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Preparing Data for Analysis in Popular QDA Software

Updated: Oct 15

Written by Dr. Susanne Friese

In this article, you learn what you need to pay attention to when setting up a project for analysis in software like ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA, and Quirkos. At the end of the article, you find links to video tutorials that provide step-by-step instructions for each of these programs.

Data and Project Management

Think of your project in the software as an excursion into unknown territory. The data material is the terrain you want to study; your chosen analytic approach is your pathway. The tools and functions provided by the software are your equipment to examine what there is to discover.

Preparing the data material is like choosing the right time for the journey. Rain and storms can complicate a planned excursion. This also applies to your project if, for example, during the transcription, the peculiarities of a computer-aided analysis are not considered or if the data file formats are not chosen optimally. A well-designed project setup is like carefully planning your trip so you do not make a wrong turn at the first intersection and end up at a dead end.

In this article, you learn how to prepare transcripts and set up your project. Below you find links to video tutorials for three popular QDA software.

Guidelines for Preparing Interview Transcripts

When preparing interview transcripts, mark all speakers unambiguously and enter an empty line between each speaker. This increases readability, and if you want to use the auto-coding feature, this will allow you to code hits within a given speaker unit.

Preparing interview transcripts for analysis in QDA Software
Figure 1: Recommended formatting for an interview transcript

The paragraph marker in the sample transcript above is visible, showing when the Enter button was pressed. The two speakers in the transcript are marked with unique identifiers:

INT: is used for the interviewer

AL: for Alexander, the interviewee.

Using ‘Interviewer’ or ‘Alexander’ as speaker IDs would be impractical as markers because those words might appear in the text itself. In addition, it is a lot to type and prone to typing errors. The character combinations INT: and AL: are not likely to be found anywhere else. This is essential for using the auto-coding tool.

This way of organizing the transcript can be used for any documents that include structuring elements, like dates in historical documents, emails, or letters. Although neglecting these best-practice rules will not have a negative effect initially, you may later regret not having used them from the beginning.

Guidelines for Focus Group Transcripts

Everything I wrote above for interview transcripts also applies to focus group transcripts. If you want to compare the responses of individual speakers, each speaker unit needs to be coded.

The software can recognize speakers with a unique ID like 'Anne:' or '@Anne:'. Based on these, it finds all speaker units, and you can automatically code them with speaker names and other attributes. See the respective manual of your software for step-by-step instructions for focus group data.

Preparing Data for Analysis in QDA Software: Naming Documents

When preparing data for analysis in QDA software, I recommend that you name your documents in a way that is helpful for the analysis. For instance, include criteria that you already know are important for your analysis, like gender, age, profession, location, or the date of the interview.

Tips for naming documents when preparing data for computer-aided qualitative data analysis
Figure 2: Naming your documents for analytical purposes

Naming your files in this way has the advantage that these criteria already sort the documents. This helps create variables in the software for analytic purposes. In addition, a 'good' analytic name gives valuable information when retrieving data and adds transparency to your project. The document name is displayed above each data segment if you extract data and create reports. So think about which information would be useful to have in a report.

If you have already created a project before reading this suggestion, you can rename each document in the software. This is not a problem.

Add all Information that is relevant to your Project

Once you have set up a project and added documents (see links to video tutorials at the end), you can enter a comment for each document. This may not be necessary for all types of projects, but users often do not think of adding information they already have.

My advice is to include all information in your project that is relevant to the analysis. When analyzing interview transcripts, researchers often write an interview protocol. But instead of adding it to their project, they store the protocols as Word files in another folder.

I recommend copying and pasting the protocols into the comment field of the respective document, so you have all the information in one place. The likelihood that you will look at the protocols again is much greater when they become part of your project.

When working with newspaper articles or reports, add information about the source, such as a newspaper description, its circulation, readership, and where you retrieved the document. If the article or report is available online, you can also add the link to the source.

Here is an example of how it could look in the software:

Describing documents in ATLAS.ti comments
Figure 3: Commented document in ATLAS.ti

After you have added and written comments for your documents, don’t forget to save the project.

Organizing Project Documents

When you start a project, you should first consider where and at what level the cases are in your data.

Is each document a case that you want to compare to other cases?

Or are several documents a case, such as female and male respondents?

To ease the handling of the different data types, they can be organized into document groups in some software packages, or you can add document variables.

Document groups allow quick access to subsets of your data. They can be used for analytic comparisons in later stages of the analysis. Document groups include the classic socio-demographic variables of gender, age groups, material status, profession, location, etc. For an analysis of newspaper articles, you may want to group by country, circulation, and type of newspaper.

Groups can also be helpful for administrative purposes in team projects by, for instance, creating a group that holds all documents for coder A, another group that holds the documents for coder B, and so on.

Cases can also be embedded within documents – for example, the different speakers in focus groups.

You must handle it differently depending on whether the case is at the document level or within the documents.

If the cases are inside the documents, you must code them. This task can be performed automatically by the software. Check the manual of your program for step-by-step instructions.

Sometimes, you can only identify cases within documents if you read through them. Then you code those manually. Examples are the actors mentioned in a document or relationships between actors, locations, contexts, organizations, or places.

Setting up a project (video tutorials)

The following videos show how you set up a project in three different software packages:





Computer hard disks can fail; laptops can be stolen. Therefore, storing a copy of your project somewhere else is best. I recommend storing a copy of your project on a server, in the cloud, or on an external drive.

Export your project regularly, best after each working session. You may keep a few rolling copies of the project and, from time to time, remove older versions.

Deepen your understanding of computer-aided qualitative data analysis. Join our upcoming workshops or inquire about tailor-made training for your team. Discover more at Qualitative Research Training.

If you are looking for support: Join the Qualitative Research Community.

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