Ethnography, Observational Research, and Narrative Inquiry

Computer Software for Qualitative Research

Qualitative observational research, by nature, involves the compilation of massive amounts of data. Because of this, many researchers have begun using computer software to help them organize and make sense of the volumes of information. There are many reasons for using computers in qualitative research, but according to Richards and Richards (1993), "Computers [offer] to address each of the obvious barriers to qualitative analysis by manual methods--limitations on size, flexibility and complexity of data records, and systems of theorizing about data." The authors also argue that using computers for qualitative research can give studies more credibility and status because of the association between computers and "hard" data. Research software can also help the researcher to analyze data that was previously too unwieldy for study. Finally, computers greatly speed up the process of retrieving and exploring data. In their text Computer Programs for Qualitative Analysis, Weitzman and Miles (1995), cite a list of the ways computer software can help the qualitative researcher (p. 5):

Before choosing software for a qualitative study, researchers should not only be familiar with the types of software available, but they should also be well versed in the particular program functions and features they need. Flexibility and user friendliness are two more considerations addressed by Weitzman and Miles. They explain that before choosing software, researchers should find out if the software is designed to do what they need, and if not, can the software be adapted to meet the needs of a particular study. In addition, researchers should consider how complicated the software is to learn and use. Researchers should also find out if the software comes with a manual, has on-screen help, and/or has a technical support phone number.

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