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Working in the text without coding in MAXqda and ATLAS.ti

Author of this page: Ray Maietta

Affiliation: ResearchTalk Inc.

Date written: 30th October 2005





From forthcoming Maietta, Raymond C. (2006). State of the Art: Integrating Software with Qualitative Analysis. In Applying Qualitative and MixedMethods in Aging and Public Health Research. Leslie Curry, Renee Shield and Terrie Wetle, (Eds.) Washington, DC: American Public Health Association and the Gerontological Society of America

Ray Maietta supports users of qualitative software: working from New York and Los Angeles USA.

Highlighting Text

MAXqda 2.0 recently introduced a new function that adds a convenient twist to the simple process of using a highlight pen and writing notes in the margin area of a document.  Four different ‘color codes’ can be applied to selected text segments and serve as an electronic highlight pen.  When you highlight text and apply a color code, the font of the marked text is changed to the color of the code, and the code name then appears in the margin of the document.  You can also write a memo about the segment.  A memo icon will be placed in the margin to indicate that a memo is there.

Maxqda writing a memo about text

Figure 1. Writing a memo in MAXqda

Other qualitative software programs allow you change the color of text in your documents and/or highlight selected text.  MAXqda offers a further advantage beyond the ability to mark the text segment.  Every segment marked with the same color code is gathered to that particular code category.  You can then go back and review all text coded (highlighted) with the magenta code.  As you ‘step back’ to process your initial review of text, you can easily move through each segment you marked with a specific color to reconsider your findings and/or question why certain types of segments draw your attention.  While you review, you are returned to the original text to see your original memos and review those, as well.

The ‘quotation’ in ATLAS.ti also serves as an electronic highlight pen and offers other interesting options.  Before you code, you can highlight text and make it a quotation.  This process is equivalent to highlighting text off-screen.  A bracket is placed in the margin area of the document indicating the beginning and end points of the quotation.  Each quotation can be named, and you can write a comment about each one.  All quotations are placed in an easily accessible list.  As you examine the list, you start to see the story of the data document under review and may begin to think about codes suggested from this reading.

Quotation manager in Atlas.ti

Figure 2. Quotation manager in Atlas.ti

The quotation manager, which I prefer to place on the right side of my screen, shows a list of every quotation I created while reading a journal interview “George” typed as part of a study of life satisfaction.  I can read the list of quotes to consider a potential code list and to get a profile of what I learned about George through the interview.  As I review each quotation, I can call up the comments I wrote about them.  From this list of quotations, I see that relationships are central to George’s life as he makes statements that are both general about relationships and specific about friends, family and romantic partners.  He discusses future interests about wanting to be a movie director.  Our final code list includes specific codes for different key actors and a general category for ‘interests.’ These codes emerged from our first read of George’s document.

ATLAS.ti offers other ‘stepping back’ tools in addition to reviewing code names for a document profile and potential codes.  This program also features network diagrams to explore and represent relationships between and among documents, quotes, codes, memos and other objects in ATLAS.ti.  The diagram below shows a network view for George’s interview.  As we read George’s document, we noted that his discussion was compartmentalized into two areas: relationships and a desire to be a movie director.  Each tile in the diagram is a quotation to which we gave a unique name.  Unlike the process for coding, here we wanted to create a short name to summarize the quote and capture the essence of the statement rather than note patterns and group quotes.

Atlas.ti network view

Figure 3. Network view in Atlas.ti

We design an “Episode Profile” about George by arranging the tiles in a network diagram in an order that portrays the ‘shape’ of his discussion.  We also write a comment about each diagram as part of this profile to represent what we learn about each person in our study.  Episode profiles provide powerful points for discussion and serve as comparative tools as we think about differences across our population.  This level of analysis generates valuable information.  What you learn and show about each case is as important as what you learn and show about your code categories.  Specific, detailed quote names help capture the dynamic nature of each statement featured in the diagram.  The flexibility of the network diagram allows us to play with what we are learning.  While George’s diagram is in columns, we represented the story told by a woman in our study by moving her tiles into a circle.  A third woman had one quote from which several other key quotes emerged.  Her diagram simulated a shooting star.

Color codes are unique to MAXqda. Discrete use of quotations as objects that can be named, commented on, and included in network diagrams as described here is unique to ATLAS.ti.