The CAQDAS. Software for Qualitative Analysis


In this article is intended to give response to What is CAQDAS? What is the purpose? What are the advantages and disadvantages of their use in the research qualitative?

The CAQDAS are computer programs for the analysis of qualitative data. To explain it we have based on the text of the faculty of the University of Sevilla, F. J. Caro-González and E. P. Diez de Castro: “qualitative Research by computer-assisted in business economics” published in the Journal of European Research management and Business Economics, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2005, pp. 45-58. By the title it would seem that we are going to explain this type of software in the field of business organizations, however, the text of Caro González and Díez de Castro allows us to make us a pretty clear idea about the CAQDAS and its application in the investigation of nature qualitative, regardless of the discipline concerned. Precisely, what has been done is to pick and play from this text, with some modifications, the main content on the CAQDAS that is considered universal for the research, and the qualitative analysis in any field of scientific knowledge: sociology, anthropology, pedagogy, economy, etc.


        • What is CAQDAS?
        • The phases of qualitative research
        • Advantage of the use of CAQDAS
        • Resistance to the use of the CAQDAS
        • Bibliography

What is CAQDAS?

CAQDAS is an acronym for Computer-Aided Qualitative Data Analysis, which in Spanish could be translated as the Analysis Software for Qualitative Data Assisted by Computer. The terminology CAQDAS, in general, refers to any use that a qualitative researcher makes of the computer, regardless of whether you use a specific software or not.

There are three basic types of software for the analysis of qualitative data: the retrieved text, the packet encoders and retrieved and those that enable the theoretical construction (Fielding and Lee, 1998).

1. The retrieved text

Look for all instances of words, phrases, and combinations of these that want to locate in one or more files. Can also perform functions of the content analysis, such as producing lists of words, word count, etc, Within this group includes the programmes managers of databases, textual (askSam, FolioVIEWS, and MAX).

2. Packages encoders and recuperator

Are much more useful for the qualitative researcher. Divide the text into segments and allow you to assign them a code (or several) to the same. Facilitate the tasks of recovery, sorting and grouping of segments and codes. Within this group we include programs such as HyperQual, QUALPRO, and The Ethnograph. The researcher starts the analysis process by preparing the documents so that they can be treated with the software; later, in front of the computer screen, going through the documents and assigning codes, which correspond to words or ideas, to fragments of text.

3. Grounded theory or Rooted

The programs allow the theoretical construction are those that are of interest to qualitative researchers. These programs arise in the framework of the Grounded Theory (Grounded Theory or Grounded) of Glaser and Strauss (1967) and that allow the researcher to perform more efficiently and even with new resources, all the tasks that until recently were carried out manually (photocopies, scissors and glue on hand). These programs, such as AQUAD, ATLAS-ti, HyperRESEARCH, NUDITS, MaxQDA or KWALITAN perform all the activities that can be performed with the above two types but, in addition, they develop specialized functions that make them very useful for the researcher.

These programs have been developing since the mid-80’s, and have been applied mainly in sociology, pedagogy, anthropology and psychology, which are disciplines that have been most commonly studies of a qualitative nature. If we take as a reference the field of Sociology, Valleys (2001) discusses how the analysis of qualitative data by computer assisted lacks of references in our country up to the Spanish Congress of Sociology, held in the year 1995 in Granada, and these references try of computer applications for the statistical analysis of texts or the analysis of content. In 1998 at the VI Spanish Congress of Sociology will be presented for the first time work carried out with specific software for these tasks, in particular reference is made to

The phases of qualitative research

According to Rodríguez, Gil and García (1996), there are four key stages in any research of a qualitative nature: the preparatory, field work, analytical and informative. As can be seen in the following diagram, each of these phases is decomposed in turn in others. Although this process is presented in linear form, the reality of qualitative research is very different, and the phases interact with each other and overlap in time.

Los CAQDAS. Software de Análisis Cualitativo

1. Preparatory Phase

In this phase is minimal, the influence of the chosen software, as these programs are only a tool. The first thing that you must do the investigator is to design the study to be performed, determining the objectives of the research and the methodology most appropriate for achieving them. Once clarified these points, is when, if the methodology and the type of data required, the researcher will decide whether to perform a traditional analysis or else you will be “assisted” by the computer. The research is approached as a process in which to relate theoretical categories with other existing discovered along the research. From these relations it generates a model of the process and the content of the change.

