Intro to Atlas.ti: Qualitative Data Analysis Software

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1 Intro to Atlas.ti: Qualitative Data Analysis Software Valentina Petrova Center for Social Science Computation and Research 110 Savery Hall University of Washington Seattle, WA USA (206) June 2014

2 Introduction to Atlas.ti Atlas.ti is a qualitative data analysis software package (QDA) that can code a number of different media types, including text, images, videos, and audio. Historically, Atlas.ti has been a PC-based program, but the company is releasing a Mac version in July 2014 (http://www.atlasti.com/macos.html). Mobile versions of Atlas.ti have already launched on ipad and Android devices. However, these mobile apps have different functionality, usually limited to coding documents, but for any analysis or reports, those documents then need to be uploaded into the full computer-based version. One advantage is that the apps allow you to record audio and video (great for interviews and other field data collection) that can be coded right there on the mobile device, and later imported into the desktop version of the software for full analysis. This document provides a brief overview of common uses for QDA software i.e. projects best suited for this type of program. I ve included some criteria to consider when choosing a software package, Atlas.ti being one of many in a continually growing ecosystem of programs with similar qualitative analysis functionality. Since qualitative research methods can have method-specific jargon and different QDA programs have their own terminology as well, I ve included an overview of basic Atlas.ti terms. Some tips on project management and set-up are also included, as well as steps for starting a new project and importing data. Lastly, a list of additional resources completes this document. The best way to get comfortable with the software and start learning its many features is to work on a real project, perhaps even a small-scale qualitative research exercise of interest to you. This document is written based on Atlas.ti 7 (for PC) other versions of the program may have different features or menu options. Why Use QDA Software? Before the proliferation of QDA software, qualitative research was done by highlighting segments of text (quotations) and writing notes (codes and memos) in the margins of the pages. Index cards with key ideas were arranged on white boards and connections drawn among them (network view). With QDA software, you can do this same process electronically, which allows for a lot more flexibility in how the coded data (whether that is text, images, videos, etc.) is then viewed and analyzed. It is important to remember that QDA programs do not do the analysis for you, they do facilitate the process. They are great for managing large, complex data sets, coding a lot of text (or images, videos, etc.) with ease, conducting searches and visualizations in the qualitative data, and discovering, testing and describing patterns and themes in your data. Projects that lend themselves well to QDA use include text or content analysis projects, literature reviews, inductive and deductive research of qualitative data, etc. Coding interview transcripts, newspaper articles, reports and research papers is done with ease in Atlas.ti. Atlas.ti works with dozens of file types from various Word doc versions, to Rich Text Document (.rtf) files, to PDFs, GIF and JPEG images, Windows Media Format Files (.wma) and QuickTime (.mov), to many other text, image, audio and video formats. For a full current list of file types accepted by Atlas.ti, you can go to: Project! Add Document(s)! Add Documents (My Library) and click on the drop-down menu of file types ( Primary Documents ). CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 2

3 Choosing Your QDA Program Your project details (type of data you are analyzing text, images, videos, etc. and what methods and research questions you have) will help determine which QDA package is the best fit. Here is a summary table of some criteria you should consider featuring a comparison between Atlas.ti and two other QDA software programs supported at CSSCR. ATLAS.ti Dedoose.com TAMS Analyzer Source Cost $99 student license (for desktop version, 2-year use) or $10.95/month subscription rate (some variation) free free at CSSCR or CSDE Platform PC (+ limited functionality ipad and Android apps and coming to Mac in July 2014) Any (web-based) Mac Data/file types Any (text, audio, video, images works with widest variety of file types) Almost any (problems with PDFs, images, etc.) Primarily text (also supports PDF, images like JPEG, and video) Team Yes, but complex setup Yes best for this (Yes, but not great) Reports Robust Robust & colorful Functional Ease of use Drop-down menus User Interface (UI), manuals, CSSCR support, free online videos, book, forum Web-based UI, some online videos, some CSSCR support, paid company support Bare-bones UI, user manuals online, including a CSSCR one, Facebook page for Q&A; creator is Matthew Weinstein, a UW Tacoma professor, reachable by CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 3

4 Atlas.ti Features and Terminology The following terms are specific to Atlas.ti and can have different names in different QDA packages (such as Dedoose, TAMS, NVivo, etc.). Below is a diagram of how these main features fit together and a set of brief definitions. Hermeneutic Unit (HU) this is your project file it holds all of your PDs, codes, memos, and other objects. Primary Documents (PDs) these are your individual data files imported into your HU; for example, if you are analyzing newspaper coverage, each news article (in Word, PDF or other text format) you import into you HU is one PD. Quotes (or Quotations) these are segments of data (such as a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph of text) think of these as the excerpts you would highlight if you were analyzing your PDs by hand with a highlighter and pen. Codes these are typically words or phrases you apply to quotations (i.e. labels) the things you would write in the margin of your paper, if doing the analysis by hand. Comments are typically used as brief definitions or explanations of codes; for example, if I were analyzing an education policy project and had the code NCLB I may apply a comment on this code that describes what the acronym is, No Child Left Behind. Memos these are notes taken inside the HU; they can be stand-alone or linked to quotations, codes, or other memos; these tend to be under-used and they are important because often most of your analysis will happen in memos and they will in turn help you write your CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 4

