ATLAS.ti for Qualitative Research: The Basics

This guide describes how to use the Atlas.ti, a software program, for qualitative research management and analysis

Basic Terminology

There are some fundementals to cover to acquaint yourself with Atlas.ti.  

Hermeneutic Unit (HU):  Each project is a separate hermeneutic unit. Broadly, Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation of texts, though be assured, the HU is only the project container, not some branch of interpretive theory you need to learn.  If you have 100 documents in one project and 100 different documents in another project, all of them coded and annotated, the HU is the arcitecture that keeps everything together within its own project. Each project is saved as a HU file, accessible only with ATLAS.ti. 

Each project is made up of six different types of objects:

Primary Documents (PDs):  The primary documents are the PDFs, Word, Excel, image, audiovisual, or geographic data files that you plan to analyze. 

Codes:  Capture meaning in your data and represent occurrences that cannot be found by simple text based searching.  Codes can operate on different levels, depending on the depth of analysis as well as qualitative research methodology.  Generally, as you are working, you will come across similar occurrences and want to classify them.  This is coding.  See the coding pages for more information.

Quotations:  segments of primary documents that are of interest to you.   They are what correspond to codes you have assigned, and can be called up and highlighted for visualization purposes.  In a text document, the quotation will be a string of words.  Quotations for other file types that do not include words will look a little different, e.g. a recurring symbol in multiple paintings, similar excerpts from multiple interview videos,  or a point on a map. Quotations can be of any size and exist independently from codes. Quotations can be hyperlinked within and across documents 

Memos: Reflections and writing about the process of making sense of the data. Memos can be linked to quotations, codes, or other memos.

Networks: Graphical representations of linkages in the data. Unnamed linkages are just lines between data, whereas named linkages include words that describe the linkages.

Families: Organizational structures that allow you to group documents, codes, and memos based on shared characteristics. Families allow for interrogation across cases and conceptual domains. Codes can be grouped in meta-codes or code families. Document families organize information sources. You can also create memo families in order to stay organized.


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