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Qualitative Analysis software for Mac – a brief look

September 3, 2010 42 comments

EDIT: Since writing this post, I’ve opted for a browser-based tool called Dedoose. I’ve written a bit more about it here.

This has turned out to be a much shorter search than expected. I’ve been looking for qualitative data analysis software that runs on Mac OS X, and have found a disappointing short list of applications.

What I want:

  • Runs natively on OS X, without requiring dual-booting into Windows, or virtual machine software
  • Flexibility in tagging text (interview transcripts and field notes) according to themes that will emerge during analysis
  • Visualisation of tagged data (coding stripes, etc)
  • Search functions (boolean searches, proximity searches, negative cases, comparing to demographic data, etc)
  • Intuitive, user-friendly interface

Optional things I’d like to see:

  • Ability to handle audio, video and image data
  • Software I can buy outright, in order to access my data in future

What I’ve found:

  • hyperRESEARCH is the main piece of analysis software that will run on a Mac. I’m going to download a trial version next week. It’s about $200USD to purchase, so I’ll only buy it if I know that it’s going to work for me. It seems to be the main contender for an NVivo-like tool,
  • TAMS Analyser is a Text Analysis Markup System (not to be confused with the Technology Acceptance Model, which I’ve been reading about recently…). It’s free, which is good for students. The review on MacResearchSW describes it as a powerful and full-featured analysis tool, but comments that it has a non-intuitive interface with a steep learning curve. Some users on Academics Anon (semi-public LJ group  – many entries won’t be visible unless you join the LJ community) have expressed frustration at the interface. In particular, displaying all tags in the text can make documents unreadable when multiple overlapping tags are used.
  • Coding Analysis Toolkit (CAT) is a web-based toolkit, designed to allow analysis of text data that’s either been pre-coded using ATLAS.ti, or using the built-in coding module. Relatively basic features, and the web-based approach has some drawbacks (reliance on web access and server uptime) as well as positives (access via any platform using a web browser).

The CAQDAS network provides information about a range of software designed to assist with qualitative data analysis. Unfortunately, they don’t currently have reviews for very many packages – just NVivo 8, ATLAS.ti 6, Digital Replay Systems (DRS) and MAXqda 2007. None of these currently work on a Mac.

Thomas Koenig has an excellent CAQDAS Comparison, ordered by software function. Most available software is designed by researchers, and not by interface designers – so virtually all the available options will feel a lot like you’re using an old version of Windows. I can’t find a date anywhere on the page, though, and the inclusion of NVivo 2 suggests that it might be a bit dated.

People at work are all suggesting NVivo. Support is readily available via the Qualitative Inquiry Group community, other people in the office already use it on their ALTC project, and it does all the things I’m looking for.

However, I’ll either have to run it on my clunky old work PC (preventing me from doing any data analysis from home), or I’ll need to buy and install a copy of windows on my Macbook. My options there are dual-booting via BootCamp, or running it in a virtual machine window like Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion.

It’s also expensive. I can purchase 12-month Student licenses for $129AUD per year, or buy a copy outright for $780AUD (or $850AUD, including an upgrade to NVivo 9 when it’s released next month). The first option prevents me from readily accessing my data in future, and the second option costs a small fortune, from the perspective of a full-time student.

I’m still searching, but I suspect that I’ll end up using NVivo. It’s certainly not ideal (expensive, and means I’ll also have to buy a copy of Windows), but it seems to have the best combination of search features and user support (both local and online). If anyone can suggest alternatives, I’d love to hear them.