ICT and the Research Process: Issues Around the Compatibility of Technology with Qualitative Data Analysis


  • Kathryn A. Roberts Edge Hill College of Higher Education
  • Richard W. Wilson Sheffield University




qualitative data analysis, information and communication technology, interpretive tasks, mechanistic tasks, phenomenology, philosophy of research


This paper explores the nature of qualitative data and the uneasy relationship it holds with computer-aided analysis. Qualitative research produces data that are rich and voluminous, shedding light on the lived experience of the "being-in-the-world" and the interactions inherent in complex social phenomena. Analysis of such data, however, is complex and time consuming in addition to which there is a lack of specific guidance on how to carry it out. The authors note that the philosophy underpinning information and communication technology (ICT) is not wholly compatible with that which underpins qualitative research. ICT is based largely on logical, objective and quantifiable procedures whereas qualitative research requires a more subjective, interpretative stance and seeks to explore meaning. On this understanding of the philosophies involved it is argued that the role of computer software in qualitative data analysis is limited. It is accepted that the mechanistic tasks of qualitative data analysis, for example, organising, storing, reproducing and retrieving data, can be undertaken more efficiently and systematically using ICT than manually. It is the creative and interpretive stages of qualitative data analysis, requiring human reflection and understanding, which are most difficult to reconcile with the application of ICT. The paper also discusses in some detail the use of NVivo software which supports the searching and coding of qualitative data and also has facilities for theory development and exploration. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0202234


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Author Biographies

Kathryn A. Roberts, Edge Hill College of Higher Education

Dr. Kathryn ROBERTS gained her first degree from York University in Social Policy and Administration. Her PhD is from Lancaster University. She has been working on health services research and evaluation for the past eight years. Her particular interests are in qualitative research approaches and developments in this area. She also teaches on Evidence Based Practice and degree courses to health and social care professionals.

Richard W. Wilson, Sheffield University

Richard WILSON is a Research Fellow employed by the Trent Institute of Health Services Research and based in the School of Health and Related Research at Sheffield University. Originally from a nursing background he has been working in health research since 1995. He is interested in the philosophy and sociology of science and its application to developments in health and social research.




How to Cite

Roberts, K. A., & Wilson, R. W. (2002). ICT and the Research Process: Issues Around the Compatibility of Technology with Qualitative Data Analysis. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-3.2.862