font no zooming option
+ documents can be imported in RTF or DOC format, but only RTF can be edited inside the program documents have to be saved first as RTF before they can be imported
+ allows highlighting of passages with different colors highlighting not possible (or so I thought)
other options for marking text:
changing a font and font size takes several clicks (buried in the menu) changing a font or font size is easy, only one or two clicks +
changing a font color takes several clicks (buried in the menu) highlighting through changing the font is possible, but still takes two clicks +
using the program for field notes:
field notes can be written as memos very easy to create new documents inside the program +
it is possible to create new documents but they are not automatically integrated into the program these field notes can be organized in a separate text category and included in the analysis on the same level as other text material
ease of coding:
very easy very easy
codes can be grouped later into families and displayed graphically codes can be organized in hierarchies +
all codes have equal weight codes can have different weights +
+ the grouping of codes is flexible and can more easily reflect semantic networks and schema than a hierarchical order of codes the hierarchical order of codes gives them clear arrangement or clarity (Übersichtlichkeit) +

It was interesting when I realized that the most important features had to do with my personal way of doing things – I am very visual and things need to be clearly arranged (übersichtlich).  Therefore ATLAS’ feature of highlighting and marking quotes in a text became very important for me. Some of the imported texts had lost their clear formatting (probably because of the RTF conversion) and I was suddenly lost in a long text without any marking. On the other hand, the way the documents were arranged in MAXQDA, nicely grouped into categories was much more convenient for me than the random list of ATLAS. This is why I was so torn and could not decide. Until ….

Finally, I discovered that the new version of MAXQDA also has an option for highlighting text portions in four different colors. Woohooo! And so the winner is ….. MAXQDA.
And I get both – the highlighting and the neatly arranged document list. 😉

.

P.S. Übersichtlichkeit is one of these German words that are very hard to translate. LEO suggests clarity, clearness, lucidity, clear arrangement, facility of inspection. None of these seems to match the German meaning perfectly, therefore my felt need to add the German word for those who understand German.

1 Response

  1. Have never met a MAXQDA user. The big problem is the whopping price tag for all the packages you mentioned — around $500 US for unlimited use — except Hyper Research ($275). But okay, I’ll be interested in an update once you start dealing with the data.

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