What is Qualitative Software?
Although Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) and qualitative software are a recent development, the arrival of word processors with text retrieval and handling capacities was the background for the development of specialist qualitative software packages. While some early experimenters began developing their own software for particular qualitative applications almost as soon as they had assembled their first DIY personal computer, the main impetus came from academic seminars including social researchers and computing enthusiasts during the early 1980s.
Qualitative software did not, however, remain an interest only for those in 'pure' academic disciplines. From the first it gained substantial use in applied research. It offered to address the needs of researchers working under the pressure of short-term 'soft money' contracts and yet who retained an enthusiasm for the intrinsic interest of qualitative data. Another major use was in market research, where the focus group approach continues to represent a distinct branch of the field.
Choosing the right qualitative software package can be daunting task, but the optimal choice influences directly the relationship of qualitative software and secondary analysis of archived qualitative data.
The learning curve can be steep and the workload for researchers is not infrequently a heavy one. Researchers design and often carry out entire research project in a short time-span, so they are under considerable pressure to develop ideas quickly. The right choice of qualitative software can help or hinder, make or break the schedule of a given project.
As experienced researchers know, no software program will do the analysis for you. While some researchers might welcome that invention, skeptical researchers worry that qualitative software will be used to impose rigidity, to imitate quantitative analysis techniques or to oversimplify complex social processes. Advanced technology has brought us excellent innovations in the ability of software to organize and audit qualitative analysis, paving the way for researchers to collaborate, replicate, and convince the skeptics of the importance of thorough qualitative research to understanding society.
Researchers welcome the opportunity to engage in the creativity and intellectual demands of doing social research. Qualitative Analysis is more challenging than quantitative in many ways but it is also that much more rewarding when you complete your study or write your report.
Methods of doing social research are continually advancing. So are developments in qualitative software: New developments in information technology enable complex analyzes to be carried out on a personal computer. Laptop computers and computer assisted telephone interviewing change fundamentally the way in which surveys are done. New statistical techniques are being developed which are better suited to the kinds of data which social researchers generally deal with.