Unleashing Frankenstein’s Monster? The Use of Computers in Qualitative Research.
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene (2004)
H. R. Bernard (Ed.), Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology, pp. 549-593. In S. N. Hesse-Biber and P. Leavy (Eds.), Approaches to Qualitative Research: A Reader on Theory and Practice, pp. 535-545.
The use of qualitative data analysis software has been increasing in recent years. A number of qualitative researchers have raised questions concerning the effect of such software in the research process. Fears have been expressed that the use of the computer for qualitative analysis may interfere with the relationship between the researcher and the research process itself by distancing the researcher from both the data and the respondent. Others have suggested that the use of a quantitative tool, the computer, would lead to data dredging, quantification of results, and loss of the "art" of qualitative analysis. In this study of 12 qualitative researchers, including both faculty members and graduate students, we have found that these fears are exaggerated. Users of qualitative data analysis software in most cases use the computer as an organizational, time-saving tool and take special care to maintain close relationships with both the data and the respondents. It is an open question, however, whether or not the amount of time and effort saved by the computer enhance research creativity. The research findings are mixed in this area. At issue is the distinction between creativity and productivity when computer methods are used.
Computer packages targeted at qualitative and mixed methods researcg data are readily available and the methodology sections of research articles indicate that they are being utilised by some health researchers. The purpose of this article is to draw together concerns which have been expressed by researchers and critics and to place these within the perspective of 'framing' (MacLachlan & Reid, 1994). Here, the focus becomes the frame that these computer programs impose on qualitative data. Inevitably, all data sets are disturbed by the techniques of collection and the conceptual and theoretical frames imposed, but computer framing not only distorts physically but also imposes an often minimally acknowledged frame constructed by the metaphors and implicit ideology of the program. This frame is in opposition to most of the recent changes in qualitative data interpretation, which have emphasised context, thick description and exposure of the minimally disturbed voices of participants.