Purpose: To explore the use of computer-based qualitative data analysis software packages.
Scope: The advantages and capabilities of qualitative data analysis software are described and concerns about their effects on methods are discussed.
Findings: Advantages of using qualitative data analysis software include being freed from manual and clerical tasks, saving time, being able to deal with large amounts of qualitative data, having increased flexibility, and having improved validity and auditability of qualitative research. Concerns include increasingly deterministic and rigid processes, privileging of coding, and retrieval methods; reification of data, increased pressure on researchers to focus on volume and breadth rather than on depth and meaning, time and energy spent learning to use computer packages, increased commercialism, and distraction from the real work of analysis.
Conclusions: We recommend that researchers consider the capabilities of the package, their own computer literacy and knowledge of the package, or the time required to gain these skills, and the suitability of the package for their research. The intelligence and integrity that a researcher brings to the research process must also be brought to the choice and use of tools and analytical processes. Researchers should be as critical of the methodological approaches to using qualitative data analysis software as they are about the fit between research question, methods, and research design.