How to use qualitative analysis software (QDAS) for data management

Data management in qualitative software


A research project is often a big logistical undertaking, qualitative or otherwise. Through literature reviews, developing research questions, grant applications and funding, ethics/IRBs, managing co-researchers and supervisors, recruitment, collecting data from respondents, research journals, analysing data and writing up findings, there are a myriad of steps. Each will generate their own documents, data and processes that need to be managed, logged and kept for prosperity (and your review committee).


However, many people don’t realise that qualitative analysis software (like Quirkos, but others as well) and be used to manage and help keep together all the different stages of the research process. After all, they are designed to organise and make sense of unstructured text data. I’ve spoken before about how good CAQDAS/QDA software is for managing a literature or systematic review, but it can also be used to help with many of the other aspects of running a research project.


A good example is participant management. You probably have a target number of respondents to sample, and what their ideal characteristics are. As soon as they have been recruited, you will want to collect not just names and basic demographic data, but information about where and when an interview or focus group will be/was recorded, if they’ve signed and returned their ethics/permission form, and your own reflections on the session. I used to keep a separate Excel spreadsheet with all this information (password protected of course) and was constantly checking it to make sure I was recruiting a representative sample, updating interview dates, or noting reasons people dropped out.


But all this can be recorded in the project file of your qualitative analysis software! In Quirkos, you can ‘tag’ or describe your sources with any number of properties or characteristics, even when the source is empty! So you can create a source to represent each potential participant in the project, and use this to store any information you need on them. And even to remind you when you’ve scheduled an interview! You will need all this data later, so why not just input it into the computer once? You can keep any details like age or gender, whether you got their consent form back, as well as the actual data or transcript of the interview itself.


The beauty of doing it this way is that you can quickly run a query in the software to see which participants still haven’t been interviewed, to see ones that were contacted in a certain date range, or anything else. It becomes like a participant management system! You can update information here at any time, keep notes and comments to yourself, and once the data is coded see results from people that meet any number of these criteria. Want to see coded results just from people who were in a focus group in the first month of your data collection? No problem!


Quirkos will also generate graphs of your source property data, so you can see as you go along what proportion of your respondents are in a certain age range, or if there is an unequal gender distribution emerging. Give access to the project to your co-researchers or participants, and they can see this too, and suggest ways to improve sampling and recruitment as it is happening. Think of it as a master file for your research.


Since Quirkos imports the full text of your sources from the documents you import into the project file, you can keep all your research data in one place – a single file that is easy to search across, and most importantly back up. If everything is in your Quirkos project file, just copy to a USB drive, Dropbox or iCloud to make sure all your data (and ongoing analysis) is safe in multiple locations in case anything happens to your computer. No more searching for folders where you’ve hidden that missing transcript! Since the project can be password protected, you can also ensure the security and confidentiality of the data inside it.


Think of it as your own data repository, where you can keep all (or some) of your literature, data, thoughts and supporting documents, in a categorisable format so you can look at just some or all of these things that would normally be strewn across separate files on your computer.



Once you come to writing up your data, not only will you be able to quickly export interesting quotes from your data, but also tables of all the participant data (anonymised as you need to), and highlights from the literature. If you have a manual or separate system for collating this data it can be time consuming (and often a last minute panic) to creating appendices for papers or a thesis, or visualisations for presentations and posters. But if all this data is in your qualitative software project, it’s available to export with a click.


If you are able to start analysis during data collection, you can also identify gaps that you might need to fill in with more recruitment. You may analyse half your sources and discover you don’t have any comments from women under 35 on a particular topic, so you can either adjust your sampling strategy or your interview guide to make sure you cover this area!


Data management can continue during the writing up process as well. You can create codes to tag quotes that were used in particular papers or chapters to make sure you don’t use the same verbatims too often. Create codes (or bubble Quirks in Quirkos) to keep the best quotes together on any topic, and even create bubbles to represent thoughts, ideas and theories, even if no data is coded to them yet. Since Quirkos lets you move, group and colour-code codes as bubbles in the canvas area, it can also be used as a basic mind-mapping tool.


You also don’t have to actually do any coding in qualitative software: if you have all this information together, why not use it as a reading device – a place where you can keep comments and memos as you conduct your first read-throughs of your data. If you are printing out transcripts or reading data in Word and scribbling notes on the side there, they are likely to get lost or disorganised, and they can be valuable context for later understanding the data.


There’s also the other pieces of qualitative data that you might want to use the data management features of qualitative software to keep together, such as relevant literature, your own reflexive research journal (it’s great to be able to code and quickly find sections of both of these resources) but also even your grant application or original proposal. Keep cross coding to show how your data is meeting key points you’ve promised to cover, and your original predictions.