2. Field work

The researcher also not going to find in this phase a great help in the specific software. The collection of information must be carried out according to the requirements of the research strategy. However, there are two aspects that is interesting to consider. First, most of the programs allow you to work with documents of different nature (text, image, and sound), in addition to have features that favour integration with quantitative data. The increase in the variety of sources of information, the richness of the analysis is much greater. Second, that the majority of the programs require a certain format in the documents that are going to work, that is to say, it is necessary to “prepare” the documents to suit the requirements of the program. While it is not a task overly cumbersome, it is important to remember this aspect in order not to find problems in the phase of analysis of the data.

3. Analytical Phase

In this phase of the research is where the resources of these programs contribute most directly to the development of the research. Following the phases of the process of qualitative data analysis described by miles and Huberman (1994): data reduction, disposal and processing of data and obtaining and verifying conclusions.

3.1. Data reduction

The qualitative researcher is found with a huge material that is difficult to handle. Therefore, the first step consists in the reduction of the same through the encoding process. The analyst accesses documents through the computer and as you reading you can go to by assigning text fragments to one or more codes that correspond with some of the categories previously established.

You can also get an “encoding open”, which consists in establishing new codes that are suggested by the data during the analysis process.

Another tool that incorporate some of these programs is the self-encoding, the process by which the researcher can assign a particular code, so automatic and almost instantaneous, to paragraphs, sentences or words of the documents that contain certain words or expressions.

Most programs allow you to structure your code hierarchically and to set supercódigos bringing together several of them. The encoding process is very flexible and during the process it is very simple to modify any of the codes immediately on all documents. You can also merge two or more codes with which the program will assign to each of the quotes corresponding to different codes in a single one.

A very useful function is the annotation (“memoing”). The “memos” are notes that, at all times, have available to the researcher, which may indicate explanations, tips, definitions, or ideas that arise during the process of data analysis. By using this tool you can add explanations to each of the actions that we are developing in the process of analysis. For example, we can attach a note defining each of the codes, so that at all times, and if you have any doubt, you can access to the concept to which it refers. These “notes” can be assigned to codes, quotations, documents, links, text snippets, etc

3.2. Provision and processing of data

Some of the programs facilitate the researcher in the development of networks between nodes (codes, memos, documents, relationships, etc) so that you can display graphically the relations found by the analyst. It is to be noted that the relationships is undertaken by the researcher, that is to say, it works almost like a program of graphic design with the advantage that you have at hand all the items that they want to relate and all the information (through relationships of hypertext) of the same.

You can also develop tables of frequencies and tables with codes and quotes are very useful for the development of the method of constant comparison (MCC). Some of the outputs of numerical of these programs, as for example the tables of frequencies, can be easily exported for processing with statistical packages.

3.3. Obtaining results

With the use of these programs, recovery of codes and texts is very fast, almost instant. In addition, allow you to perform boolean searches between the codes and set filters on the documents that you want to search. Filters are very useful because they allow you to make searches targeted in the primary documents to be able to find significant differences between different categories of respondents or between cases with similarities. These searches targeted to contribute to the comparison of information sources.

You can also do proximity searches between codes and texts; for example, we can ask the program we select those pieces of text where such a code is followed (or preceded, or overlaps, or contains, etc) for such other in a space of a given text.

Another type of operators that can be found in some of the programs are the semantic, when there are categories and subcategories. We provide access to the quotations coded with A or subcategories of A, with A or supracategorías, etc

4. Information Phase

In reporting these programs contribute in terms of facilitating the extraction of information according to the criteria set by the researcher. For example, we can obtain as a result in a text document, all the citations that refer to a family of codes, or to a particular code, and then manipulate them to make more attractive presentation to the programs customarily used by the researcher to produce reports. The documents that are obtained as the results (tables of frequencies, tree of codes, networks, appointments, etc) are easily exportable to other programs with which we are more accustomed to work.

This enumeration of functions is not exhaustive, and not all programs can make all of them, although most of them even offer more possibilities. Of course all this can be done manually, or assisted, by a processor of normal text.

