Data Analysis Software
GENERAL ISSUES FOR FAMILY THERAPY RESEARCHERS
JENNIFER L. MATHESON
I was not always comfortable using software for analyzing qualitative data, but I was thrust into it during my 11 years at a major research organization and over the course of three graduate programs, including two in family therapy. In each of those settings, I learned and practiced the science and art of qualitative research, including developing skills in the use of “computer-aided qualitative data analysis software” (CAQDAS). I used early CAQDAS packages for basic data management purposes, such as to manage interview data and qualitative responses to questionnaires; I then applied to them the most basic nonhierarchical coding schemes and printed the results for report writing. This is the way perhaps 60% of users take advantage of CAQDAS: as an electronic file cabinet utilizing only the most basic frequency counts of codes (Fielding, 2000).
As a graduate student in marriage and family therapy, I have used CAQDAS in a more sophisticated manner to manage large quantities of interview data, develop hierarchical coding trees, and use the powerful search and theory-building components of the software. I have gone to at least two formal CAQDAS training sessions (specifically, for NVivo and NUD*IST) and taken a graduate-level course on the use of CAQDAS in dissertation research. I have worked on dozens of projects using CAQDAS, both on my own and with large research teams, and I have provided informal training for graduate students interested in using the software for their own research. Although I do not feel like an expert on CAQDAS, I have had enough experience in using it to be able to empathize with and provide some direction to family therapy researchers who are struggling to make sense of it and are curious about what it offers.
As both a student and a professional, I have worked with people who are enthusiastic about using CAQDAS, as well as people who are not. Some even consider the use of CAQDAS a separate kind of analysis, like grounded theory or content analysis