Feedback from our users tells us that project data management is one of the most important reasons that they use Quirkos, and we’ve designed the software to be as flexible as possible for all kinds of qualitative research projects. The best way to learn the software is to see it in action, or download the free trial and play with it yourself. It’s also cheap to own, and might even make your qualitative analysis and data management fun again!



Quirkos 2.1 launches with support for new exchange standard!

qualitative exchange standard launches


Today we are launching a free update for Quirkos which adds support for the new QDA-XML standard which is released publicly today for the first time. This will allow users to bring their coded project data from one qualitative software package to another, with support eventually promised from ATLAS.ti, Dedoose, f4analyse, MAXQDA, Nvivo, Transana and QDA Miner. Essentially this means that in the next year you will be able to bring your projects in and out of any of the major software packages to any other.


A large coalition of qualitative software developers (including Quirkos) have been working on this standard for several years, guided by a group of qualitative experts in the Rotterdam Exchange Format Initiative (REFI) group. A codebook exchange standard, which only allows the users to bring their coding framework into other software has been available for about a year (we wrote about the significance of it here), but the new standard will allow you to bring your sources, coded data and much more. Full details of the standard can be found on the project website, and there is a blog article with more detail here:


Only a few qualitative software packages are launching versions that support the standard today (Transana, ATLAS.ti, Quirkos), but within the next few months there will be broader support as updates are released.


In Quirkos 2.1, you can now click on Open Other in the Project welcome screen, and change the file type from Quirkos .qrk project files to select a QDPX file. This is imported as a new Quirkos project. You can also export your project to a QDPX exchange file at any time, using the Export button.


There will be some caveats: obviously different software packages only support certain features, so projects from NVivo that has video and audio data cannot be shown in Quirkos, but the codes and text sources will come in. Likewise, NVivo only supports a small number of colours for codes, and won’t be  able to show all the colours used for Quirks in Quirkos. More details of the limitations can be found on the website, and the documentation of each of the software packages. However, most users will see most of the important stuff – sources, codes and codings come smoothly across.


Quirkos 2.1 also adds support for a new light-theme, which allows users to changes the colour scheme in Quirkos from the default dark background with white text, inverted so that there is a more conventional white background with black text. For some this is more visible and readable, although we find that for long sessions staring at the screen most users prefer a dark background. Well, you now have a choice! Just go into the Project Settings and change the toggle to light theme.


Once again, there this is a free update for all Quirkos 2 users, and is available now for Windows, Mac and Linux. Just download from and install over the old version. Your project files will not be altered, and you can just keep going with your work, and now share your coded data with people using other software packages! If you haven’t tried Quirkos before, you can bring your work in from other software, and try Quirkos for free with our full 4 week trial!



Qualitative case study research

qualitative case studies

A good researcher knows that everything happens in context. It’s not just in social science, but a fundamental principle in physics – every reaction is caused by something. In studying people, communities and behaviour, we need to consider the embedded world in which they live.

In qualitative research this is always an important part of the research, but it also provides a difficult methodological question: how much of the context should be the research study? It’s obviously not possible to study the whole world and all the interactions of people and customs in it, but you also don’t want to look at one part of the puzzle in isolation.

That’s where case study research comes in. Here, you adopt a series of methodologies that are exploring the phenomenon you want to study in context (in vivo / in life) rather than in isolation (in vitro – in a glass tube). Rather than just finding individual research respondents who meet your criteria for inclusion in your study, you research a little more of the world they live in. It’s often used to look at organisations such as a school, workplace, hospital or support group. While often closely connected with ethnography, case study research doesn’t have to just use ethnographic methods.

Miles and Huberman (1994) define a case study as a phenomenon occurring in a bounded context. Of course everything happens in some sort of context, but having a specific context of study is essentially what forms the unit of analysis, and this may be an individual, an organisation, an intervention or a process.

Usually qualitative case studies employ a qualitative inquiry approach, so could have exploratory, interpretive, or descriptive questions. It’s often used with a theory testing approach, where no such case study has been done before, so new explanations are likely to be generated using phenomenology or grounded theory.

Because of the exploratory and in-depth nature of the issues tackled in case study research, it’s likely that a researcher will embed themselves in the context for a long period of time, similar to ethnography. They will get to know the people and site in great detail, usually through a lot of direct observation. Since it’s difficult to be a totally impartial fly-on-the-wall during this type of study approach, the researcher needs to not only embrace the fact that their presence will influence the data in some way (constructivism and subjectivisim) but also plan for and manage the potential impact.

