I'm a member of several discussion lists online involving qualitative research, and especially qualitative software.
One question that comes up frequently is: How do I choose the right software for my qualitative research?
When qualitative data analysis software first became available a little more than two decades ago, the conversation was about whether to use it at all! (See Smith, Beverly A., and Sharlene Hesse-Biber. "Users' Experiences with Qualitative Data Analysis Software Neither Frankenstein's Monster Nor Muse." Social Science Computer Review 14.4 (1996): 423-432)
While these days the use of specialized software for qualitative data analysis is widely accepted and even encouraged, the first question you should ask when considering QDA software is "What benefits will I get from using specialized software?"
This page has a good overview of what QDA software does and does not do (scroll down the page for the "Advantages and disadvantages of using the software"):
- The scope of your research
- The amount of data you've collected (and are you sure you need all of that data?)
- The type of data you've collected (text, audio, video, images, etc.)
- Your personal level of comfort with using computers in general and specialized software in particular
- What the final form of your research output will be (e.g. will you need an easy way to import specific text passages into your final document?)
- And especially: is this a one-time project, or will you be likely to use QDA software in the future as well?
This latter point is vital because in addition to the monetary investment, learning to use QDA software well takes time and effort. (Most HyperRESEARCH users are up and running with their own data in a matter of minutes or hours without any formal training. But Researchware offers free webinars and technical support to share our expertise with the software as it can be daunting to determine how best to implement coding and analysis in any given software package.)
For beginning researchers who are tackling a small study (and that can be a relative term!), using general purpose tools they are already familiar with may be best. That could be pens and highlighters and sticky notes, and/or Microsoft Word, and/or Evernote, etc. For examples of using MS Word for qualitative data analysis, see "Simplifying Qualitative Data Analysis Using General Purpose Software Tools" (full .pdf) by Nancy R. LaPelle.
- Software features -- does it do what you need it to do? (and does it do easily?)
- Cost of the software (most QDA software is offered at differential pricing tiers depending on the customer's eligibility as a student, academic, government employee or nonprofit organization, or commercial company) TIP: Don't be shy about asking if there are any promotions or discounts or grants available, especially if there's something special about the specific reasearch you are doing. The worst that will happen is that you'll get a "not at this time" answer.
- Ease of use (or, more specifically, how much time and effort it will take for you to get up and running with your own data -- and, as I mentioned, how much additional time and effort it may take to become proficient with the software beyond the basic coding functions)
- Cost (in time and money) of additional training (if necessary). How much training will you need? (Researchware offers training, in the form of documentation, written tutorials, webinars, and technical support, free of charge. We can afford to do so because HyperRESEARCH is so easy to use our technical support workload is light! That's also why you won't see many hands on workshops for HyperRESEARCH advertised – they're not really needed!)
- The "feel" of the software. This means you need to actually download and try the software out! Every major QDA software vendor offers free trials of their software. This will let you explore the documentation, sample studies, and the software itself that's provided.
- While you're trying out the software, be sure to try out the company's technical support as well! Do they respond within 1-2 business days? Are they friendly and helpful? Do they understand your questions or concerns? Do they offer workable solutions?
- Also take a look at the vendor's refund policies.
At Researchware, we strive to develop easy to use, flexible, and powerful software. We also pride ourselves on our customer service. Our employees wear many hats (our tech support personnel are also our developers, documentation specialists, webinar presenters, and more) and are empowered to do right by our customers. (For example, one of my official titles is "Customer Advocate.")