Picking The Qualitative Research Software That's Right For You
Let’s say it’s time to rethink your choice of qualitative research software. You know that there are four major options: Dedoose, Atlas.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo. How do you pick the package that’s best for you? Here are the ten key points to consider:
1. Track Record
Your qualitative research software should have a large, active, international user base and extensive experience in the field.
Each of the four major qualitative research software providers meet this first test, being internationally-recognized, field-tested, and journal-proven. The roots of each can be traced back decades: the origins of Atlas.ti and MAXQDA can be found in the European academic community, of NVivo at La Trobe University in Australia, and those of Dedoose in the American university system.
2. Ease Of Use
Your qualitative research software should be easy to learn and use. From the get-go, you want your focus to be on conducting your research, not learning your software and not having your software influence your analytic approach.
Because Dedoose takes full advantage of the latest trends in user-centered design, most of its functionality will already be familiar to you, and there’s a handy set of video guides — and an extensive ‘step-by-step’ user guide — to help you get up to speed quickly on the rest.
By their very nature (as traditional Windows software programs), Atlas.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo have much steeper learning curves, simply because you have to invest some time in learning the unique intricacies and sometimes elusive terminology of each.
When you’re creating your research plan, the privacy rights of your respondents and the protection of your project data and findings are both of the utmost importance. How does each software provider approach the central issue of security?
As a true web application, Dedoose takes care of both of these very real concerns for you. Your projects are fully-protected by the latest Internet security standards, including data encryption and redundancy, automatic project back-ups, and full access controls. Via the security center you can select from a wide set of security profiles and then assign different members of your team to the profile appropriate for their role in the project, thus controlling how they can and cannot impact the database.
As traditional computer applications, the security of your Atlas.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo projects falls on your shoulders. You’re responsible for protecting the privacy rights of your respondents and implementing a fail-safe back-up routine. If your computer fails or is lost or stolen, you may not have any recourse.
4. Mixed Methods Capabilities
Arguably, the most important development in modern social science research has been the adoption of a mixed methods approach. Can you have the best of both worlds, combining the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative research? In an environment where we see the blossoming of such approaches, a truly new and comprehensive discipline is growing and maturing — as evidenced by the growing popularity of major journals like the Journal of Mixed Methods Research and the International Journal of Multiple Methodologies — not to mention the second edition of the Tashakkori & Teddlie SAGE Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research.
Dedoose was designed from the ground up by mixed methods experts and represents the state of the art in mixed methods research software. Atlas.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo are playing catch-up in this regard.
The chief purpose of your qualitative research software is to help you find important patterns in your data that speak to your research questions and then look under the surface of your data to explore the rich layers of meaning underneath.
Dedoose offers a full range of interactive data visualization tools, comparable in scope to those of Atlas.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo. The fundamental advantage of Dedoose is that its web architecture makes it much easier to rapidly develop and deploy new features as new needs arise.
Your qualitative research software should be capable of handing any research project, from the simplest student research study to the largest and most complex international research program.
As a true cloud-based application, Dedoose is for all intents and purposes infinitely scalable, with no practical limitations on data size and native collaboration features that allow teams from anywhere in the world to work together in real time. As standard computer applications, the maximum size of an Atlas.ti, MAXQDA, or NVivo project is dependent on your hardware and the inherent software limitations of each. Traditional software is not designed to support seamless collaboration.
7. Cross-Platform Compatibility
Does your qualitative research software empower you to choose your preferred hardware or does it limit you to the platforms it runs on?
As a true web application, Dedoose is equally at home with virtually any modern Apple Macintosh, Linux or Windows computer; any Android, iPad or Windows tablet; and any modern Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Opera browser.
ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo are all traditional Windows applications and as such do not run natively on Mac or Linux computers or Android, iPad or Windows tablets.
8. Data Flow
Does your qualitative research software play well with all of the other software you rely on?
Dedoose, ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo can each import from and export to all of the leading audio, document, presentation, spreadsheet, statistics, and video data types.
However, the ease with which you can import and export varies. NVivo is particularly difficult to export from, although it can be done. Dedoose fundamentally believes that software should be open and will build additional import and export tools as needed.
Does your qualitative research software support geographically distributed team of researchers with differing responsibilities?
As a true web application, Dedoose is the ideal choice for any research team, since it enables each team leader to add new team members at any time and at any access level allowing each team member to contribute to the project from virtually any location on virtually any type of computer platform.
In contrast, ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA, and NVivo rely on traditional individual client machines. Collaboration requires either a client-server model — requiring high level network management and complex client-to-file mapping. That either limits team members to using the Windows platform or to merging individual projects after the fact (a process which is fraught with complexities of its own and can result in unpredictable outcomes).
Last but not least, how much will each option cost you or your organization? If your first choice breaks your budget, it’s not your first choice.
The base price of Dedoose is $12.95 USD per user per month, with no additional charge for upgrades. AND Dedoose offers discounts for multiple users, larger groups (e.g. departmental or institutional), and individuals willing to commit to a longer-term subscriptions. For every user, the first month is free, with no limitations. Note that you’re not charged for Dedoose for any month you don’t log in, so you’re free to take that spring, summer, fall or winter break or sabbatical cost-free. All of your credits will roll forward for use when the time comes.
The base price of ATLAS.ti is €1725/$2,300 USD per user, with an additional charge for each upgrade and discounts for multiple users and/or governmental or educational use.
The base price of NVivo is €1645/$2,345 USD per user, with an additional charge for each upgrade and discounts for multiple users and governmental or educational use.
The base price of MAXQDA is €900/$1400 USD per user, with an additional charge for each upgrade and discounts for multiple users and governmental or educational use.;