Yin (2003) notes that case study research is often chosen when you cannot directly manipulate the behaviour of participants, the context is important, or it’s not clear where the context of what you are studying ends. However, the last point also contains a word of caution – to make sure that the research questions are aimed correctly, so that the research project doesn’t grow too much. Setting exactly what is the specific and interesting part of the context of the case is probably the most important factor in designing case study research.

These may also be geographical boundaries to a case, or they may cover a single site – such as one workplace rather than all branches of that office. However, it’s important to note that qualitative case study research almost always involves selective or purposeful sampling: because the number of cases are so small, it is unlikely there there is going to be a random selection process for which sites are included.

There are also comparative case studies – also called multiple or collective case studies which are used to compare phenomenon at multiple sites. However, as case studies are usually always ‘in-depth’ due to the complex interplay they are studying, it is unusual to have more than a few different case study locations, especially as each may require months or years of study.

Gaining access through ‘gate-keepers’, and earning trust from potential participants is even more important in case study research than other settings, since the researcher is likely to be embedded there for a considerable period of time, and will get privileged access to the inner workings of the context or setting. It can take a lot of work, dead-ends and patience before access is granted to the context of the case study, and researchers need to present a convincing, but realistic reason that they should be allowed to study the setting, and what participants can expect.



So what actual methods can be used in a qualitative case study? Well observation is the most obvious and commonly used: watching how people act and behave in natural settings (Mayse and Pope 1995). Here researchers will take notes, although may also record audio or video of key sessions or activities for later analysis. A research journal is a good idea – somewhere to keep the researcher’s own thoughts, comments and interpretations of the study as it goes along. This is especially important since the case study will likely take many months of work, and multiple informal observation settings.

However, it may not always be obvious to an outsider what is happening and why just by watching, so interviews and focus groups can also be used to ask questions to participants about the context and their actions. Document analysis is also important in case study research, as it can provide evidence and insight to how the context operates (such as meeting notes, internal policy) but also documents about the setting from outside, which may include media and government policy.

Reading through some examples of research based on case study research can give you an idea of what is typical, as well as the breadth of approaches and subjects. For example, a study of an organisation and management in Switzerland used a single case study approach, but was embedded for a whole year (Meissner and Sprenger 2010). A study of sport clubs for young people in Zambia used a typical multi-case study approach, looking at 5 groups over 4 months with individual interviews and field notes (Njelesani et al. 2015). Case studies can also look at virtual communities, using both online and offline approaches (Nørskov and Rask 2011).

As ever, our short blog post only opens the door to a complex topic, and further reading is always advised. In addition to the classic articles and books on case study research, especially Yin (2014) and Miles and Huberman (2013), there are two excellent overview articles: Baxter and Jack (2008) and Harrison et al. (2017) which will provide more depth and further reading (links and references below).

Considering the huge amount of notes, data and diaries that case studies generate, a simple intuitive tool to collect, manage and analyse qualitative text data would be an important consideration. Thankfully, we designed Quirkos to do just that, and you can download a free trial to see how it can help your qualitative analysis and case study research!




Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544-559.

HARRISON, Helena et al. Case Study Research: Foundations and Methodological Orientations. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 18, 2017.

Miles, Huberman and Saldana (2014), Qualitative Data Analysis
A Methods Sourcebook Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Yin, Robert K. (2018). Case study research and applications: Design and methods. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.



Memos, notes and line-by-line coding in Quirkos 2

memos and notes qualitative


One of the major updates in Quirkos 2 is the new memo system. Now you can just drag and drop a section of text to the memo column, and attach a little note to it. You can add as many notes as you like, and by clicking on them, select the section of text to add to a code/Quirk.


We went through a lot of different annotation and memo implementations when designing the memo feature, and this is the one that seems to work best. Our inspiration was the type of line-by-line coding that is common in IPA (Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis), in-vivo coding or grounded theory. Here, there is often a two-pronged approach to coding – the first read through of the data is reflecting and commenting on important parts of the text. On the next read, commonalities in the reflexive notes are used to refine these interpretations down to a smaller number of codes. Often this is done in Excel or Word in a table:


Time, Family

Time pressures from
family breakdowns

I'm a single mum with an 8
month old and a toddler
and breakfast is mayhem.


And in Quirkos this would be shown thus:


You’ll see Kathy Charmaz and others using grounded theory showing a similar layout, and we have tried to emulate this in Quirkos. So the far right of the screen has your text, and the expandable memo layout column will display your first interpretation, and you can then go further and code this to a bubble or Quirk on the canvas layout.


Previously in Quirkos people were trying to do these kind of approaches just with codes, ending up with hundreds of unmanageable bubbles filling the screen (especially if they were doing line-by-line coding and creating a code for each line!). Now there is a much better process flow, and management of the layout on the screen.


