The authors conduct an exposé on the deterministic denunciations of Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS) and how citation errors keep these criticisms alive. They use a zombie metaphor to describe more than two decades of battling these seemingly mindless assessments of QDAS that keep coming –despite their decay – and simply will not die. Focusing exclusively on the criticism of separation/distancing, which alleges that the computer and the software interfere with the researcher’s familiarity with the data, the authors trace one current strand of this criticism through a literature genealogy. Three citation errors (half-truth, proxy, and hearsay) are identified to help dismantle the criticism that QDAS inevitably and negatively interferes with the researchers’ connection to the data. The article concludes with a reckoning about the role of QDAS experts in perpetuating these citation errors and provides four specific recommendations for all qualitative researchers; suggestions that amount to a more viable avenue for pursuing a cure.


ATLAS.ti, CAQDAS, Citation Error, Distancing, Literature Genealogy, NVivo, QDAS, Qualitative Data Analysis Software, Separation, Zombie

Author Bio(s)

Kristi Jackson is an internationally recognized expert in NVivo, one of the most popular Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS). She focuses on the use of NVivo in a diverse array of health, education, public policy and corporate/commercial research projects via her role as consultant, coach, analyst, and principal investigator. She is co-author of Sage Publication’s best-selling Qualitative Data Analysis with NVivo and serves clients in almost every state in the USA. With over 25 years of experience in qualitative research design, data collection, analysis, reporting and stakeholder relations, she is also an expert in a diverse array of qualitative methodologies. Her theoretical frames tend to be sociological and her research interests include conceptualizations of qualitative research transparency and the constantly changing spaces where qualitative researchers and technologies meet. As Chair of the Special Interest Group (SIG) on Digital Tools for Qualitative Research at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, she continues to cultivate decades of collegial, international relationships with a range QDAS stakeholders. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: kjackson@queri.com.

Trena Paulus is a Professor of Qualitative Research Methods at the University of Georgia. Her areas of research include digital tools for qualitative research, language-based research methods for investigating online interaction, and collaborative qualitative inquiry. She explores how new technologies impact qualitative research methodologies, in particular how conversation and discourse analysis techniques can be used to understand computer-mediated communication environments. In addition to being an expert in ATLAS.ti, she is author of Digital Tools for Qualitative Research which shows how the research process in its entirety can be supported by technology tools in ways that can save time and add robustness and depth to qualitative work.

Nicholas Woolf is a qualitative research trainer and consultant. Since 1998 Nick has instructed several hundred ATLAS.ti workshops throughout North America and has taught graduate courses in qualitative methods at the University of Iowa and other institutions. He has served as principal data analyst for numerous qualitative research and evaluation studies in diverse areas, including family medicine, public health, education, and management studies. Nick developed the principles of the Five-Level QDA method to help researchers gain the expertise of long-term users of qualitative analysis software. His book, co-authored with Dr. Christina Silver, Qualitative analysis using ATLAS.ti: The Five-Level QDA method, with companion texts for NVivo and MAXQDA, will be published by Routledge in September, 2017.

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