Updated: Jan 16, 2020
Dr Pat Bazeley is a renowned qualitative and mixed-methods methodologist with several decades experience in using and teaching qualitative software, and dozens of publications on the topic. She gave the keynote at the MAXQDA International Conference in February 2019. Here she reviews our textbook: Qualitative Analysis using MAXQDA: The Five-Level QDA Method.
Anyone who has tried it will tell you that documenting software is a nightmare, like aiming to shoot a moving target. Woolf and Silver have taken the wise step of focusing their documentation on asking qualitative researchers to first consider the strategies they might be want to use to analyse their data, ahead of the learning about the tools that can assist them in carrying out those strategies.
All too often in software training, focus is placed on the tools and what they can do, leaving students to wonder why some of these are relevant, unable to adapt the tools to suit their own purposes once the training is finished, and unable to cope if the tools are updated by the software developer.
If an analyst focuses on strategies, then learning the tools becomes a matter of logical application – perhaps even exciting discovery as she discovers just how the software can assist her aims, and occasionally a delight as she finds the software developers have created an interesting way to look at data that she had not thought of herself (but on seeing it, can immediately recognise how it might be useful).
The approach Woolf and Silver have taken is to be applauded in the context of training new (qualitative) researchers, among whom might be those who have the delusion that using software will magically solve all their analytical problems. The difficulty is that, because of their obvious concern for precision and consistency in language used and for careful explanation, their quite lengthy explanation of their approach in the first few chapters becomes somewhat repetitive.
Perhaps I’m biased, being already well versed in qualitative methods and in using software (but with a different program), whereas those new to either methods or software, or both, need the constant reinforcement. Perhaps I could have just glanced through the first few chapters to get a sense the authors’ approach, but then jumped into Chapter 5, where the tasks that could be accomplished using the various tools provided by MAXQDA (the particular program I needed to learn) are laid out. Even then, however, I found I still needed to go to the program’s online manual to see how the less-intuitive mechanics of some of the tools worked – Chapter 5 also focuses more on principles than “clicks” (although these too are demonstrated in the accompanying videos on the companion website).
No text can be totally comprehensive in covering both principles and tools for a complex analysis program – at least, not without becoming a very weighty tome. Nor should it need to be, as qualitative software programs generally are well supported with documentation in the form of help files and videos. Woolf and Silver’s choice to focus on theory and principles is therefore perhaps the more wise approach for equipping the next generation of qualitative software users. Do expect, however, to need to draw on other the companion website and perhaps other resources as well when using this book.
Pat Bazeley, 24th June 2019