Anywhere you can see the text in Quirkos you can see the memos, and you can also view them in the reports and CSV files, which will create a spreadsheet very similar to the type shown above.


The memo function does not need to be limited to these particular analytical methods that prescribe them. Any project can use memos for multiple purposes, and we’ve tried to make the system as flexible as possible. For example, you can use memos to just note ‘not sure what this person means’ and areas you want to interpret again after reading more sources. When working with multiple people, it can also be used as a comment system for multiple authors to question and raise suggestions.


And if you want to, there is no reason to actually use the coding system and Quirks at all. Just use the memos to reflect on your analysis, without forming any categorisation. If the reductive coding model does not suit your approach, don’t use it! The memo feature means you can have all the benefits of a dedicated qualitative software tool (undo, text search, saving iterations) but there is no need to ‘code’. You can then export and print certain parts of your work at any stage, especially for writing up when dedicated tools become more useful than trying to map or attach paper-coded transcripts to the end of a thesis.


Using memos or notes to annotate a section of text, often with the intent of providing and recording an interpretation is only one type of ‘analytic writing’ that can complement and augment qualitative analysis. Another common approach is to include a reflexive ‘analysis journal’ or diary, recording the thoughts and wider interpretations of the researcher as they read through the sources. This can be useful to reflect on itself during writing up, or as a basis for deeper analysis.


I’ve long advocated for people to do this in CAQDAS software itself, using a blank source in the project for reflections or a researcher journal. Quirkos (and other software) allows you to edit and add to this source as you go along, recoding your thoughts, but also allowing you to code them. That way you can organise and structure your reflexive writing in the same way you are thinking about your data. By defining your source as a ‘diary’ or similar, you can choose whether or not to see your own musings with the research data or not. In Quirkos this is done by creating a ‘diary’ source property, and using the query to include or exclude sources that match a ‘diary’ property or a ‘data’ property.


We’ve talked about some of these approaches to qualitative analysis in previous blog posts, and these can provide a primer on some of the ways analytic writing can help qualitative research:


Using memos in qualitative analysis:


In vivo coding

Grounded theory


Finally, we’d love to hear what you think of the new memo system, how you would tweak it, and how you are using it in your own research. You can add suggestions to the forum, or Tweet about them, or send us an e-mail ( And if you want to see it in action, download the free trial, and get 4 weeks to see if it will help with your qualitative research.



10 new things in Quirkos 2.0!

new quirkos 2

This week we are releasing the first major update for Quirkos, Version 2! A huge thanks to all our beta testers who have been putting the new version to the test for the last few months, and sharing their suggestions for improvements.


While there is a lot more to come in the next year, here are 10 new things that make Quirkos more powerful and more intuitive.


1.       The new User Interface
Quirkos already has the simplest layout of any of the qualitative software packages, with a visual and colourful design that puts everything within a single click. However, we’ve had 4 years of listening to comments and suggestions, and also running training sessions, watching new users to see where they get stuck and what isn’t obvious. So we’ve made a lot of changes to the layout which should make life easier for new and existing users alike. Plus, we’ve spent a lot of time polishing the layout and colour scheme, making the design more modern and just gosh-darn handsome.

quirkos 2 screenshot

We have moved the Actions bar to the top of the screen from the left, again making the layout similar to other software, but also opening up a lot more space for the canvas (and the new memos). We’ve also tweaked the whole screen to allow for more space for your Quirks, something a lot of people have asked for. The tree view is also more compact, allowing you to see more at once, even on smaller screens. We are also keeping the dark view which has proved so popular with qualitative researchers (and their eyes) on long into-the-night coding sessions. This now has a much more consistent layout as the result of some terrific UI feedback from beta testers.


2.       The new tab bar

Source tabs have now moved to the top of the screen (in common with your favourite browsers) which makes the interface more familiar. There is also a new tab layout for the text and properties, making it much easier and more obvious when shifting between the different parts of your sources. The flow is also much more logical this way, and you can change and compare properties by tabbing through the sources just like you do with the text.


3.       Groups

There are a series of new functionalities to help users who have a large number of Quirks/themes to manage. One of the most powerful is the Groups, which replaces the levels feature. Now you can assign any Quirk to any number of Groups, allowing you flexible and comprehensive ways to group your Quirks without limit. But you can now also choose just to show some or all of the groups on the canvas, with the drop down Groups menu. Now you can work just with one set of Quirks at once (useful if you are working with multiple iterations or stages of coding) and turn the rest off and on at a click. This makes much better use of the screen, and you can also use the Query view to see results just from certain groups.


