Qualitative Data Analysis - Recommendations?

I am considering what software tools would help me in analyzing/organizing excerpts from academic literature.

Qualitative Data Analysis software seems to be the term for the genre.

DeDoose seems well-designed on their website and reasonably priced, but when using it briefly it does not seem to be designed to modern Mac standards and may be a bit buggy in that regard.

Atlas.TI, MaxQDA, and NVivo seem to be the major players - expensive but apparently well-done and respected.

Any thoughts/recommendations on pros and cons of these or others?

I’ve been using MAXQDA for several years, and I love it. UI is a little bit too Windowish, but besides it there is nothing I can complain about (ok there is one more thing, if you have M1 Mac you still have to run this app through Rosetta). Nevertheless I think there are better and cheaper tools for “analysing/organising excerpts” than QDA software e.g. Devonthink.

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I always use MAXQDA so I can’t say too much the other two CAQDAS. I have no probs with MAXQDA on my MBP.

Here are some comments on MAXQDA I left in other thread

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Interesting observation

I am a complete fan of Devonthink, run a Devonthink server for my staff to help with document management in my consulting practice, and have 3 Devonthink windows open at all times on my main computer.

That said, I think Devonthink works best on the concrete level of organizing documents. I don’t think its strength is in the more abstract level of managing ideas. Maybe there is a better way of phrasing that - but ultimately I think document management and QDA are different but compmlementary concepts.

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I use NVivo, which is excellent. It’s simple to use, powerful and fast. Also works fine on the M1.

Not cheap though.

Am I correct that the Report Generator feature is only for the Windows version? Do you not need that feature?

I recently went on a journey with respect to this. Devonthink, as someone else mentioned, is great for aggregating documents; I really wanted it to work for my QDA needs but it was much better for collection & storage than the more granular analysis phase.

Dedoose seems good, but after a friend of mine had catastrophic data loss with them in years past I have been pretty suspicious of it; I know they have beefed up their infrastructure but it makes me wary. With the other big three, I think it mostly comes down to preference, norms in your discipline, and price (they’re all expensive, but depending on which license you get there may be significant differences). I suspect depending on your needs (collaboration, for example, means you’ll need to have a team using the same one as you) and UI preferences you’ll naturally gravitate towards one. Having tried them all very recently I’d say that Atlas.ti was the most aesthetically-pleasing and Mac-y for me, and I felt like the UI was most intuitive for my needs. That said, so many of the people I work with use NVivo that I may end up having to go with that even though I didn’t love working with it. (As powerful as it is, I just preferred Atlas!)

I did try out some of the open source options and felt that none were quite robust enough, but that’s changing and I’m hopeful that in a few years they will be as full-featured as these others.

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I also use MaxQDA but am consistently annoyed by its reliance on FoxKit for PDFs rather than native Mac PDF libraries. I need to decide at the outset whether a doc is going in MaxQDA or not, or else redo a lot of annotation work.

Other annoyances here:


I posted a lot else there but it seems to all be ignored by the development team.

BTW my grad students and colleagues love it.

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Do you mean Smart Publisher? It’s also available on Mac version. But I never use it…
Also, I agree that

I always want to test different CAQDAS packages, compare them and finally find out the very software that suits me best. But I don’t have time to do this, especially all my thesis data is in MAXQDA. I hope I can do the review after my thesis is done.

Agreed re: trying several

I have played with the trials of NVivo, MaxQDA, and Atlas.TI and will purchase one of them when done.

So far MaxQDA seems to be the best at handling large PDF files (which I need). Most notably, MaxQDA seems to be the only one which can easily import data from websites, which is a notable distinguishing feature.

So I suspect I will go with MaxQDA but I am still comparing.

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If your use case is light, you may be able to use Obsidian. I’ve just posted a guide to how I used an Obsi vault to conduct Grounded Field Theory analysis of 1900+ survey responses:


this looks really interesting….may have convinced me to download Obsidian again.

Update: done - set it up per your directions. The big disadvantage I see is that to get paragraph-level coding, you’ll need to put every paragraph in its own file, which is going to involve some extra work (though it’s quite easy if you split your doc in Scrivener or Ulysses before putting it into the system). But it’s still pretty cool…

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@rkaplan Could you describe your intended workflow a bit? What are the major requirements for you, or what are the must-have/nice-to-have features that you‘re looking for when trying to organize/analyze excerpts from your academic literature? Thanks!

For me what is most important is to be able to create issues and then related to those list URL links to related citations along with some text explaining how that item supports or refutes the issue at hand. And then for that summary of issues/links/annotations to be created in as flexible/customizable way as possible so I can use it in a report or blog or book or ebook or all of the above.

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That’s a great point. The Note Composer plugin could be used to make this less tedious, allowing paragraph-level coding as necessary:


(It didn’t exist when I first set up the environment above!)

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Thanks, @rkaplan, for the description. From your description it sounds as if a PKM solution (such as the great Obsidian kit by @ryanjamurphy mentioned above) could be made to work for such a workflow as well.

I’d also be interested to eventually make my own app work for such a workflow. It sounds as if the basic pieces are already there, such as built-in support for citations, and linking to citations & annotations, as well as link types to describe the nature of a link (“refutes”, “supports”, etc) – and a graph visualizing these links / relationships. Better support for the creation of summary notes / outlines and comprehensive export options would still be missing, though. Anyways, I’ll keep this in mind, thank you!

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Agreed - looks like a very interesting and well-done project by @ryanjamurphy - I will take a look

Thanks to you both

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Interesting writeup, Ryan. The DataView plugin is compelling. Recoding could be tedious—do you know of a way to do that in bulk or to use a keyboard shortcut to flip through all backlinks to a code?

Do you mean editing a code? If so, you can just open the code’s file and retitle it—Obsidian will propagate the change throughout the vault.