Advantage of the use of CAQDAS

  1. Savings of time. The qualitative researchers work with a lot of information, the new programs allow us to store and access the information almost immediately. It is particularly interesting in longitudinal studies, because we can have a number of information high and perfectly comparable over time. Access to information is infinitely more rapid and selective than when we used paper and pencil.
  2. Organization. It reduces the amount of paper consumed by the researcher and filled his table. All the information, primary documents, quotations, descriptions of codes, annotations are stored in the program and we can access it in a hypertextual way and immediate.
  3. Inclusiveness (Valles, 2001). It facilitates the realization of studies based on the triangulation of sources of evidence. We can import text files of any format, and some programs support working with audio, video, and scanned images. The new versions of MaxQda and can directly insert texts from the Web in order to be considered scanning documents without the need of prior treatment.
  4. Exploration of the data. The computer-aided analysis allows the search of relationships between the codes established. To do this, most programs have a series of tools that allow you to perform boolean searches, trying to find codes that are overlapping, they appear in a particular sequence, that are coming, that they are exclusionary, etc, in Addition to saving time, an advantage of these tools is that they allow the researcher to quickly explore relationships and play intuitively with the data looking for possible links between them.
  5. Hypertextuality. In the qualitative analysis produced a continuous interaction throughout the research process. There is a clear separation between the obtaining of data, the analysis and obtaining of results, since all the phases interact with each other. One of the features of qualitative data analysis is that it is necessary to be continually reviewing the data that is available to them. The analyst has to constantly go to the documents to contextualize or validate the information. Most programs establish links between codes, text passages, and the original document, thereby avoiding decontextualisation and, therefore, the loss of wealth that provides the qualitative analysis. This is one of the strengths most important of these programs: the proximity of the data to the original texts.
  6. Intersubjectivity internal. The new programs allow multiple investigators to work on the same project at the same time, and that we can identify at all times who provides what in the process of analysis. This is what Valles (2001) calls intersubjectivity internal. You can transfer files between analysts and observe the contributions of each one. This feature is particularly interesting in the case of multidisciplinary work groups and when the researchers are located in different work centres and even in different countries.
  7. Intersubjectivity external (Valles, 2001) that is linked to the possibility of falseabilidad of an investigation. One of the main criticisms that qualitative research is the limited information about how the analysts have obtained the conclusions, the lack of transparency and the treatment of “anecdotal” data. The use of computers promotes the systematization of this process and leaves no traces of the steps followed by the researchers. This means that up to a certain point, it can make a replication of the analysis by independent researchers. This possibility of falseabilidad may not be complete, in that there is a high degree of subjectivity in the qualitative studies, in all and each one of its phases.
  8. Secondary data. Another advantage is the possibility of working with secondary data from other qualitative research, both to facilitate longitudinal studies and comparative, as the learning of qualitative methods.
  9. Modelling and visualization analytics. Another of the benefits of the programmes of qualitative data analysis is to draw networks and diagrams. These tools help the researcher in the task of integrating the categories and generate theoretical models. They also serve to graphically display the relations that appear between the codes. Disponer of this tool in the same software in which perform all of the operations have significant advantages, since the graphics created are accessible immediately, in the same environment in which the data is analyzed and can go by adding or modifying relationships in graphic form during the whole period of analysis. At the same time can be assigned “notes” to the relationships or networks explaining the why of each of them. Many researchers use other computer programs more specific to the development of networks or graphs as can be Decision Explorer, Power Point, or Ucinet.
  10. Export of data. The files are easily exportable to other programs. The frequency tables, the reports generated can be exported to other programs such as Excel, SPSS, Word, or Power Point with ease.

Resistance to the use of the CAQDAS

In front of all the virtues listed above, we can consider the reasons why these programs are hardly used by researchers, more specifically by the researchers of the Economics of the Company. To do this, we establish two large groups of problems/reasons, the purely operational and the epistemological. We begin with the last:

Despite the advantages above, many researchers resist the use of CAQDAS in the qualitative research. There are two large groups of problems/reasons: the epistemological and the operating.