4.       Quirk search

Another much requested Quirk management feature is the quick search for quirk title. Just start typing in the box, and only Quirks that match the letters you type will be displayed. This makes finding bubbles a lot easier, and it even works for nested Quirks.




5.       Memos!

They are finally here! Now you can just drag and drop a section of your text onto the memos column and get a little note to attach your comments and thoughts. There’s no limit to their length, and you can code directly from the memo selection, allowing better support for IPA and in-vivo coding. You can see your memos in any of the overviews, reports and CSV export. More to come for this feature!


6.       Rich/styled text

A lot of work behind the scenes now means that Quirkos can support all kinds of styles in the text, like bold, underline and italic. This will help keep the nuance of your transcripts, and allow you to preserve much more information and richness from your sources, especially historical documents.


7.       Improved exports

Not only have we moved all the exports into one convenient location, they’ve all been updated. The Reports now can be saved as Word files, allowing you to edit and customise them to your heart’s content. The spreadsheet/CSV files have been simplified, but also have more detail in them now, allowing a lot more cross analysis and drilling down to the detail of your quotes and data.


8.       Source information by Quirk

A long requested feature from market research customers has been a way to drill down into the respondent data by theme. We’ve added this as a properties tab in the Quirk Overview screen – now you can see exactly how many quotes came from any type of respondents you have source properties or demographic data for. Did most people coded to this view come from a particular age range? Now you can see… Lots more to come in this area in the future.


9.        Highlights column shows Quirk name

It was already the case that hovering the mouse cursor over a stripe in the highlights column showed the name of the associated code in the bottom of the screen, but this was missed by most people. Now a floating pop-up makes it clear right next to the text.

10.  10 More little things!


    • Quirks with subcategories now show total of quotes from child quirks (in brackets)
    • Improved CSV dialogue with scroll bar

    • Fix for text search views that got stuck

    • Ability to remove projects from recently used list

    • Streamlined source import with fewer clicks

    • Each quote in the report gets a unique number – much more reliable referencing system than line numbers

    • Longer source browser lists more results

    • Simplified language across Quirkos, with less technical jargon

    • Updated introduction tutorial

    • Clearer and more consistent icon styles


There are dozens more small tweaks and fixes. But as we keep saying, this is the start of the next few years of Quirkos, and we will again be adding a lot more features as free updates over the coming months and years.

So if you want to give it a go, download from our website today, and get three weeks to try it out, even if you have tried or used Quirkos before. This is still the longest free trial offered for qualitative software, and has absolutely no restrictions. You can even get an extra week by filling in a quick feedback survey!

And for users that want to upgrade, you can do this directly on our website and get a code for unlocking Quirkos 2 sent to you instantly. The link is right here.

We will also be releasing the last update this week for Quirkos 1, version 1.6. This ensures backward and forward capability for the future, and also adds the rich text support and many small bug fixes. This is free for all existing users, and while this will be the last update for version 1, there is no expiry date on any of our licences, so you can keep using it as long as you want.

We are so excited to share this with you, it has been months and months of hard work from our developer Lorinc and myself, so we would love to hear any feedback and suggestions. And don’t forget to spread the word about how the most visual and intuitive qualitative analysis software just got a whole lot better!



Why we will release two versions of Quirkos next week


Next week we will release Quirkos 2.0 on the 31st of October! It’s our first major update in 4 years, and will not only provide a number of major new features, but also sets the platform for a lot more new things to be added in the next few years.


Actually, next week we will be releasing two versions of Quirkos: 2.0, but also a final release for the 1.x series, version 1.6. This adds rich text support, all the bug fixes and forward compatibility with version 2.0. This is because we don’t want to have a situation where anyone who wants to stay with the older version of Quirkos can’t share files back and forward with others using the new version. We hate the ‘planned obsolescence’ and forced upgrades that certain other CAQDAS software forces on their users. With Quirkos, we’ve promised to always make sure that there are no compatibility issues with new and old versions. Users can upgrade to the new version if they want the new features, but not because they feel they have no choice. For those that want to stay with the current version of Quirkos, 1.6 will be the last update, but will keep forward and backward compatibility.


But Quirkos 2 brings a lot of exciting new things. For a start, the rich text support means that you can work with a much wider variety of sources, and keep much more detail and expression from your research transcripts.
Next, the memo feature is a whole new system for annotating and commenting on your text data, which can be used with the coding system. This opens up new ways for you to interpret and analyse your data, improving support in Quirkos for approaches like in-vivo coding and IPA. There's also the new 'Groups' feature, better exports and editable reports, and ways to see your source data by Quirk.

