ask a scatterbrain: qual data analysis software

Two questions really. One from a dedicated reader: “I am thinking about purchasing NVIVO 8.  It looks awesome.  Evidently you can code interview recordings directly, which I think would be an improvement on my usual method of taking minute-by-minute notes on an interview, coding the notes, and then transcribing selectively. Also, you can code PDFs, emails, all kinds of stuff that I use in my research. I haven’t used NVIVO before. I have used Atlas.ti for a few years (I don’t have the newest version), and I don’t really like it.  I have really only used it to code interview transcripts.  It’s fine, it basically does the job, but I don’t find it very easy or intuitive to use. I would really like to hear from anyone who has used NVIVO 8.  I would also be interested in other suggestions for qualitative data analysis software.  My institution doesn’t have a license for any of them, so I’m on my own.”

Second question, which is related, and one I’ve gotten from a bunch of folks who have exploding research funds (use it or lose it). What would you buy? Something that has helped your research enormously, but you wouldn’t immediately think of (not, say, a laptop). Anything you’d suggest that would help with your work? I recently hired an editor, which was very helpful for thinking through problems with my manuscript. (It’s nice to rely upon professionals). But anything else? Data analysis software? Great books of sociology from Amazon? Don’t suggest an espresso machine. That will just annoy me and others! Although I would love one…

10 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: qual data analysis software”

  1. Ok, mostly o/t, but I know a woman whose grad school adviser charged a fancy espresso machine to his grant (lab situation, machine lived in the lab). All of the RAs were required to learn and practice how to make the perfect cappuccino. Yes, she thought he was crazy.


  2. I’ve been using Atlas.ti, too, and find it useful but a bit clunky. I’d be willing to switch and try out NVIVO 8 for the asker of question 1 if the asker of question 2 would like to purchase it for me!


    1. Is a month long enough to evaluate it?

      I haven’t used this type of software myself but I may be in the market soon so I would love to read a current evaluation of the leading software options. I just checked out “Using Software in Qualitative Research” from the library but haven’t read it yet. It covers these programs as of 2007. I have no idea how much real innovation has happened since then. I suppose a comparison of SPSS and Stata as of 2007 would still be useful in outlining their major differences.

      I think the top 3 programs each have a month free trial and each charge about $600 for the regular non-student academic license. I plan to read the book and take each program for a quick spin in a couple of months.


  3. Definitely try out NVivo for yourself before you buy it. I started using it but found it to be bloated (i.e., too much eye candy) and went back to Atlas.ti, which is far from sleek, but seemed more intuitive to me (I like the drop-down menus in Atlas across the toolbar vs. the different panes that are scattered around the NVivo workspace). I think this comes down to personal preference, although if the price tag is a concern, Atlas wins easily.


  4. atlas.ti>Nvivo for the reasons jim mentions AND for the little jokes hidden throughout the program.

    For the person with $, buy yourself a REALLY GOOD office chair that fits you. It will save your back. And you’ll have it forever (not so with computers).


  5. Hi All,
    I have been using NVivo for over 9 years. It is a difficult program to learn, but is very helpful once you understand the basics. In my experience, Atlas-ti is also difficult to learn as it is based in hermeneutical analysis.

    If you want to learn it, I offer training for NVivo 8.0 throughout the US. I also offer coding and analysis services where you don’t have to buy and/or learn NVivo. Please contact me at


  6. I’ve used an early version of NVivo (N6) for a large, interview based project with good success. I haven’t used NVivo to code data other than word documents, but I like the visuals it provides of the coding scheme and of data output. N6 produces very clunky text output, which is annoying. Not so sure if NVivo improves that. I like it a lot more than Atlas.ti, which made me want to tear my hair out.


  7. Thanks Gabriel for the links to the two free software/open source tools. Weft, in particular, looks pretty promising.

    I hope your comparison between R and Stata rings true in this case — I prefer R myself. :)


  8. I thought Id take a moment to give some response on this. Both pieces of software manage to take what should be a relatively simple task and make it an incredible pain to perform.

    Nvivo is technically better than Atlas.ti (better file format support, multimedia support, I haven’t used but analysis tools look useful) but I cant seem to get my coded text out of it in a format that doesn’t require the destruction of the entire northern hemispheres woodlands. Add that with the fact that it seems to have been designed with the intention of making coding text as frustratingly unintuitive and slow as possible means it made it to my rejected pile.

    Atlas.ti is perhaps slightly easier to use and I can at least print my output with my coding on the same page as the text….but saying its easier to use is like saying that its preferable to have an oral rather than rectal endoscopic examination :/

    Not impressed with either.


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