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Qualitative Guide

There is a lot of specialized software out there but for the most part, qualitative researchers at some point need a survey software, and may need a qualitative data analysis software.

If you are considering using a more specialized qualitative research software or have specialized needs for survey or data analysis software, get in touch and we’re happy to do some research and give you options.

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Survey Software:


The limit here is what research ethics will approve based on the security needs of your data.  There are three options available free at Mac that MREB has approved protocols for. 






  • It’s free and easy to access at Mac
  • MREB has built ethics approved templates into the software
  • With some basic coding skills you can do a lot of customization
  • A strong user manual -
  • The user interface isn’t as intuitive as other options
  • It’s not widely used outside Mac


All Mac students, faculty and staff have free access to it through Research and High Performance Computing – RHPCS. 


  • Highly used in academia, making sharing easy
  • Access to respondent panels throughout the world
  • Highly accessible user interface
  • A wide range of options
  • Truly exceptional customer service
  • Limited availability of free licenses at Mac
  • Fewer customization options than Limesurvey (but no coding needed)

For Faculty and Graduate Students in FSS, Spark has available license paid for by the Faculty – talk to us if you’d like to use it.


  • Can include surveys, forms, and data that is populated from databases
  • With programming knowledge, highly customizable
  • Active user community
  • Excellent for longitudinal studies with repeat surveys
  • Excellent for studies with multiple surveys or data collection instruments
  • Not easily accessible at Mac currently
  • Less accessible User Interface than Qualtrics


Health Sciences has an instance of REDCap and Research and High Performance Computing (RHPCS) is currently piloting one to be available to other faculties.  Talk to us if you’d like to use it. 


Other widely available but less secure options include Survey Monkey, Google Forms, and Microsoft Forms.  There is a great deal of information about these online and opportunities to test each for your data.  Of them, the paid version of Survey Monkey has the most functionality. 

Qualitative Data Analysis Software

McMaster Library has NVivo available in their computer lab, but otherwise, researchers must purchase this software themselves. Which leads us to the first question: Do you need QDA Software?

There are two major ways people code qualitative data without QDA software.  The first is building pre-coding into data collection instrument(s).  Allison Van has a lot of practice at this so feel free to talk to her if you’re considering this option.  The second is hand coding (or alternatively coding in word/excel).  If you are working with a relatively small data set (rule of thumb is n<=20), hand coding is a solid option.  Even with larger data sets and software, we recommend hand coding a couple responses as a good first step.  We’re happy to show you how to hand code (either fully by hand or using word/excel) if you haven’t done it before or would like a refresher.

Yes, I need (or just want) it?

Great. We’ll cover three options here that give a good range of price points and features and highlight other options that are similar to each we’re highlighting but that we don’t know as well.








§ Highly popular

§ Huge range of functionality

§ Reporting tools built right in

§ Tracking of changes by date and user lets you spot and correct errors more easily

§ Works for a wide range of data types

§ Can input text in multiple languages

§ A whole range of functions means there’s more to learn and it has a bit of a learning curve

§ Cost

§ Instances on Macs and PCs are not compatible currently – you can transfer and sync files between the two but not use both for the same project instance

Currently $99 US per student license and $850 US per non-student academic license, one time fees (for that instance of NVivo). 

MaxQDA and Atlas Ti both have similar wide-ranging functionality.  Researchers disagree about which has the best user interface and features, but it’s all details. 

Buy online here -


Pooling licenses among researchers can save money – browse our software license sharing <link> or put in a request for this option. 


§ All the major features of NVivo

§ Easily integrate related quantitative data

§ Able to weight codes

§ Multiple tools for inter-rater reliability

§ Less upfront cost and more affordable for short projects

§ Less popular so a smaller user community

§ Cloud-based – this is a pro or con depending on what you need – it makes collaboration extremely easy and eliminates Mac/PC issues, but requires internet access and reliance on their security (which appears to be good). 

Currently between $10.95 -14.95 per user per month – subscription based unlike NVivo which is generally a one-time purchase

Ravens Eye (we haven’t tried it but claims to do more automatic coding and is more expensive monthly), Quirkos (easier interface, fewer features, option of one time purchase or subscription)

Buy online at:


Pooling licenses among researchers can save money – browse our software license sharing <link> or put in a request for this option. 


§ Free and open source

§ Built in R so easily integrates with quantitative analysis being done in R

§ You can use it with the range of R-related tools.

§ Built as a minimum viable product it’s currently just for text with none of the bells and whistles

§ Being open source it can be a bit buggy



Taguette, QCAmap, Max QDA Lite.  All of these are free.  We haven’t yet used any but will update once we try them out.


We provide up to 4 hours of free consultation yearly to all researchers at Mac, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re considering software options.