I’ve always liked the idea of using computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) – such as Atlas-ti – when doing the textual analysis part of a CDA project but in reality I would often became frustrated with it. Now, though, I think I’ve finally found a way of using Atlas-ti which suits (at least my way of) doing textually oriented discourse analysis.
To use this kind of software, one loads documents (word, documents, pdfs – and now sound files, picture files, and videos) in to the software and then ‘code’ sections of them – highlight a piece of text and give it a name: social actor, topos of authority, LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor, for example.
When it came to actually writing up my analysis and interpretation of the texts, though, I would find that I ended up putting relevant quotations from my data into a word document and, pretty much, re-analysing and interpreting these segments of data again as part of the writing process – it turns out that writing is part of the analytical process for me – and it seemed quicker to dispense with the CAQDAS and just cut straight to the analytical writing stage.
What hadn’t ‘clicked’ with me was that the software can be used as a ‘space’ for writing as well as coding and managing your data – this is probably taken for granted by many experienced users of CAQDAS but is something I had entirely missed.
The key to this is using memos. Atlas-ti includes the facility to write memos which can be linked to each other and to quotations you’ve identified and to codes that you have used. These memos can be a spaces for writing the analysis, writing about concepts, and importantly for me, keeping a research diary. Even better, PDF files of journal articles can also be loaded into a project and this academic literature can also be coded – or just referred to – whilst in the analytical process.
Why is this important? It may not be for everyone, but I find that being able to see my text, and quotations, as well as being able to quickly call upon literature that I know I’ll refer to as part of the final article – all side by side – is really useful.
For me, the apparently trivial act of switching out of the software in which I’m marking up my text, looking for another file, going into my reference library for some academic literature or making a note of how I want to express something breaks me out of that analytical zone. Holding all of these various aspect in one software ‘space’, is far less disruptive than keeping them as separate files that I have to access with different software apps and – in the end – using Atlas-ti as a complete analytical writing space is becoming more productive for me.