Qualitative analysis tools, also referred to as qualitative data analysis (QDA) software, or formerly CAQDAS (computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software), are workbenches in which the general tasks of qualitative work can be done:
- Organization and management of qualitative materials, including text, audio/visual, images, social media data, and open-response survey questions
- Mark-up, tagging or ‘coding’ of those materials
- Active memoing, note-taking, and annotation
- Query and retrieval of quotations and references by concept or theme
Licensing for CLA Faculty, Graduate Students, and Staff
LATIS Research provides access to two of the most popular qualitative analysis software suites: NVivo and ATLAS.ti Both are widely used by academics and cited across the social, behavioral, health and policy sciences.
Both tools can be accessed on the Windows Remote Desktop service, wts.umn.edu Materials can be directly accessed on the remote desktop through your university Home directory (or H: drive), Shares directory (or S: drive), or via Kumo and your university Google drive space.
In addition to the Remote Desktop, NVivo is available for download and installation on your personal computer (ATLAS.ti is not available for download). Please reach out to [email protected] to get access to the license key. NVivo offers a 14 day trial window before a license key is needed to test the software as well. We’ve hosted NVivo installation files at z.umn.edu/GetNVivo
(Brief) Comparison of ATLAS.ti and NVivo
Both ATLAS.ti and NVivo perform the same basic functions of providing a workbench for qualitative analysis. These functions include: organizing materials, facilitating coding and annotation, and then retrieval of coded references for analysis. However, there are a few fundamental differences in the structure of projects and the way those projects are saved. Additionally, NVivo has much wider use across both the College of Liberal Arts and the University of Minnesota at large, hence our individual-installation licensing structure for NVivo.
NVivo largely thinks about project organization in a nested, hierarchical fashion: your project files can be organized in folders, and those folders can have sub-folders nested within them, but a file can live in only one such folder. For instance, a single interview transcript might be stored in a folder called “Site 5” that exists in a larger folder called “Interviews”. Similarly, “nodes” or codes/concepts/tags can have a hierarchical structure of a ‘parent’ concept like “Emotion” containing sub-codes or ‘child’ concepts like “Anger” or “Joy”. Concepts can continue to be nested lower as well, but each node lives in a single space. (Notably, there are other features in NVivo that include more overlapping membership ideas like Sets, or ways to classify a single item in multiple ways through File or Case Classifications and Attributes, but the point remains that the core structure of materials and concepts stored in NVivo is hierarchical.)
Conversely, ATLAS.ti organization is flat. In this way, rather than having a file live in a folder, all of your materials exist in the same root location. You can then organize them by adding them to various groups. For instance, the interview transcript mentioned above would be in the same “Files” location as all other sources for one’s study, but it might also belong to a group called “Interviews” and a second group called “Site 5” that would allow it to be retrieved along with other group members if needed. The same structure also works for the codes or concepts in a project. The concepts of “Anger” and “Joy” would exist alongside unrelated concepts such as “Americanism” or “Justice” but might belong to a code group called “Emotion” so they could be retrieved together later. (The flatness of lists of codes have led many who use ATLAS.ti to adopt prefixing conventions so that, when sorted alphanumerically, concepts that are related to one another sort together. For instance, one might add “Emot:” so that the code names might be “Emot: Anger” and “Emot: Joy” so they sort adjacent to one another.)
Project files in NVivo are all-inclusive and can be saved wherever is most convenient. The materials imported into your project (except for large audio/video files) are copied into the main project file. That file also includes all of the work done to annotate and code the materials, as well as tracking information as to who did what and when. This single project file can then be backed up or shared with a collaborator; that person will have everything necessary to see the work done in NVivo. (NVivo for Windows and for Mac projects are slightly different formats; the Windows version can open both, but the Mac version cannot. In order to view work done in Windows NVivo on a Mac, one must export the project to the Mac file format within NVivo for Windows)
ATLAS.ti saves all file materials in a source library in a folder nestled far away in a user’s home directory on their computer. The project file contains all of the work done in ATLAS.ti, but does not itself contain the source materials, which the software has organized itself in the library. This means in order to backup a project to another location, or to share a project with a collaborator, a “project bundle” must be exported to pull the relevant files from the library and include them with the coding, annotation, and memo work that has been done on them within ATLAS.ti This also limits the ability to save to a cloud or auto-backed up location as it is relatively difficult to adjust where the library is located on a computer and as of ATLAS.ti version 8, a single library is used for all projects.
Both ATLAS.ti and NVivo are desktop applications. They are not web-based and do not have an included cloud-based synchronization; unlike a Google doc, for example, no real-time collaboration is possible for the versions provided by LATIS Research. However, both tools have robust merging features allowing a user to merge multiple projects together, while maintaining a record of what each user contributed. Typical collaboration is thus cyclical: 1) A core project is circulated to collaborators. 2) Work is done independently for a time (typically between a week and a month). 3) Individual projects are then returned to a coordinator who merges all of them together. 4) A new, updated ‘master’ project is then again circulated to the collaborators on which work can continue. Others have worked out ‘flagging’ systems where a single project file is stored in a cloud or shared location along with a flag to indicate it is being used, or a schedule to notify when it might be free, to prevent multiple users from trying to work on the project together.
Typically this type of collaboration is sufficient for most teams, given the strength of the query, search, and retrieval tools in either ATLAS.ti or NVivo. If real-time collaboration is a must, there are a few options. First, ATLAS.ti is developing a cloud version of the software. It has a limited feature set, but allows coding of basic textual data. Projects created in the cloud version can be transferred to the full desktop software for further analysis as well. Currently, ATLAS.ti Cloud is in beta and is free to use. Second, NVivo offers a server backend that allows real time collaboration at a fairly steep price; if you have funding, LATIS Research can assist in getting the NVivo Server set up. Finally, there are other tools. Dedoose is a commonly used cloud-based QDA tool that offers a monthly subscription structure, and only charges for months where a user has logged into the system. Compared to NVivo and ATLAS.ti, the feature set is quite limited, particularly in text search and queries, but it has the basic functionality. A number of small, simple web-based tagging tools exist as well. LATIS Research is currently trialing a free, open source tool called Taguette. Please be in touch if you would like to give our implementation of this a try.
Training / Resources
LATIS Research offers introductory workshops for NVivo every semester and ATLAS.ti each academic year. Individualized training for courses or research groups are also available, as well as one-on-one consultations.
In addition, please see the following resources:
QSR International’s YouTube introductory videos for Windows ; Mac
LinkedIn Learning Introductory NVivo course: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/nvivo-2018-essential-training
LATIS Research’s Introduction to NVivo workshop recordings: https://osf.io/gp7ke/
ATLAS.ti’s YouTube introductory videos for Windows; Mac
LATIS Research’s Introduction to ATLAS.ti workshop recordings: https://osf.io/xvrng/