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Review: 3 Key Advantages to Using ATLAS.ti for Literature Reviews

In beginning to tackle my Master’s thesis on educational technology acquisition in Ontario’s publicly-funded school districts, I knew I wanted to use a software program to handle my data as opposed to hovering over stacks of paper. This preference extended beyond just manipulating the data for coding purposes, but also as a means of staying organized and efficient. I went out into the market and found a few strong candidates, but ATLAS.ti stood head and shoulders above the competition. As a qualitative data analysis tool, ATLAS.ti consolidates large volumes of documents and can support multi-method, multi-user projects across space and time. The product is both available for Mac OS X and Windows machines and student licenses begin at approx. US $35 for a 6 month (semester) license or US $65 for a 2-year license (which I opted for). There is also an accompanying iPad/Android app (which I have yet to find a real use for), and (free) online training webinars that run frequently. Nonetheless, this is definitely the most competitive price going for a software of this capability. But does it live up to the hype?
While I have yet to use it for formal data analysis, I have used the software extensively to conduct my literature review. It’s highly functional and easy to use. This product offers some key features that I strongly urge fellow grad students to take advantage of:
1) Allows you to import text in PDF (native), Doc, Docx, Txt, Rtf formats, images (jpg and png), audio, video and provides you with a Document (Group) Manager to organize these uploads. This is incredibly useful when you are working with a conceptual framework that is multi-faceted and requires an examination of different themes/theories/topics.
Coding video and audio snippets via ATLAS.ti
2) Once uploaded, specific lines of text can be highlighted and coded with your cursor and are automatically exported to your Quotation Manager. It is here where you can specifically see the different themes or categories present in a single document and the amount of quotations you have for each code. Simple things like keeping track of how many documents contain a certain code related to your research would be painstakingly difficult if you were working exclusively in paper format.
3) Finally, ATLAS.ti’s best feature is its ability to search for text within previously highlighted codes. Sometimes researchers are left with codes and groups in the hundreds and the search for information you previously were interested in becomes that much harder. Running this software eliminates time that would have previously been spent shuffling through papers and trying to make out your own handwriting. Furthermore, Memo and Note features allow the researcher to document their thoughts as soon as they emerge (i.e. what they gained from reading the source and/or what they intend do with it).
Coding text and images simultaneously via ATLAS.ti
It may not work for some, but ATLAS.ti definitely works for me. The element of organization and structure it provides is much needed as I tend to work on-the-fly. The days of figuring out what I scribbled in the margin of a photocopied article riddled with coffee spills are finally over. For my colleagues in academia, I highly recommend you give it a whirl (even through the free trial) and see if it improves the logistics and organization required to carry out your studies.
*Stay tuned later in the month for an analysis of the software’s data analysis capabilities!

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