Dissertation Update-Coding Software

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A quick dissertation update in regards to the post I did a bit back about whether people are using qualitative coding software on their research and if so, which program.

I have decided to go with the TAMS analyzer and I think it’s working pretty well. I’m a MAC user, so that ruled out some of the other more popular options like NVIVO and anyway, TAMS is a free download. I test coded two interviews with it and then without it, and I must say the ones with it were more organized, easier to read, and seemed better for long-run research needs in terms of going back to the data in the future.

I did twenty interviews that are being coded to fit into a framework that has three parts. So, I’m coding each interview three times over, one for each part. At this point, I’m only 10 interviews in, and only on the first part of each interview, so I’m not that far, but I think I’d recommend this software. Basically, each of my interviews needs about one hour to code per each section of the three part framework. So, three hours per interview. Totaling 60 hours of coding work. So I think fitting that in with my job, personal life, other research teams, etc, means about 4-6 weeks. Maybe a little more. I’ve also got other material from the interviews I need to review that won’t get coded because it’s not part of the framework but is still important. So, that’ll add another week or two.

So here is the basic deal with how it works. If you already have a blog or know HTML that helps quickly get the general way it works. Basically, you take a word, like “black” and you create the code “black” in your project’s word database. Then, every time you see the word “black” you highlight it and click your code “black” from the list of codes you’ve created. Then, you can go back to all of your interviews, see who talked about “black” and in what context they discussed it. You code one interview at a time, but when searching for a code you can look at all of your interviews as if they were one long piece of text.

You can also do things like coding for “color” and/or “color>black” (meaning within the concept of color the specific one was black) and then you can spit out a report that discusses color in general, and, specific colors. This can help with determining frequency of what was perhaps the most popular color and why.

So, it isn’t sophisticated enough as far as I can tell to just search all of your interviews for “black” (for example) but, if you code them all it can search them after. Thus, it cannot create your themes, in terms of grounded research, but, themes do become pretty obvious as you’re coding because of how common some things seem to be, while other things that sounded important during the interview turn out to be more like one-offs.

You can also make all sorts of notes in your new codes database, so I’ve got things like “style>60s” and then my notes say things like “60s can equate mod, soulie, rude boy, hippie, the decade itself, 60s designers, etc). That way I remember what I meant when I make a code. Furthermore, codes don’t have to be permanent. So, regarding “style>60s” I found that “skin” or “skinhead” was becoming popular enough that I made a new code for “style>skinhead” and then went back to those I’d previously coded and brought up all that had “style>60s” and whoever really meant skinhead got changed to that code. When you bring up “style>60s” it shows on your screen the context around that word, so you can read the surrounding sentence and determine if they actually meant skinhead when referencing a particular suit or boots (for example).

There are a bunch of technical things I wish it did differently, and perhaps I just don’t understand all that it can do, but, for now, I’m chipping away at it and I’d recommend it to others. Particularly those who have a lot of data that you’re trying to look for common themes within, and, people who plan to go back to their data over the years and would like to have it all organized. It’s probably not great for isolated case studies or worth the time for people who are doing quick projects they never plan to look at again.

I’ll let you know how it goes, and if anyone has worked with TAMS and has tips please drop me a line. I hope this helps someone because I know when I was making this decision I found very little online discussion about it.

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