Reflections of qualitative researchers on the use of qualitative data analysis software: an activity theory perspective
Gilbert, Linda S.
MetadataShow full item record
Like other knowledge work, qualitative data analysis is increasingly supported by the use of computer software. This use of software deserves further attention, in terms of both its anticipated advantages and its unanticipated consequences. The purpose of this study was to describe how individual qualitative researchers perceive that their research procedures and perspectives have been influenced by the adoption of computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (QDA software). The primary source of data was in-depth interviews with qualitative researchers who had experience conducting qualitative analyses both manually and with Nud*Ist software. (The name is an acronym which stands for "Non-numerical Unstructured Data; Indexing, Searching, and Theorizing." Nud*Ist was selected because of its long history of development and its wide distribution.) Participants compared working methods and reflected on the process of transition. The data were analyzed through individual case profiles and cross-case comparisons, both informed by phenomenological perspectives. This study was further informed by activity theory, a socio-cultural theoretical perspective that regards individuals and tools as mutually influencing one another. The findings were that the participants regarded Nud*Ist as a tool, but one that needed to be learned. As they developed skill with it, their research processes were indeed changed, both directly and subtly. Overall, users felt that the software enabled them to organize their data better, which in turn enabled analysis. Second, the software forced the consideration of methodological issues, either by making existing methodological practices more explicit or by introducing new methods. Finally, issues associated with trustworthiness broadened to include the software, the user's competence with it, and others' perceptions about the software that influenced their judgment of research. Although those who had used the program felt that Nud*Ist helped them do more trustworthy research, they did not assume that software use was sufficient evidence of credibility in others' research. The participants also expressed concerns over others' misconceptions about Nud*Ist.