Include qualitative analysis software in your qualitative courses this year

teaching qualitative modues


A new term is just beginning, so many lecturers, professors and TAs are looking at their teaching schedule for the next year. Some will be creating new courses, or revising existing modules, wondering what to include and what’s new. So why not include qualitative analysis software (also known as CAQDAS or QDA software)?


There’s a common misconception that software for qualitative research takes too long to teach, and instructors often aren’t confident themselves in the software (Gibbs 2014), leading to a perception that including it in courses will be too difficult (Rodik and Primorac 2015). It’s also a sad truth that few universities or colleges have support from IT departments or experts when training students on CAQDAS software (Blank 2004).


However, we have specifically designed Quirkos to address these challenges, and make teaching qualitative analysis with software simpler. It should be possible to teach the basics of qualitative analysis, as well as provide students with a solid understanding of qualitative software in a one or two hour seminar, workshop or lecture. One of the main aims with Quirkos was to ensure it is easy to teach, as well as learn.


With a unique and very visual approach to coding and displaying qualitative data, Quirkos tries to simplify the qualitative analysis process with a reduced set of features and buttons. This means there are fewer steps to go over, a less confusing interface for those starting qualitative analysis for the first time, and fewer places for students to get stuck.


To make teaching this as straightforward for educators as possible, we provide free ready-to-use training materials to help educators teach qualitative analysis. We have PowerPoint slides detailing each of the main features and operations. These can be adapted for your class, so you can use some or all of the slides, or even just take the screenshot images and edit the specifics for your own use.


Example qualitative data sets are available for use in classes. There are two of these: one very basic set of people talking about breakfast habits and a more detailed one on politics and the Scottish Independence Referendum. With these, you can have complete sources of data and exercises to use in class, or to set a more extensive piece of homework or practical assessed project.


We also provide two manuals as PDF files that can be shared as course materials or printed out. There is a full manual, but also a Getting Started guide which includes a step-by-step walkthrough of basic operations, ideal for following in a session. Finally, there are video guides which can be shown as part of classes, or included in links to course materials. These range in length from 5 minute overviews to 1 hour long detailed walkthroughs, depending on the need.


There is more information in our blog post on integrating qualitative analysis software into existing curriculums, but it’s also worth remembering that there is a one month free trial for yourself and students. The trial version has all the features with no restrictions, and is identical for students working on Windows, Mac or even Linux.


However, if you have any questions about Quirkos and how to teach it, feel free to get in touch. We can tell you about others using Quirkos in their classes, some tips and tricks and any other questions you have on comparing Quirkos to other qualitative analysis software.  You can reach us on Skype (quirkos), email ( or by phone during UK office hours (+44 131 555 3736). We’ll always be happy to set up a demo for you: we are all qualitative researchers ourselves, so are happy to share our tips and advice.


Good luck for the new semester!


Qualitative coding with the head and the heart

qualitative coding head and heart


In the analysis of qualitative data, it can be easy to fall in the habit of creating either very descriptive, or very general theoretical codes. It’s often a good idea to take a step back, and examine your coding framework, challenging yourself to look at the data in a fresh way. There are some more suggestions for how to do this in a blog post article about turning coding strategies on their head. But while in Delhi recently to deliver some training on using Quirkos, I was struck by a couple of exhibits at the National Museum which in a roundabout way made me think about coding qualitative data, and getting the balance right between analytical and emotional coding frameworks.


There were several depictions of Hindu deities trampling a dwarf called Apasmāra, who represented ignorance. I loved this focus of minimising ignorance, but it’s important to note that in Hindu mythology, ignorance should not be killed or completely vanquished, lest knowledge become too easy to obtain without effort.


Another sculpture depicted Yogini Vrishanna, a female deity that had taken the bull-head form. It was apparently common for deities to periodically take on an animal head to prevent over-intellectualism, and allow more instinctive, animalistic behaviour!


I was fascinated between this balance being depicted between venerating study and thought, but at the same time warning against over thinking. I think this is a message that we should really take to heart when coding qualitative data. It’s very easy to create coding themes that are often far too simple and descriptive to give much insight in the data: to treat the analysis as purely a categorization exercise. When this happens, students often create codes that are basically an index of low-level themes in a text. While this is often a useful first step, it’s important to go beyond this, and create codes (or better yet, a whole phase of coding) which are more interpretive, and require a little more thinking.


However, it’s also possible to go too far in the opposite direction and over-think your codes. Either this comes from looking at the data too tightly, focusing on very narrow and niche themes, or from the over-intellectualising that Yogini Vrishanna was trying to avoid above. When the researcher has their head deeply in the theory (and lets be honest this is an occupational hazard for those in the humanities and social sciences), there is a tendency to create very complicated high-level themes. Are respondents really talking about ‘social capital’, ‘non-capitalocentric ethics’ or ‘epistemic activism’? Or are these labels which the researcher has imposed on the data?


