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Introduction to CAQDAS

CAQDAS, Computer Assisted Qualitative Data AnalysiS is a term, introduced by Fielding and Lee in 1991, that refers to the wide range of software now available that supports a variety of analytic styles in qualitative work. Most of these programs have been under development for many years.

What software does and does not do

Those unfamiliar with the programs may have all kinds of ideas and misconceptions about what they can do. One of the most significant misconceptions is that the software somehow does the analysis for you. More...

Software tools

Most of the popular programs now support a common range of functions. These include coding, searching, memoing, variables/attributes and grouping codes and documents. More...

How to use the software

The information here describes in a generic fashion what kinds of things you should be doing when undertaking computer assisted qualitative data analysis. In particular these notes emphasise the logic that lies behind the buttons. In other words it tries to explain what the computer functions will achieve and why you should use them. More...

Debates about the software

The range of software (CAQDAS, text analysis, concordance, data bases) has developed over the years and distinctions have been made between kinds of CAQDAS (text retrievers, code and retrieve, qualitative comparative analysis, theory building). Although early programs were command line driven, all now adopt a variety of menu driven interfaces. However, some retain the ability to control functions by scripts and there are pros and cons of this. There is a wide debate about the use and design of the software. This includes:

  • Suggestions that the term CAQDAS is inappropriate as the software does not analyse;
  • Claims that many programs are over-influenced by grounded theory;
  • The idea that coding fractures the narrative and may distance the researcher from the data;
  • And the suggestion that certain analytic approaches (such as conversation and discourse analysis) are poorly served by the software. More...

Training and support

A wide range of training is available in the use of software for qualitative data analysis. A popular source of training is the CAQDAS Networking Project at the University of Surrey, UK. The Networking project also runs a support service for those learning and using CAQDAS. Regular training is also provided by registered trainers. Contact the software company for your software (or look at their website) for details of these trainers.

Software choice

There are now some leading programs that cover a very similar core of software tools including, for example, coding, searching, reporting, retrieving, images, modeling, video and variable type data. However, there are many other programs that have specific applications or which deal with certain types of data. That mean that for those who have never used CAQDAS, the choice of program is still a big issue. Such questions are discussed in the 'Which s/w' pages.