Most obivous is the refreshed interface, developed after feedback from dozens of users. We’ve improved the look and feel of Quirkos, keeping all the major functions in the same place, while regrouping some buttons to make them more logical and easier to find. I’ll go into this a lot more in the release post next week.


If you’ve brought Quirkos in the last 3 months (from August 2018), the upgrade will be free. Just drop us an e-mail with your licence code, and we will replace it with a 2.0 licence. For existing users, we want to make upgrading as simple as possible. From next week you’ll be able to buy an upgrade from a simple order page, you just need the e-mail address or licence code associated with your previous purchase.

An upgrade will cost £260/€295/US$330 for commercial or public sector users, £140/€160/$180 for academic and charity, and £40/€46/$55 for students. We think this strikes a fair balance between supporting loyal users to get new features and continued support, with the (frighteningly) high cost of software development. Also, the features in the first release of Quirkos 2 next week are a small part of what is to come in the next few years. Come join us and help support Quirkos into the future!

Quirkos 2 Scottish Homelands Tour

homelands tour


In the run-up to the release of Quirkos 2.0, we are running a series of workshops in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh in October.


These are all interactive bring a laptop sessions, where participants can bring their own laptops and data, or use example data sets and follow along. We'll show all the basics of creating projects, bringing in text data, creating and managing codes, and exploring and exporting coded data. They are all free, and can be booked with just an e-mail to However, places are going fast, so do get in touch soon!


University of Stirling

Monday 15th October 2018, 10:30 am


Edinburgh University (Teviot)

Friday 19nd October 2018, 10:00 am


Edinburgh Napier (Sighthill)

Monday 22nd October 2018, 10:00 am


Glasgow (Central) Workshop

Tuesday 23rd October 2018, 14:00 pm



Full details are on our workshops page, but if you can't make any of these sessions in person, we are also running a free online workshop, showing the new features in the upcoming Quirkos 2:


Introducing Quirkos 2.0!

Friday 26th October, 3:00pm London/BST (10am NY/Eastern Time)


We'll have a lot more information about the next version of Quirkos on the blog soon, and we will also be appearing at a series of conferences over the next few months that will showcase Quirkos further, and give you a change to learn this simple qualitative analysis tool. We'll be at the SRA conference in London in December, the ECQI in February, and the Qualitative Health Research Network conference in London in March.


We hope to see you at one of these sessions!



Teaching qualitative analysis software with Quirkos

teaching qualitative software

It’s a new academic year, and many professors, lecturers and TAs will be reviewing their course materials and slides for this semester and beyond. Those teaching qualitative methods will also be looking at how to teach qualitative analysis, and wondering about including software as part of that process.

While qualitative analysis software is only one small part of the qualitative methods puzzle and journey, it can take a disproportionate time to teach. Sometimes there is a lack of local support for software training, which even if provided by library or IT services, may have with specific classes scheduled at times that aren’t right for certain modules and coursework deadlines. If internal training isn’t available, tutors may teach the software training session themselves, assuming they have the time and knowledge to do this. This is one reason why there are so many (often excellent) dedicated trainers for qualitative software – although these courses come with an extra price tag to consider on top of the software itself.

This is one of the main reasons we designed Quirkos – we wanted to increase the number of people able to learn qualitative analysis software. While the other tools on the market are much more powerful, this also makes them more difficult to learn, and for basic projects many of these features are not needed. For those starting out in qualitative analysis, Quirkos is perfect – a good step up from highlighters, Word or Excel, but probably simpler and more flexible than those shoehorned alternatives.

This means it’s not just easy for students to learn, it’s also easy to teach. You can download pre-prepared teaching slides for modification to your course requirements (and branding) and all our resources including video tutorials, manuals and getting started guides are all available on our website without registration. There’s a 20 minute video guide which covers all the basics, so you can show this in your class and spend the rest of the session focusing on actual analysis, rather than just learning the tools.

And since Quirkos is identical on Windows, Mac and Linux, it’s easy to teach – everything is in the same place whatever platform your students are using. This really helps the technical holdups that slow down classroom learning.

We also offer the best student licences around: around half the price of other qualitative software, but without a time limit, so young researchers can keep using Quirkos through their full post-grad studies and careers. If your university or college doesn’t have a site licence for Quirkos yet, we can also help set this up, and make sure that everyone has access to it.

If you want more information on how Quirkos works for qualitative pedagogy, read how it fits into existing qualitative curriculms here, or and article providing links to a lot of the teaching resources we have already created for educators, including example data sets that can be used in teaching.

If you are wanting to teach Quirkos this year, please get in touch with us. We can help provide free or extended trial licences for educators, and point you in the direction of resources to help prepare teaching materials. We also have real qualitative research experience in our support and help staff, so you can get good tips on qualitative teaching as well as technical support.