1. Epistemological problems

  1. The specific programs for the analysis of qualitative data are relatively recent. The first developments are of the decade of the 80.
  2. The use of a specific software, represents a systematization that not all researchers assume in the analysis process. The component, creative, artistic, which is present in greater or less degree, in the process of qualitative analysis, seems hardly compatible with the use of methods of processing ordered data. This systematization may pose a risk to the novice researchers that make the process of qualitative analysis according to a linear procedure to mark the specific software.
  3. Some authors have warned that the use mechanical of the computer programs can produce a process of homogenization of qualitative analysis.
  4. With respect to the exploration of relationships between categories, it is noteworthy that the programs do not have decision-making criteria to determine if there really is a relationship between two codes that appear sequenced, nearby or overlapping. The computer is only a tool and not an expert. The knowledge resides in the researcher, and the success of an investigation will be determined by the appropriate approach, the competence and reasoning ability of the investigator.
  5. Researchers who have used the computers may be tempted to use it to perform activities inappropriate for the purpose of the research, that contribute nothing, or confused. As it says Tesch (1990) “the analysis can take a certain path because the computer favors that way.” As a result the computer can invade the conceptual territory of the researcher or influence in a particular direction throughout the process (Valles, 2001).
  6. The possibilities of carrying out numerical calculations with qualitative data that offer these programs can pose to some researchers, an invitation to quantify the data, and away from the richness of the qualitative study.
  7. Another risk derives from the mystification of the computer. The application of computer technology to qualitative data may be seen by some as a guarantee of the objectivity and rigour. The subjectivity of the analyst does not disappear with the resource to the computer, and using programs of analysis can be to make the same mistakes if we did not have them (Rodríguez, Gil and García, 1996).

2. Operational problems

  1. Need a learning. It requires an effort of learning the software by the analyst.
  2. Cost and dissemination. It is necessary to purchase the software, and although the price is not high for the offered performance it is necessary to pay a price for it. To this factor we must add issues of commercialization, since most of these programs have been designed by researchers and are distributed by themselves. This makes it difficult to broadcast, the best way to acquire them is through the Internet.
  3. The programs and the manuals that explain its operation, as a general rule, they are not translated into English, which hampers their widespread use.
  4. It is necessary to prepare documents in a format determined for its treatment, which implies that it is difficult to edit these documents once they have been included in the analysis process. This problem is trying to solve in the new versions of CAQDAS to be able to process and edit easily documents with different formats.
  5. Another problem is the exchange of data in a specialized software to another (for example be able to use primary documents to in Max Qda), or a version of a program to another. This aspect is very interesting for longitudinal studies or for the case of studies that use different software. The possibility of transfer of files would facilitate the comparison of programs and to obtain more reliable results by being able to use different tools and combine the advantages of each one of them. In the latest versions of some CAQDAS is developing the XML format, which is intended to be a standard data format that allows the transfer of information.
  6. Another drawback that limits the use of the qualitative methodology and the specific programs for this is the time and the cost associated with the transcription of the interviews for analysis. In the future we are confident that the computers are able to recognize the human voice with accuracy and transcribing it directly from one audio file to one text.


CARO-GONZÁLEZ, F. J.; DÍEZ DE CASTRO, E. P. (2005). “Qualitative research by computer-assisted in business economics” in: Journal of European Research management and Business Economics, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2005, pp. 45-58.
FIELDING, Nigel. G.; LEE, Raymond M. (1998). Computer Analysis and Qualitative Research. SAGE.

GLASER, B.; STRAUSS, A. (1967): The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research,

Wiedenfeld and Nicholson, London.

MILES, M.; HUBERMAN, AM. (1994): Qualitative Data Analysis. 2nd Ed. Beverly Hills. Sage.

RODRIGUEZ, GIL, GARCÍA (1996): Methodology of the Qualitative Research. Ediciones Aljibe. Maracena.

TESCH, R. (1990): Qualitative Research: Analysis Types and Software Tools. The Falmer Press.

VALLES, M. S. (2001): “Advantages and challenges of using computer programs (e.g. ATLAS.ti and MAXqda) in the qualitative analysis. A methodological reflection from the grounded theory and the context of the social research Spanish”. Presentation at the Seminar on Advanced Research Qualitative Computer-Assisted, Granada, spain, November.


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