The role of computer software in the analysis of qualitative data: efficient clerk, research assistant or Trojan horse?
In the last 15 years there has been a proliferation of computer software packages designed to facilitate qualitative data analysis. The programs can be classified, according to function, into a number of broad categories such as: text retrieval; text base management; coding and retrieval; code-based theory building; and conceptual-network building. The programs vary enormously in the extent to which they can facilitate the diverse analytical processes involved. The decision to use computer software to aid analysis in a particular project may be influenced by a number of factors, such as the nature of the data and the researcher’s preferred approach to data analysis which will have as its basis certain epistemological and ontological assumptions. This paper illustrates the way in which a package called NUD.IST facilitated analysis where grounded theory methods of data analysis were also extensively used. While highlighting the many benefits that ensued, the paper illustrates the limitations of such programs. The purpose of this paper is to encourage researchers contemplating the use of computer software to consider carefully the possible consequences of their decision and to be aware that the use of such programs can alter the nature of the analytical process in unexpected and perhaps unwanted ways. The role of the Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) Networking Project, in providing up-to-date information and support for researchers contemplating the use of software, is discussed.