Digital Tools for Qualitative Research

Victoria Pagan (Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 9 March 2015



Pagan, V. (2015), "Digital Tools for Qualitative Research", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 82-84.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This new textbook is compiled by experienced academics who combine theories of qualitative research with practical experience in a range of fields. Trena Paulus, University of Tennessee, has published on the blend of technology, learning and research (e.g. Arnold and Paulus, 2010; Halic et al., 2010; Lee et al., 2010). Jessica Lester, Indiana University, draws on her expertise in ethnography and pedagogy (e.g. Lester and Paulus, 2011; Paulus and Lester, 2013; Paulus et al., 2013). Paul Dempster works for the UK National Health Service and as a consultant for Transana, a computer-based tool for the management of qualitative data, at the University of Wisconsin.

The book begins with an introductory chapter which outlines a brief context of the emergence of digital tools, asking why they are used and useful, and connecting this to the authors’ own experiences in practice. This approach is also situated within a commitment towards ethical and reflexive practice, from which many students could benefit, including those with affinity towards a more positivist, quantitative position. The theme of reflexivity and ethical choices is presented in more depth in Chapter 2, including short, illustrative case studies and screen shots of digital material. This chapter introduces blogs, audio/video recording devices and cloud-based note-taking/archiving systems as tools that can be used to support the researcher’s reflexive practice. The chapter demonstrates that ethics is not something that is simply “done” as a discrete task of the research and considered complete as some students, in my experience, seem to think. The chapter includes a table that cross-references ethical questions which the remaining chapters of the book raise in their content. This may encourage readers to take a more integrated approach to their ethical practice throughout the design and execution of their research.

Chapter 3 introduces the use of digital tools in processes of collaborative working and project management. Again, whilst the emphasis is on qualitative research practice, this could have relevance for all students regardless of methodological approach. It could also be useful for any team-working project and the general development of professional practice, particularly given the sections on networking, arranging virtual meetings, videoconferencing and resource sharing. Chapter 4 focuses on literature reviewing which is very useful, as many students struggle with this element of their research projects. I would recommend all students to read this chapter, I think there is something for everyone here.

Chapters 5-9 are most focused on qualitative research practice. These cover: the generation of data; transcription; analysis of textual data; analysis of image, audio and video data; and writing and representing findings. These chapters encourage students to think more creatively about the data that they collect and analyse in their research projects, beyond traditional interviews and focus groups. They directly connect techniques with example tools that can be used, including Express Scribe, NVivo and Transana. A note of caution is that readers may not have freely available access to all of the example tools, depending on subscription. However, most have demonstration access through their web sites, which would at least enable readers to experiment. Chapter 10 closes the book with a nod to the future of digital tools. Like Chapter 1, it is a contextual chapter with reference to a summary of tools, the broader context of computing and digital data, and ways in which the reader can keep their knowledge up to date.

This text is structured overall using a model of the qualitative research process, the diagram for which is depicted at the beginning of each chapter and each chapter relates to a different step on the diagram. It would have been helpful to have an earlier explanation of the model, albeit that this is offered as Chapter 1 progresses (p. 7). I would offer a minor criticism of the presentation overall, which I appreciate is more for the consideration of the publishers than the authors, but it would have been clearer for screen shots to be included in colour and for the shades of grey used to differentiate text boxes to be in more contrast to the rest of the text. Additionally, it is not always immediately clear which element of the diagram is being focused on in each chapter and colour or emboldening could have helped this.

The book has clear learning objectives outlined at the beginning of each chapter and discussion questions featured at the end of each chapter. There are tasks encouraging reflexive practice throughout, connecting to the compilation of a Reflexivity Blog. Although perhaps most directed at undergraduates, postgraduates and practitioners who may be undertaking social research would also find this useful, particularly as the discussion questions encourage the reader to relate the content of the text to their own experiences, whatever they may be. Each chapter is also well referenced and offers signposts for further reading. A Companion Web site is available at, offering web links, recommended journal articles, video and audio links, and practical activities that readers can use to develop their understanding through worked examples. Unlike some other texts, references to the web site are integrated throughout the book, enabling readers to connect the web material to the points raised in the written text.

I enjoyed this text; it is a pleasure to read, encouraging a reflexive and ethical approach to research without sounding restrictive or judgmental. The book does not limit the definition of “digital tools” to internet-based materials, as some readers may assume. Rather, it encompasses tools that readers may take for granted without considering their associated methodological implications, for example, digital voice recorders or basic computer software. As with any textbook making reference to technology, there is a chance of the content dating as technology progresses. However, what is enduring about this text is that it deals with the theory and execution of projects that utilise digital tools, encouraging good research management using these tools without too much emphasis on the technical nature of the specific tools themselves. In this respect, whatever new digital tools emerge, this book will remain a useful and relevant text.

About the reviewer

Victoria Pagan is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant at Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. Her PhD research is exploring participation in global forums responding to issues of sustainability. She teaches on the final year undergraduate Management Studies Dissertation and Strategy Organisations and Society modules. Victoria Pagan can be contacted at:


Arnold, N. and Paulus, T. (2010), “Using a social networking site for experiential learning: lurking, modeling and community building”, Internet and Higher Education , Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 188-196.

Halic, O. , Lee, D. , Paulus, T. and Spence, M. (2010), “To blog or not to blog: student perceptions of blog effectiveness for learning in an undergraduate course”, Internet and Higher Education , Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 206-213.

Lee, D. , Paulus, T. , Loboda, I. , Phipps, G. , Wyatt, T. , Myers, C. and Mixer, S. (2010), “Instructional design portfolio: a faculty development program for nurse educators learning to teach online”, TechTrends , Vol. 54 No. 6, pp. 20-28.

Lester, J.N. and Paulus, T. (2011), “Accountability and public displays of knowing in an undergraduate computer-mediated communication context”, Discourse Studies , Vol. 13 No. 5, pp. 671-686.

Paulus, T.M. , Lester, J.N. and Britt, G. (2013), “Constructing ‘false hopes and fears’: a discourse analysis of introductory qualitative research texts”, Qualitative Inquiry , Vol. 19 No. 9, pp. 637-649.

Paulus, T. and Lester, J.N. (2013), “Making learning ordinary: ways undergraduates display learning in a CMC task”, Text & Talk , Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 53-70.

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