Choosing a QDA Package

Choosing a qualitative data analysis (QDA) software package can be intimidating!  While all QDA software has the same basic functionality, they are not all equal.  When it comes to the cost of the software licenses, the time needed to learn the software, getting help when you run into trouble, and how well they handle the specific types of data and methods you use there can be significant differences.  This guide will compare and contrast four popular programs; NVivo, MaxQDA, Atlas.ti, and Dedoose.  While there is no “right” QDA program, this guide will help you confidently select the program that is right for you. 

All of these programs have free trial versions available for you to give it a test run before you buy. 

QDA Software Matrix

NVivo MaxQDA Atlas.ti Dedoose
Pricing/Access Available free to UW Faculty and Staff via the Campus Software Library. Available by request for SoE researchers through WCER ADS. Students and PhD candidates can purchase 6mo/24mo licenses for $47/$95. $174/year for educational subscription for faculty and staff. A free, semester-long course license is available for use in verified academic courses. Students and PhD candidates can purchase 6mo/24mo licenses for $51/$99. Students can purchase a license for $10.95/mo. Faculty and staff licenses are $14.95/mo. Discounts for small and large groups.
Learning UW Libraries provide introductory training on software basics. QSR has a variety of online training, both free and paid. MaxQDA offers many free webinars, video tutorials and manuals in a wide variety of languages (incl. Chinese, Spanish, German, Russian) Atlas.ti provides a wide variety of free webinars, from hour long introductory demos to special topics on qualitative research. Paid training on advanced topics also available. Training available in English and Spanish Dedoose has a wide variety of videos and live webinars available on their website, as well as options for one on one or small group training.
Support Direct vendor support for software and project issues available from QSR with license. Direct vendor support for software issues available from MaxQDA with license. Direct vendor support via email for technical issues. Phone and email support from vendor included in the cost of subscription.
Teamwork Desktop NVivo is a standalone program, only a single user can edit a project at a time. Merging tools can be used to manage collaboration. NVivo Server allows for real time, simultaneous editing of projects but requires a separate (expensive) license and software administration. NVivo project files are not cross-compatible between versions or between Mac and PC -- a conversion is required to use project files across platforms, which can be time consuming depending on the size of your project file. MaxQDA is a standalone program, only a single user can edit a project at a time. Merging and user access tools can be used to manage collaboration. Project files are cross compatible across Mac and PC. Mac and PC versions of MaxQDA are identical in features and file types, making this a convenient option for teams working from a variety of platforms. Atlas.ti Desktop is a standalone program, only a single user can edit a project at a time. Atlas.ti Web allows for real time collaboration in projects but is severely limited in features (can only work with text data, searching is limited to individual documents, import/export limits, etc.) Dedoose is the only QDA software with collaboration features built in with the price of the subscription-- can work with a team in real-time.
Unique Features NVivo allows for unlimited hierarchies in both data storage and coding structures. Includes robust memoing tools, including the ability to code memos. Integrates well with other applications such as EndNote, OneNote, Qualtrics, and SurveyMonkey. NCapture is a free web plugin to easily gather and import data to NVivo from web sources such as websites, Twitter, and YouTube. MaxQDA is generally considered the program with the easiest learning curve -- worth considering for those who are less comfortable with technology. Has a visually oriented interface. Includes tools for mixed-methods projects, such as code weighting. Convenient import tools for focus groups and similar transcripts, allowing for auto-coding of speakers. and other features. Robust and user friendly interface for working directly with audio and video. Atlas.ti was built with a Grounded Theory approach to analysis in mind, so is well suited for a more inductive form of code development. Features to support this include a flat coding structure, quotations as the smallest unit of analysis, and data networking. Has a mobile app for iPads and Androids for interview recording and data analysis tasks. Atlas.ti is generally considered to have a higher learning curve to proficiency. Dedoose emphasizes mixed methods and has many quantitative tools included to integrate data like demographics and quantitative survey data. Can do basic descriptive statistics and other quantitative measures within the software. Monthly subscription options make this a good low-cost option for short term projects.

For more comprehensive information on these packages and others, please see Choosing an appropriate CAQDAS package from the Computer Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Networking Project at the University of Surrey.

Additional Considerations:

  • QDA software does not actually perform the analysis of your data!! It is a tool to facilitate your analysis by helping you organize, annotate, and search your data. Regardless of what software package you choose, you, the researcher, are the primary tool of analysis!  
  • As, if not more, important as to what software you choose is how you will use it. Using your chosen program on a big screen is good, multiple screens are better! With more screen real estate, the more of your project you’ll be able to see at one time.  Having room to view your coding structure, documents, additional literature, and have space for memoing and reflection without needing to switch around between windows will streamline your analysis process.
  • When at all possible, pick the program you like the most. Sometimes the selection process is as easy as that! You’re going to spend a lot of time with the software, your happiness matters.