If you haven’t tried Quirkos before, you can also download the full version of the software, without any registration for a full month to see for yourself how simple it makes qualitative analysis. Give Quirkos a try, and find out why researchers at more than 200 universities across the world are using for their qualitative research.


Announcing Quirkos version 2!

quirkos version 2

Today we are announcing that a major new version of Quirkos is coming in September! Version 2  will offer big new features that users have requested, including memos, rich text support, new editable reports, an improved interface, and much more.


Memos are a feature that people have been requesting for a while, and we are excited to have this coming in the next version. This allows users to write notes which are attached to specific segments of your text sources. You can write long or short comments, and these can be used in approaches like IPA and in-vivo coding which were difficult to achieve in Quirkos before.


These memos are visible anywhere your text is, so you will see them connected to your text in the quotes overview, in search and query results as well. We’ve made adding and working with memos as simple and intuitive as the rest of Quirkos – jut drag and drop a section of text into the memo column to add a new memo, and type straight away. You can also toggle the memo column open and closed if you want to focus on just your text and coding at any time.


It has been nearly 4 years since we released the very first beta of Quirkos to users, and since then all our updates have been free, and kept backward and forward project compatibility. We don’t charge ongoing fees, or have licences that expire, and these options will continue into the future. For these reasons we think that Quirkos offers the fairest and best value licences for qualitative software.


While there will be a small upgrade fee for users on version 1.x wanting the extra features of 2.x, we will create a final free release for version 1 (1.6) to make sure that it will be backward and forward compatible. We never want to see a situation where people can’t share project files because they are using different versions of Quirkos, and lock their projects into an outdated version. Unlike some other qualitative software packages, we will never do this. So don’t worry: even if you don’t need the new capabilities of 2.0, you won’t be forced to upgrade because of lack of support or backward compatibility. We are qualitative researchers too, and want to minimise these headaches!


We’re also announcing that anyone that buys Quirkos from now until the release date will get a free upgrade to version 2 when it is available, an offer that also applies to anyone that brought Quirkos in July and August.


If you do want to upgrade, there will be a simple process to change your licence code and download the new version, and you will still be able to keep working with your projects without doing anything. We’ll let you know when it’s available and how much the upgrade will be for different users.


We also want to assure people about what isn’t changing in Quirkos 2. We will keep the same interface (with a few tweaks), identical compatibility with Windows, Mac and Linux versions, and all the features that were there before. We also don’t plan to add complexity to Quirkos with the new capabilities, and most people will be able to move to version 2 without getting stuck or needing training. We have thousands of dedicated users in hundreds of universities and other organisations, and keeping them happy is what keeps us going!


But version 2 allows us to work towards a new platform that enables a lot of new and exciting capabilities in the future. There are exciting technical innovations and collaborative capabilities coming in Quirkos 2 in the not too distant future, and we are really looking forward to detailing more information in the coming months. We will have more blog posts soon outlining the new things coming to Quirkos this year, and note that 2.0 is only the tip of the iceberg!


10 alternative qualitative methods

alternative qualitative methods

At the National Council for Research Methods ‘Research Methods Festival’ last month, Steve Wright (from the University of Lancaster) mentioned in his talk the frustrations he has with students that do the bog-standard ’12 semi-structured interviews’ methodology for their qualitative research projects. This prompted a lot of discussion and empathy over lunch, with many tutors lamenting how students weren’t choosing some of the more creative methods for qualitative research.

Even a lot of the popular textbooks on qualitative research only mention the basic methods, or some variants on textual data collection (eg Braun and Clarke 2013). Even if it’s not interviews of some kind, transcribed focus groups and other textual methods definitely dominate the literature. Helen Kara has a textbook specifically on Creative Methods, which is well worth a read if you are looking for inspiration. But the value of qualitative research can be magnified by choosing the right imaginative methodology, and thinking outside the box a little to redefine what we can collect and analyse as ‘data’.

This is a huge world, but I wanted to give a taster (with lots of examples) of 10 qualitative methods that can go a lot beyond the default ’12 semi-structured interviews’ and engage with participants in new and exciting ways.



OK, we’ve talked about diaries before. But there is much more to diaries than just hand written journals. You can also have audio diaries (Williamson et al 2015) and video diaries (Bates 2013). There are even diary apps for phones (Garcia et al. 2015), which can notify partipants at reguar intervals to find out what they are doing or feeling. Laura Radcliffe and Leighann Spencer gave a great talk on the challenges and advantages of diary apps at RMF 2018. Each have their own benefits and give you a different level of insight into participants lives, but for certain research, especially where you want to minimise recall issues, regular recording in one of these ways can be really useful.