5 paper/report/thesis/dissertation; memos are great for capturing your thoughts as a researcher, when you find an interesting pattern/theme in the data while you re coding it. Networks (or network views) these are visualizations of your data, codes and other objects in your HU; networks are one type of report/output that you can generate. These are some of the basic elements of Atlas.ti. There are many other objects and functions you may find useful once you have coded your data for example Families which are groups of related PDs, codes, networks or other objects. Families can be applied as filters on your data so that you are only running reports or reading through the coding of sub-sets of your PDs. For example, back to the newspaper coverage example you could create families of PDs by type of article news, feature, opinion, etc. And then you can choose to only look at the opinion articles and run analysis on them. You can also generate intersections of families using the Query Tool (Analysis! Query Tool) for example, you can ask Atlas.ti to show you only the quotations in the opinion PDs family that were coded with the NCLB code. Project Management Tips Getting Organized There are many different ways to do things in Atlas.ti there are drop down or right-click menus, short-cut buttons, and managers (i.e. a P-Docs Manager that shows you all the PDs, how much coding has been applied to each, etc. and allows you to group them into families). When importing PDs, you can do so via the menu, Project! Add Document(s)! Add Documents (My Library). Then you will be prompted to select the files from wherever they were saved on your computer. You can also simply drag and drop a set of files, or folders containing your data files, into Atlas.ti and you will be prompted to save them in My Library. Atlas.ti has a file management system that may seem a little counter-intuitive at first. It is important to understand how it works, so that you set up your project and back it up successfully. My Library this is a directory Atlas.ti creates on your computer and it creates copies of all the PDs you import into an HU and saves them in this directory. Atlas.ti doesn t actually keep the PDs in your HU. Rather, it keeps paths (i.e. C:\temp\Valentina Petrova\Education Project\News Clip 1 the path where a PD for my project, a file titled News Clip 1, is saved) to the PDs in the HU. In previous versions of the software, users who opened and edited the files (usually Word documents) that they had imported into the HU as PDs encountered error messages. The changes made to the PDs after they were imported corrupted the HU. To avoid this problem, My Library was introduced in version 7 of the software and thus the program is working from copies of your original data, saved in My Library, which is meant to stay hidden from you (although you can use the manual to help you change the location of My Library; to see the default location, Documents! Data Source Management! Open Library Manager). This still means that unless you go in and change the My Library location to a USB device or other external place, your HU will be tied to the computer where you first set it up. As a side-note, Team Library is a similar directory, but it is intended for use with team projects, when more than one coder/analyst/researcher is coding and analyzing the data (see the manual for detail on setting this up). Copy Bundle this is the function to use when you want to back up your project (HU) and/or when you want to send a copy of your HU to a different computer. If you simply saved or sent someone the HU file, they would not be able to open your project on their computer using their copy of Atlas.ti. That s because the PDs in the My Library have stayed back on your computer CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 5

6 where the HU was first set up. To work around this, save a Copy Bundle file (your HU must first be saved with all of its most recent changes): Project! Save Copy Bundle. This essentially bundles your HU all the codes, memos, reports you ve run and your PD files from My Library; it compresses all this information into one file with the ending.atlcb (Atlas Copy Bundle). You can then send this file (via , or using a USB memory stick or other tool) to another computer that has Atlas.ti. To view your HU on this new computer, you need to unbundle it: Project! Unpack Copy Bundle. There are several important things to consider before starting a new HU project. Perhaps most importantly, what will your unit of analysis be? This will determine what a PD in your HU is. For example, in your newspaper coverage of education policy project example, the unit of analysis is a newspaper article, thus each article should be in its own Word (or other text file like PDF or.rtf, etc.) document and imported as an individual PD. Where this can get complicated is if, for example, you are analyzing comment strings on news articles written by readers on a newspaper s website. In such an instance, you may want to consider what you want to analyze do you want to analyze the comments by article (a PD would be the entire comment string at the end of an article), by date/time (you would split a comment field into separate PDs based on dates/times they were posted), by user, by positive and negative slant, etc. You should also think about the coding you will apply to your data you can generate codes as you read through your data (inductive) or you can import a list of codes you will be looking for (deductive). Often coding is a blend of these two approaches. The latter, deductive, is especially fitting for research CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 6

7 Starting a New Project After you have imported your PDs (Project! Add Document(s)! Add Documents (My Library) or simply dragging and dropping your files into Atlas.ti), you can start coding. To code, highlight a section of text in your PD and right click on it: Coding! Enter Code Names. Here you can type the codes you want to use multiple codes can be applied to the same quotation. You can also create a free-standing quotation without any codes applied to it yet. Right click on the highlighted text: Create Free Quotation. You can go back and add codes to this free-standing quote later on. CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 7