These might be the times we have to put on our imaginary animal head, and try to be more inductive and spontaneous with our coding. But it also requires coding less from the head, and more from the heart. In most qualitative research we are attempting to understand the world through the perspective of our respondents, and most people are emotional beings, acting not just for rational reasons.


If our interpretations are too close to the academic, and not the lived experiences of our study communities, we risk missing the true picture. Sometimes we need a this theoretical overview to see more complex trends, but they should never be too far from the data in a single qualitative study. Be true to both your head and your heart in equal measure, and don’t be afraid to go back and look at your data again with a different animal head on!


If you need help to organise and visualise all the different stages of coding, try using qualitative analysis software like Quirkos! Download a free trial, and see for yourself...


10 tips for sharing and communicating qualitative research

sharing qualitative research data

Writing up and publishing research based on qualitative or mixed methods data is one thing, but most researchers will want to go beyond this, and engage with the wider public and decision makers. This requires a different style of publication, and a different style of writing. We are not talking about journal articles, funders reports, book chapters or a thesis here, but creating short, engaging and impactful summaries of your research that anyone can read and share. Research that just sits on a shelf doesn't change the world!


The aim here is primarily outreach and impact – making sure that your research is read and has applications beyond academia, especially to the general public and decision makers. These could be local or national government, NGOs, funding bodies or service providers. It may even be that your research has implications for a particular group of people, for example those with a particular health condition, demographic group, or work in a certain field. There’s also the increasingly common expectation to should share results with participants.


Generally speaking, outputs and reports for these groups of people should be short and use non-technical language: it’s not enough to just provide with a copy of your thesis or a journal article. Those are almost always written for a very specific audience, academics, and are difficult to read for the general public. Outside academia, most don’t have access to journals which often require subscriptions, and some government departments have cut down on library services in these areas.


In the research I’ve been involved with, we’ve even created short summaries of our research for GPs, clinicians, and health managers: people who are certainly familiar with journal articles, but rarely have the time to read them. It became clear in our discussions with people we were trying to engage with that one page summaries were the best format to get findings read.


It sounds like a lot of extra work at the end of a research project on top of publications, but this can be just as important, possibly even an ethical requirement. Some funding boards and IRBs require the creation of research outputs for lay audiences.


There are plenty of guides to help with writing up qualitative data for articles and book chapters (eg Ryan 2006), but what about writing up qualitative research for non-academic audiences? I’ve written about the challenges of explaining qualitative data before, but these tips below contain more specific advice on creating short, engaging summaries for the general public. They also provide prompts to make you think about promoting your research so it is read by more people, and has more impact.


1. Create specific outputs for each audience

It maybe that there are different groups of people you want to reach: the general public, politicians, or experts in a particular field. Consider creating several short outputs targeted at each one. A short summary written for a lay audience might not have the level of detail a government body would want to see, and you might also want to highlight findings which are interesting to certain readers.


Think about the different groups of people you want to engage with, and draw up a list of what outputs would work best for each one. These don’t have to be written either, it could be a coffee morning, presenting at a meeting, or a short video. Choose a format that works best for each type of audience, and the most important message to get across to each.


2. Link to topical issues

Qualitative research often takes a very in-depth approach to a specific research question, but this depth also means that it can engage with wider but connected themes. It maybe that your research is already on something topical, such as diet or social media. But there maybe important local issues your research can feed into, or wider problems that your research project illustrates a small part of. Engaging with a currently trending issue can not only get more views, but hopefully improve the quality of debate.


Where possible, try and consider issues that are not just part of a short-term media cycle, but are longer trends likely to come up again and again, such as house prices or obesity. It’s not necessary to twist your main finding to make them fit, just find a relevant connection.


3. Tell the story

I think this is the key to communicating qualitative data. People engage with stories about people better than they do with cold reports and statistics. That is why media tends to focus on individual politicians and celebrities more than their policies or what they do, and is also a better way to retain information. Give your stories context and causality (because of this, that happened to this person), and you are following the same basic rules for good storytelling that scriptwriters and novelists follow.


While you can take this in very creative directions, for example creating an animated video story based on one of your participants, it maybe that a box containing a case study is enough to provide a report with illuminating context. Stories are the most powerful part of qualitative research, make sure you use them!


