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 pressures from
|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:
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.