8 You can reach the coding menu also by going to the menu options at the top of your screen and choosing: Codes! Coding. Here are the different types of coding: Enter Code Names(s) this allows you to type the codes yourself (this is also known as open coding, or inductive coding); Code In Vivo the text you ve highlighted (quotation) becomes its own code. For example, if I had highlighted NCLB (an abbreviation of No Child Left Behind) and selected this coding option, the code generated would be NCLB. Note, however, that if I had selected a part of the text that read No Child Left Behind, the in-vivo code would also be the full phrase: No Child Left Behind. Select Code(s) from List this will pull up your list of existing codes so far; it is helpful once you have created several codes and you need to re-apply some of them. Last Used Code(s) applies the same code(s) as you used on the previous quotation. Auto Coding this opens up a menu that allows you to search your text PDs for a specific word or phrase and code every mention of that word or phrase with the same code. This function could be useful if you are analyzing many newspaper article PDs that will likely have mentions of the same acronyms/education policy laws, for example. Use this function with caution, however, I recommend keeping the Confirm always box checked. This way, Atlas.ti will stop at every mention, allowing you to see it in context and decide whether it should be coded or skipped. CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 8

9 Once the data (PDs) has been coded, there are many outputs reports, visualizations and analyses that Atlas.ti can generate. You can export any of these outputs by printing them or saving them as files that can be viewed outside of Atlas.ti (i.e. you can save a network view as an image file, a codeprimary documents table as an Excel file, a list of quotations and their applied codes as a text document, etc.). Here is a brief overview of a few: Network Views to generate a network view, i.e. a visualization of your coded data, open the network manager by going to the top menus on your screen: Networks! Network View Manager. A Network View Manager pop-up window will list your saved network views. To create a new one, select the icon at the top left or select from the menu: NetworkViews! New. You will prompted to enter a name for your network view, then click OK and it will now show up in your Network View Manager as a saved network. Double click to open it. It will be blank. To import nodes or objects into the network view, go to the menu at the top: Nodes! Import Nodes a small menu window will pop up and here you can select Node Type (Codes, Code Families, Memos, Memo Families, Network Vies, Primary Documents, Primary Doc Families, or Quotations). Once you ve imported nodes, you can click on any one of them and import its neighbors: Import Neighbors! Import common Neighbors (i.e. objects such as codes and memos linked to a particular quotation, for example, or quotations that a given code is linked to). Once you ve imported all the nodes you are interested in, click the semantic layout button or go to the menu: Layout! Semantic Layout. This will spread out the nodes in your network view so that you can better see the connections between them. You can now create additional connections between nodes in network view that were not generated from your coding so far. Remember to save the network view after you are done manipulating it in order to keep all your changes and be able to open that network view again later or if you close it without saving, you will be prompted to do so. Deleting vs. Removing from View it is important to remember that Atlas.ti does not have an undo function and whatever you delete from the HU is gone from the whole project (i.e. if you were to delete a code in a network view by right clicking it and choosing Delete Code, that code will be gone from the entire HU and you will lose all places where it was applied to quotations in all PDs. Thus, if you want to get rid of a node in a network view without deleting it from your entire HU, simply right click on a node and select Remove from View. CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 9

10 Codes-primary Documents Table this is a simple table, generated in Excel, that lists the PDs (in columns, by default) and codes (in rows, by default) and shows you how many times each code was applied to each PD. To generate it, in the main Atlas.ti HU windows, go to the top menus: Documents! Output! Codes-Primary Documents Table. A pop-up window menu will come up, you will then need to select the codes you want included and move them from the left-hand column and move them with the >>> arrow to the Selected Codes/Families column. Do the same for the PDs you d like included in the table moving them to the Selected PDs/Families column. The rest of the settings are usually OK left as default, or you may want to switch the Orientation from Codes = Rows, to Codes = Columns. Click Create Report and Excel will launch, generating the table. Quotations Report another simple report that can be helpful in analyzing and thinking about your data is the full excerpts of quotations from your project, including a list of the codes, memos, etc. applied to each quotation. This can be generated by going to the top menu: Quotations! Output! All Quotations. A small pop-up window will ask you to choose where to send the output, leaving it as Editor (default) will open up a Notepad type of simple text document that you can later save and view outside of Atlas.ti. CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 10

11 Resources The latest Atlas.ti manual is available for download as a PDF here: This is a long document. Use it as a reference, to look up how to do specific commands in the program. The forum, is a good place to start for troubleshooting peculiar problems that are not easily found in the manual. You can browse others questions and challenges and post your own inquiry. Atlas.ti s YouTube channel, is a great place for free instructional videos it features both short tutorials and long (up to an hour-long) intro webinars, including some in Spanish. Qualitative Data Analysis with ATLAS.ti by Susanne Friese is a book that is available for use at CSSCR, or for check-out from the UW Libraries. It is helpful in thinking through the best ways to use the Atlas.ti software program for your qualitative data research project. It features screen grabs, though they are from Atlas.ti 6 and a few menu details may be different from the Atlas.ti 7 version that this document is based on. CSSCR visit our website for details on how we can support your QDA projects, including a list of the programs that our consultants specialize in, CSSCR Atlas.ti VP Sept 2014 Page 11

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