Methodological Tool or Methodology? Beyond Instrumentality and Efficiency With Qualitative Data Analysis Software


  • Pengfei Zhao Indiana University Bloomington
  • Peiwei Li Lesley University
  • Karen Ross University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Barbara Dennis Indiana University Bloomington



qualitative data analysis software (QDAS), validity, methodological decision-making, reflection, technology, collaboration, Dedoose, inter-rater reliability


Qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) has become increasingly popular among researchers. However, very few discussions have developed regarding the effect of QDAS on the validity of qualitative data analysis. It is a pressing issue, especially because the recent proliferation of conceptualizations of validity has challenged, and to some degree undermined, the taken-for-granted connection between the methodologically neutral understanding of validity and QDAS. This article suggests an alternative framework for examining the relationship between validity and the use of QDAS. Shifting the analytic focus from instrumentality and efficiency of QDAS to the research practice itself, we propose that qualitative researchers should formulate a "reflective space" at the intersection of their methodological approach, the built-in validity structure of QDAS and the specific research context, in order to make deliberative and reflective methodological decisions. We illustrate this new framework through discussion of a collaborative action research project.



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Author Biographies

Pengfei Zhao, Indiana University Bloomington

Pengfei ZHAO, M.A., is a PhD candidate in Inquiry Methodology Program at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research takes three directions: philosophical foundations of critical qualitative research, digital technology and its implication for qualitative inquiry, socialization and identity formation in the context of drastic social change.

Peiwei Li, Lesley University

Peiwei LI, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and the research coordinator of the Counseling Psychology Psy.D. Program at Springfield College, Massachusetts. As a methodologist, her primary interests are in the area of critical qualitative inquiry methodology as informed by critical theory. As a counseling psychologist, she is passionate about culture, diversity, and social justice in both her research and clinical practice.

Karen Ross, University of Massachusetts Boston

Karen ROSS, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of conflict resolution at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her primary interests lie at the conceptual and methodological intersection of education, dialogue, peacebuilding, and social change. In particular, she is concerned with questions about how (and by whom) "impact" can and should be defined and measured.

Barbara Dennis, Indiana University Bloomington

Barbara DENNIS, Ph.D., is an associate professor of qualitative inquiry in the Inquiry Methodology Program at Indiana University. She has broad interests in the critical theory and methodological practices intentionally focused on eliminating sexism and racism from cultural ways of knowing and being.




How to Cite

Zhao, P., Li, P., Ross, K., & Dennis, B. (2016). Methodological Tool or Methodology? Beyond Instrumentality and Efficiency With Qualitative Data Analysis Software. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 17(2).



FQS Debate: Quality of Qualitative Research

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