Participant Photography

Although sometimes connected with diaries, getting participants to record their life through Photo Elicitation can get them to reflect on important issues, and provides a good basis for discussion. Usually you give your participants a camera (although with the ubiquity of smartphones this is rarely necessary these days) and ask them to take pictures of things that have meaning to them about your research question. This is the concept of Photo Voice, where you give your paricipants a way to express their lives and experiences pictorially. There’s a nice overview here by Harper (2002).



Many of the ‘creative methods’ focus on different ways to integrate art into research. You can basically use any medium, but the idea is often to get participants to reflect on their life experiences and create something (a drawing, clay sculpture, collage) that expresses something connected to the research. Examples include ‘Target drawings’ Tracy, et al. (2006), clay sculptures, (Or 2015), self-portraits (Esteban-Guitart et al 2016), drama and theatre (Norris 2010) or even quilting (Bacic et al. ND). There are many more listed in this presentation by Mannay (2016). This is a huge field, and always fun to see different ways people have been innovative here. However, a key part of the method is getting participants to either label and explain, or discuss with the researchers and other participants the meaning and different interpretations of their creations.


Walking methods

If your research is connected to a place, or how people experience an area, there are many interesting approaches you can do with participants while walking with them through a place and getting them to explain their world. These have various names and variations such as the ‘walking interview’ Jones et al. (2008), transecting or walking fieldwork (Goschel 2015). You can record these visually, aurally or with notes and pictures, or get participants to reflect on them afterwards.


Mapping / network diagrams

Another good tool for getting people to explore and explain their geographical area with researchers, but mapping tools can also be used to demonstrate other things, such as connections between organisations people use, social networks, or how they see connections between concepts as in mind mapping (Burgess-Allen and Owen-Smith 2010) . There is pictorial narrative mapping Lapum et al. 2015 (which is more like some of the artistic reflection techniques above), body mapping which can be used to show pain (Mukherjee 2002), or getting local people to create and label a map of their area.


Secondary Analysis

To some, this may seem even more boring than just doing qualitative interviews, but secondary analysis of other sources of data can be really interesting and insightful, and avoids a lot of practical and ethical issues. You can do document, media or social media analysis or even re-analyse someone’s existing dataset to see if it can reveal something about a different research question. There’s some more advice on our post here.


Games and activities

When you do focus groups, don’t just facilitate dry discussion: use games and fun activities to get your participants engaged and sharing. You can use sorting and ranking exercises with cards you make with each card representing a part of the research. You can get people to discuss photos, newspaper articles, made up stories about a controversial issues or flip-charts where you get people to come up with ideas or answer difficult questions. Get people to move: show how strongly they agree with a statement by standing at different positions along a line. In each of these situations, the data can be either the outcome (where people stand / what people share) or the discussion that ensures. There’s a whole book of tips and tricks for making focus groups more interesting (and successful): Participatory Workshop (Chambers 2002).


Participatory research

This isn’t always a method in itself, but in some situations it can be really valuable to include participants in the data collection or analysis. In some paradigms they can be seen as the real experts of their own lived experiences, or an ‘insider’ can be a useful co-researcher. Often they are able to make sure that the most relevant questions are being asked, can act as gatekeepers to other participants that might be difficult to reach, or will have their own interpretations of the data that can challenge researchers. It also can shift the power dynamic away from binary researcher and researched. Much more on our blog post on participatory research.


Observation / Ethnography

If you have the time to deeply engage with an organisation or a group of people, researchers can become embedded in their research subject with ethnography or participant observation. Usually a researcher will spend weeks, months or even years watching and learning a research context first hand, and it can give very detailed data and understanding. However, there are shorter variations of observation or ‘rapid ethnographies’ (Vindrola-Padros and Vindrola-Padros 2017) which can be a great complement to other qualitative research methods: verifying and expanding on other sources of data.



Now, this again might seem a bit boring, but I think surveys are often overlooked as a qualitative research method. There are a good way to reach out to lots of people, online, in person or by post, and you can be a lot more creative with questions. Get people to explain what they see in a picture. Use one word to express how you feel about something.  Use emoji’s or get people to rate or rank statements. Ask questions about identity in different ways: which Disney princess do you most associate with, and why? Leave space for lots of open ended answers, but choose creative and engaging questions to get people to think and reflect.


Hopefully this post has inspired you to consider or even try out some different qualitatve methods that differ from the normal boring ones. The key with all these is to consider what exactly will constitute the data you collect, and then how you will analyse it. For data that comes back to text or transcripts, Quirkos can be a fun and engaging way to help you analyse differently as well. Give the free trial a go, and see how it makes qualitative analysis a visual method!




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