My first thoughts on the Five-Level QDA textbooks

By Five Level QDA on Feb 06, 2018 at 07:29 AM in Five-Level QDA issues & ideas

By Ann Lewins, 6th February 2018

My first thoughts on the Five-Level QDA textbooks

Ann Lewins has been using and teaching CAQDAS packages since 1994 and she pioneered the development of institutional support for their use in the UK, helping to create the CAQDAS Networking Project. Here she shares her first thoughts on the Five-Level QDA textbooks. 

Fills an important gap

My first thoughts on the Five-Level QDA textbooks

Five-Level QDA is a new teaching and learning initiative that aims to fill a huge gap by addressing some of the major dilemmas facing especially new qualitative researchers - feeling sure about their project design but without feeling confident how their research needs fit with the tools available. Or feeling confident about the tools available but less knowledgeable about where methodology fits into their thinking. Or feeling tentative about all aspects... "What is qualitative research? ...How should I be thinking?". Nick and Christina’s collection of books and resources about Five-Level QDA works hard to prepare you properly but aims to keep you focused on your own context.

The relationship between strategies and tactics

What is stunning about the approach they take is that the reader is led gently through all the processes of understanding the relationship between strategy and tactics and in turn methodology and methods so if you need that support you have not missed out! And it aims for more… the looming black hole - the essential relationship between how you think about your project and how you can make the power of the software dovetail with it. Five-Level QDA tries to take nothing for granted yet tries to create a do-able space for a student or a researcher to either catch-up or get ahead. It seems to work wherever you are on the curve.

The challenges faced by researchers

My first thoughts on the Five-Level QDA textbooks

Researchers face three challenges. First is the subject matter of the enquiry and the objectives of the research, second are issues relating to methodology - working out how to make the enquiry authoritative, robust and valid – i.e. the strategy. And finally, working out what methods i.e. the tools of analysis will be used to facilitate – i.e. the tactics. Making these three things happen in an interconnected logical way is infinitely variable and subjective. There is nothing linear about these challenges and processes, and making these three things happen in the best way in the context of qualitative software tools seems an additional complication!

These Five-Level QDA books persuade you that the circularity of these three challenges is to do with properly understanding the potential of each. You will better understand the potential of your own project if you understand the tools that might help. Equally you will use the software better if you are using them in a way that supports YOUR objectives properly. In 5-level terms, the translation of your needs is highly individual when it comes to using software. I so agree. I have always felt highly sceptical if I begin to think I am being instructed in THE ONE way to work through a dataset in a software. This implies all projects are similar, even the same and therefore require the same steps to be taken.

A step-change

My first thoughts on the Five-Level QDA textbooks

Having worked with one of the authors for so long myself and seen the challenges first hand, I can't help feeling this huge new piece of work by Silver and Woolf represents an equally huge step-change. I really hope academia and the research world sees it for what it is... a new framework in which the infinite variety of qualitative methods teaching and learning needs can be accommodated and not be short-changed in the modern context.

There is also a review of the Five-Level QDA textsbooks and workshop on the NVivo Blog, written by Silvana di Gregorio, Research Director at QSR International


The 3 day NVivo course was based around Five-Level QDA and was an excellent balance between the technicalities of using analytical software and its real-world use as a research tool. Christina grounded the training in how to conduct high quality post-graduate research as a means to enhance good research practice, allow effective data analysis, and support research project management. This is far preferable to an approach focusing largely or wholly on the technical details of software, with little relation to conducing actual academic research. Although the 3 days was very intensive it comes highly recommended.
Simon Cox
PhD Student, Nottingham Business School, Chief Officer, NHS Scarborough and Ryedale Clinical Commissioning Group