NVivo Qualitative Software vs. Hand Coding

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While many researchers still preform coding by hand on paper, a lot have switched to using qualitative data analysis software programs. I coded data by hand before learning about the benefits of using qualitative data analysis software. Over the past 16 years, I have trained students and researchers nationally and internationally to analyze their data in NVivo. As a consultant, I have also used NVivo to analyze over 5000 client projects. Here are some insights based on my experience.

Hand coding on paper is great for very small data sets. It allows you to code your data without having to purchase and learn a software program. One of the down falls is that hand coding does not allow you to see the breadth and depth of what emerges from your data as compared to using a software program. On the other hand, depending on the coding approach you are using, less detail may suffice. Hand coding also takes more time to locate the coded data and does not allow you to easily query your data. Instead, you have to sort through page after page searching for where you coded something.

Coding in NVivo or another qualitative software program allows you the flexibility to code any size project (large or small) in more or less detail. For example, as opposed to developing a couple of codes for one paragraph, you may create 25 codes. You can code every key concept, idea, event, etc. expressed by participants in every line of the data. This is helpful if you want to get the most out of your data for a dissertation project or perhaps generate several articles from one set of data. I have used this approach to code my own dissertation in addition to coding clients’ data who want to gain insight into participants’ perceptions, beliefs, and experiences.

NVivo also allows you to code more globally for themes or concepts. I have found this particularly useful for clients who are working with large sets of data (e.g. program or project evaluations).

In addition, NVivo allows you to query the data, which saves time in writing up reports or peer-review publications. You can retrieve the coded data by simply clicking on the code as opposed to spending time searching for all of the pages where you highlighted the code by hand. You can also search for relationships among the codes and attributes. For example, you can search for the code cancer survivor against attributes such as ages 20-25. You can also search for relationships among codes. For example, you can search for the codes cancer survivor and relapse. The opportunities for querying are endless.

On the downside, NVivo and other qualitative software’s are not easy to learn. Beyond learning the mechanics of how to use the software, you also have to understand how to best setup and code your project in order to maximize your ability to retrieve and query the data. This can be complicated, but not impossible.

Please click here to contact  Dr. Asher Beckwitt to learn more about our NVivo training and qualitative data analysis services.

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