4. Make them visual, and beautiful

People are more likely to pick up and engage with visual outputs, and pictures or other visual elements help people understand and associate with the findings. Try not to rely on generic clip-art or stock photos, choose images that are unique and specific to your work. If it’s not appropriate to include pictures of respondents or the local area, consider talking to artists or photographers that could create or let you use something more abstract.


It’s also important to consider how a research output looks: a written report shouldn’t just be a wall of long text, make sure it is broken up, and has plenty of white-space. It may even be worth getting a designer involved: this often doesn’t cost too much, but can make the output look a lot more professional, tempting to pick up and easier to follow. The same goes for presentations and events too!


Think about creating visualisations of your qualitative data, rather than just a series of quotes. Qualitative analysis software can help with this by making things like word-clouds or visualisations of important findings and connections in the research. Quirkos tries to make visualisations like this easy to understand and export, so check out the rest of the website to see how it can help with qualitative analysis.


5. Explain the methods (but briefly)

When presenting qualitative data, you should consider the fact that many people aren’t familiar with qualitative research or the methods you might have used. Those more used to quantitative data (especially in the public sector) might consider that your sample size is too small, or your research findings aren’t rigorous enough. It can be worth pre-empting these criticisms, but not by being apologetic. Don’t just say that ‘this is a limited study’ or ‘further research is needed’, be positive about the depth of your investigation, how commonly used your methods are, and if appropriate show how your work contradicts with or supports other research.


Have a short section describing your research methods, but don’t provide too much detail. If the reader is interested in this, provide a way for them to read more somewhere else, for example a publication or a project website. It’s better to tease the reader and make them want more, rather than providing too much detail in the first place. Speaking of which:


6. Stay away from the academic debates

Generally, this is not the place for debates on epistemology, ontology or what other academics are saying in the field. While it is sometimes possible to explain these issues with non-technical language, it is probably not something that this audience is interested in.


This can be hard if your research question was specifically focused around, say, a Foucauldian interpretation of language used to reviews of artisan coffee shops, but focus on the findings that are of interest to the general public. This is why just creating a summary of a journal article or full report generally doesn’t work well for a general output.


7. Write for others

Writing a popular output is one thing, but finding  readers is hard. So why not find channels that already engage with the group of people you want to reach, and write for them instead. This could be a popular blog on a health condition, a trade magazine or even something for the popular press. Approach these people and ask if they would be interested in a piece about your research, stressing why it would be interesting to their readers. Some are glad for the opportunity to have something to fill space, and if you can demonstrate relevance to a topical issue, journalists might get involved as well.


If you are considering going down the media route, your university may have a press office that could help create press releases, and suggest the right editors and provide training to researchers on being interviewed on radio or TV. Just make sure that the outreach is serving your agenda, not just promoting the university or trying to spark controversy.


Look for relevant events you could present at such as workshops and conferences, since these can be targeted at professionals like health workers, not just academics.



8. Promote your outputs

It’s not good enough to create a report, stick it on your own website and forget about it. You need to promote your outputs and make sure that people can find them. Promotion should also be audience specific: where are my readers, and what do they already engage with? If you are running an event, should you have posters in cafés, or an advert in the local paper?


If you have a project website, this needs to be promoted too. Make sure people can find it if they are searching for issues around your research, and ask other websites in the area to put in a link to your web page. Keywords are important too: what searches are your readers going to make? It’s probably not “qualitative research on peer support for cancer” but “support groups for cancer”. Make sure the right terms appear on your website and as the heading for your outputs.


9. Make them long-term accessible

A one off event or report is great, but only can target people currently looking to engage with your research. Policy makers change year after year, and with health issues, new people will be diagnosed all the time and will look for information.


If you have a project website, you need to consider a long-term strategy for it: make sure it is accessible for a long period of time, and can be updated. The right people should have physical copies of reports, that way they can access them later. There also might be good places to keep distributing summaries, like libraries, community centres or GP surgeries.


It’s also worth coming back to your project and promoting it after a period of time. This is difficult in academia where funding is research and time limited, but set aside a one and two year anniversary and spend time reaching out to new people. Impact and engagement is important in academia, and a fresh attempt at reaching out after a period of time can dramatically increase the number of people reached.



10. Don’t forget social media!

Social media can be a good way to promote your research, as it is fairly easy to find people from the right audience. They may be following a particular person in the field, or declare an interest in a relevant hobby or workplace. Try Linkedin to contact people working in a certain field, or Facebook for getting out to the general public.


However, it is also possible to share findings in social media too. A Tweet is a very small amount of text for a qualitative research project, but is enough to tease a finding and provide a link containing more information. You can also create outputs in the form of infographics, pictures and video which people can share with others.


Creative and varied outputs are more likely to get general engagement, so experiment: make your materials fun and stand out from the crowd to get the word out!