The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

All for an ordered life

Christopher Hahn's latest book, Doing Qualitative Research Using Your Computer, is comprehensive, says Andrew Therkelsen, but is it useful?

Any book about market research that opens with a quote from Immanuel Kant takes itself way too seriously. Furthermore, you probably know that it is likely to grapple with themes and ideas that are way over your head, and leave you feeling like your time would probably have been better spent having a cup of tea and a bit of a lie down.

Perhaps my initial scepticism is misplaced, though. In fact, wasn't it Kant who expounded the theory that quallies could use computers for much more than just hammering out toplines in Word and rotating a getty image in PowerPoint? This is certainly the position adopted by Christopher Hahn in his latest book.

In fact, Hahn, who fascinatingly is the President of Qualitative Research Coding and Analysis, has gone so far as to suggest that if we weren't such a disorganised and chaotic species, our findings would be sharper and our lives would be so much easier.

So, enter the sleepy and much maligned duo of Microsoft Access and Excel, now awake after years of abuse and neglect, champing at the bit to help us deliver razor sharp insight.

The premise of the book is about how to organise ourselves and our data using readily available Microsoft products. Chapter 3 — organising and controlling your research through strategies for file names and folder organisation. Chapter 4 — Back up your data (!). All relatively basic stuff, but a good reminder of how programs like this should be used in order to save time and frustration.

Chapter 5 — Collecting Data. Useful if you write your own transcripts or subsequently have trouble finding the files. And the piece de resistance, Chapter 6. Coding. Transcripts. To within an inch of their lives.

Don't get me wrong. This is a very comprehensive manual. This is a "how to" use all those things that you sometimes see and avoid clicking on them because you have no idea what they do. Like macros. And MS Access. The accompanying online resource is also very good, and certainly helps as a quick reference guide.

But one has to question whether this makes analysis easier, and the output more strategic, or actually more complicated, and potentially more convoluted. By Chapter 7, when I was asked to create a "binomial cryptogram", I had my answer.

Ted Gaiser from Boston College recommends this book by saying "I can't name another book of this type on the market". Well, as Dragons Den has taught us, that's not always a good thing. If, however, you have serious amounts of time and a significant interest in digital organisation, then there is a distinct possibility that this book could really help.

 

Andrew Therkelsen
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2008