Friday, August 15, 2008

Qualitative data analysis on the cheap

SAGE Publications is advertising a new book called Doing Qualitative Research Using Your Computer: A Practical Guide by Chris Hahn. The idea behind it is that you can do qualitative data analysis on the cheap, using familiar tools such as Microsoft Office:
Doing Qualitative Research Using Your Computer is a practical, hands-on guide to using commonly available everyday technology, including Microsoft software, to manage and streamline research projects.
The author discusses using Word, Excel, Access, and so forth to perform these analyses. This is a great idea. Cheryl Geisler did something similar in Analyzing Streams of Language, although that one was more narrowly focused on text analysis.

Me, I'm currently using HyperResearch, but I managed my data for Network entirely in a MySQL database with an open source front end. Honestly, I'm not sure whether HyperResearch adds significant value for me. I do know that it's entirely possible to conduct solid qualitative data analysis with commonly accessible tools, though. Will have to check this book out soon.


cbd said...

an open source front end


Clay Spinuzzi said...

It's like you're psychic! I actually used three different front ends at different points:

* phpMyAdmin
* CocoaMySQL
* YourSQL

phpMyAdmin was great for my early data analysis, since I was running Linux on my laptop at the time and I needed something that was robust and cross-platform. It also rendered queries in HTML, making it easy to copy and paste interview text and field notes.

Once I switched to OSX, I tried out the other two front-ends, which allowed search-as-you-type and some other more sophisticated queries. I also did some limited queries using the command line and exporting to HTML tables.

The fact that the data were stored in MySQL made the whole project extraordinarily portable, and the three front ends meant that I could exploit their different capabilities. It also allowed me to autocode using complex search queries -- that didn't stop me from hand-coding most of the data, but it did allow me to cut that time significantly and traverse the records more easily.

Hmm, now I'm talking myself into abandoning HyperResearch for the next project. I've used it for two projects now, and I'm not convinced that its tools trump the flexibility I achieved with MySQL.

Oh, one other thing. I actually ran MySQL, Apache, and phpMySQL on my Sharp Zaurus for a while. In theory this was a great idea because I could run queries anytime they occurred to me. In practice, squinting at a screen smaller than a playing card is not terribly practical.

cbd said...

Well, this is one area where there's a prime mover... hard to beat phpMyAdmin, though it is suffering from a little bloat, IMO. I learned SQL with it: create query using GUI, look at SQL output, repeat. It remains the one GUI frontend I still use more often than the command line, both because I'm not 100% comfortable with SQL yet, but because there's only so much you can do with text display of tables.