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Another look at Qualitative data analysis for Mac users: Dedoose

August 17, 2011 82 comments

Technically I’m not meant to be looking at data analysis right now: it’s writing month, and the last thing I need to be doing is getting lost in data. However, the Qualitative Data Analysis Software for Mac – A Brief Look post that I wrote last September is still getting a huge amount of traffic every day, and I thought it was time to write a quick update.

What’s changed? Lots. I recently discovered a tool called Dedoose. Like the other tools that I’ve come to rely upon (Zotero for managing references, Scrivener for writing) it’s not an incremental upgrade that adds bells and whistles to an existing product. I like things that are built with a researcher’s workflow in mind, instead of a list of features that you need to work around. It’s also browser-based, so can be used from almost any computer with an internet connection.

The main advantages that I can see are:

  • Cross-platform (so I can use it on my Mac without needing to buy and install Windows and Parallels or VMware Fusion! That already saves me a few hundred dollars)
  • Online data storage, so I can access and work on the project from any computer, and have online backups available if my computer crashes.
  • I’m hopeful about it having a more intuitive interface than NVivo 9, as a shallow learning curve was one of their design goals
  • For projects involving multiple people (i.e. most things except a PhD), it’s a product built around collaborative tools, rather than bolting them onto an existing product
  • Lots of visualisation tools (which can also export to various formats). I think visually, and that will help me to understand what’s going on within and between my different case studies.
  • Licensed by the month, and at competitive rates with other options on the market.

For me, the downsides are:

  • Storing my project data online will require an ethics variation form, as my current ethics approval requires me to store digital copies on RMIT servers. However, Dedoose uses encrypted storage so the variation should be a fairly straightforward bit of paperwork.
  • Requires an internet connection. My home internet has been increasingly flakey over the last few months, and I don’t like my productivity tied to whether Virgin Broadband has decided to work that day.
  • Less support available in the university. It has two black marks against it in an RMIT context: it’s new, and it’s not NVivo. There’s a very established NVivo community here, and a lot of organisational resistance to change. However, there seems to be a lot of online support, so I can teach myself how to use it.
  • No local copy of the project, but you can export your data whenever it’s needed.

I think that a PhD project is a good place to start trialling it, as I don’t need to convince a group of co-workers to give it a shot. There’s a 30-day free trial available, and I’ll see how I go from there. If it works well, I’ll look into using it for collaborative projects later on. I’ll keep you posted.

Have you tried it out? Any experiences to report, or things I should look out for?

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.