MaxQDA or Atlas.ti?

I just received an email from a colleague asking me a simple question that is probably relevant vor many people: “A student of mine is looking for a good qualitative software program to analyze interviews. Perhaps you have some recomendations?” So here’s my answer:

There are basically two alternatives: MaxQDA and Atlas.ti. [Update Nov. 2011: I now also consider NVivo worth considering] I myself still work with Atlas.ti simply because it allows me to scan my handwritten field into pdf-files and code them like images. Although MAXqda does now support pdf files, it only supports coding of text in these pdf-files, which renders it useless for coding scanned fieldnotes. Apart from this difference, which is essential for me, (and putting asside the rather restrictive license terms which allow you to install the student license on one single computer only) my personal impression is that MAXqda is the better software package at this point. But my judgement is based only on a quick look at the trial version of MAXqda. I have not actually worked with it (while I’ve used Atlas.ti for years). What makes me think that MaxQDA is better is its more intuitive (and prettier) user interface and such things as its visualization tools.

Apart from the better pdf-support, another advantage of Atlas.ti might be the better integration of audio transcription (and what they call “Text-to-Media Synchronization”). But there are probably other important differences depending on the type of analysis one wants to make. If you work in a team, check especially for team-functionality (i.e. sharing of data, collaborative coding etc). If you are wondering which dimensions of comparison might be relevant for you, check out the following book: Lewins, Ann & Silver, Christina (2007): Using software in qualitative research: A step-by-step guide. Los Angeles: Sage. Note, however, that this book reviews older versions of both programs, so that you should make an up-to-date comparison yourself. But the book might guide your comparison. Feel free to post the results of your comparison as a comment below.

P.S. If you’ve been wondering what the “Max” in MaxQDA stands for: In an introductory workshop held by one of the MaxQDA developers, I was told that “Max” is a reference in honour of Max Weber.

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8 thoughts on “MaxQDA or Atlas.ti?

  1. Thanks for the comparison. I’m an Atlasti loyalist and want to put it out there that people might prefer the Atlas interface – it’s a taste question. I find it super intuitive — can get undergrads doing basic coding on it within 20 mins.

  2. /rant

    I find Atlas.ti an application that should be rewritten from the bottom up. It is as cumbersome as one would expect from an application that was developed decades ago and still uses the same logic as applications at that time used.

    Also the incompabilities between versions, even if “hermeneutic units” are saved as bundles as 5.x or 6.x, make analysis a task one can, in practice, do only on one dedicated computer. So you better make sure that the Atlas.ti is the EXACT same version with the EXACT updates in your laptop and the desktop at your office at the university.

    When I pointed out about the incompabilities, the service attitude (by the developers) was really the worst. There was a lady however, a researcher if I recall correctly, who tried to correct the behavior her developer colleagues. As I write this comment I realize that the harm was done and could not be corrected.

    I have only tried MAXQDA briefly, but it seems like an application that is developed by standards of today (2010s) and the work flow is intuitive compared to that of the counterproductive approach of Atlas.ti – and come on!, what’s with the button “I hate computers”? The button just goes to show what kind of features are carried from the earlier versions.

    I am glad that there seems to be tightening competition between computer assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS) applications.

    If you are in charge of acquiring a license for CAQDAS application I would strongly recommend trying out two or three applications and only after that deciding which application is suitable to your needs. Regrettably I am stuck with Atlas.ti (version 6.x) as my university offers license only for Atlas.ti.

    /end of rant

    • Couldn’t agree more with everything you write, including the experience with the researcher, Susanne Friese, I believe. The problem is that whenever I checked MaxQDA, it is still lacking vital functions…
      Thanks for this excellent comment!

  3. It is interesting to read a review of two different software programs, but what advantages does either offer over not using any software? What type of workflows does this type of software support, and does it provide any functionality you cannot get any other way? (Colors and symbols and a snazzy visual interface don’t hold any appeal to me; I’m happy working entirely with textual information.)

  4. Just starting my dissertation research. Hope to use a QDA to download PDFs and Word docs and search be themes later on. How does one choose what fits ur needs?

    • I’m not sure what exactly what you mean by “a QDA to download PDFs and Word docs” but if you can’t make up your mind about which software to use I’d suggest that you download out the trial version for each program and then start by checking out those features that are most important for you, so in your case it would be loading some pdfs and well they work for you…

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