The Books

The Five-Level QDA(R) method for harnessing CAQDAS packages powerfully

Our books, one each for ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA and NVivo, are available  now from the Routledge website. They are part of the "Developing Qualitative Inquiry" series, edited by Janice Morse

"At last—3 user friendly books that bridge the gap between the researcher’s methodological goals and the capabilities of the software package. These books, targeted towards your particular software program, will assist you in maintaining/protecting the integrity of the methodological aspects of a study.  Rather than enabling the software capabilities to drive the analytic process, they will assist you to take full advantage of the power that the software has to offer.

The books contain examples that offer a window into how expert CAQDAS users have learned to accomplish this with much practice in many projects. Each book offers an opportunity to learn as quickly as possible the process as used by experts. For instructors, the book provides a way to embed CAQDAS training into your qualitative research curricula".

Janice M. Morse, PhD (Nurs), PhD (Anthro), PhD (Hon)
Professor & Barnes Presidential Chair, University of Utah College of Nursing

Overview of the books

Software is cut-and-dried – every button you press has a predictable effect – but qualitative analysis is open-ended and unfolds in unpredictable ways. This contradiction is best resolved by separating analytic strategies – what you plan to do – from software tactics – how you plan to do it. Expert CAQDAS users have unconsciously learned to do this. The Five-Level QDA method unpacks the process so that you can learn it consciously and efficiently.

It is based on Nick and Christina's combined 40 years of experience teaching CAQDAS packages as platforms for conducting qualitative analysis. After many years observing our students’ challenges we developed the Five-Level QDA method to describe the process that long-time CAQDAS experts unconsciously adopt. The Five-Level QDA method is independent of software program or methodology, and the principles apply to any type of qualitative project.

In a nutshell, the key principles are

  • to clearly distinguish analytic strategies from software tactics
  • to recognize the inherent contradiction between the emergent strategies of qualitative research and the cut-and-dried nature of the software tactics
  • to understand that there are alternative ways of reconciling these contradictions
  • to choose to reconcile the contradiction in a manner that leads to using the CAQDAS package powerfully. Five-Level QDA resolves the contradiction through a conscious process of translation between strategies and tactics

Three parts to each book

Each book follows the same structure, comprising three parts, each of which has three chapters:

Part 1: The principles of the Five-Level QDA method

Mastering the method means first learning the principles before hands-on use of the software. Chapter 1 lays the groundwork with the central principle – the contradiction between strategies and tactics when using a CAQDAS package to conduct qualitative analysis, and alternative ways to reconcile the contradiction. Chapter 2 fleshes out the first two levels of strategy and Chapter 3 deals with translating strategies into tactics.

Part 2: The Five-Level QDA method in practice

These chapters apply the principles. Chapter 4 provides an orientation to the software – either ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA or NVivo – and for those working in teams. Chapter 5 describes in depth how the software works in terms of Five-Level QDA principles. Chapter 6 describes in depth the steps of the translating strategies into tactics, with examples from a variety of research projects.

Part 3: Case illustrations  

These chapters illustrate the Five-Level QDA method in a variety of real-world qualitative research projects. Chapter 7 explains how to learn by analogy from the case illustrations in order to transfer the underlying process. Chapters 8 and 9 contain complete documentation of two full-case illustrations provided by researchers who have used the software for their own work.

Each book is accompanied by three sets of videos demonstrations on the Companion Website. 

What if you use a different CAQDAS package?

The Five-Level QDA method transcends software programs and methodologies, so the principles apply whatever CAQDAS pacakage you are using and whatever type of project you are undertaking. We were only able to write three books at once, but hope to publish books for other CAQDAS packages in the future. Watch this space...

To find out more



Nick Woolf is the best instructor I have had for learning a software application....Nick's highly interactive teaching style significantly increased my success...I returned to work with renewed insight and ideas about where my research was leading. Nick presented a remarkably effective class for both new and experienced researchers.
Mary F. Annese, MPA, Research Specialist
The Casey Family Program


Coding is a process, not an event

Coding is a process, not an event
By Christina Silver on Nov 21, 2017 at 06:04 PM in CAQDAS commentary

What lies behind the red flag question: “I’ve done all my coding – now what?” In my last blogpost I considered the first likely culprit: starting to code before thinking through its purpose. But thinking about the purpose isn’t enough. A second issue is the need to think about coding as an on-going process – not as a single event that gets “done” before moving on to the next event. Coding is the opportunity to repeatedly connect with our data.


"OK I've done all my coding. What's next?" Err, didn't you plan that already?

By Christina Silver on Nov 07, 2017 at 10:47 AM in CAQDAS commentary

Yet again this week I was asked the red flag question in a CAQDAS workshop: “Coding’s done. Now what?” This flags the inappropriate use of CAQDAS: no analytic planning done before plunging into helter-skelter coding. In this post and the next I’ll deal with the two underlying problems: starting to code without thinking about its purpose, and thinking of coding as an event rather than a process. Taken together these can result in a mass of codes that don’t lead to a thoughtful response to the research question. First: how to think about the purpose of coding.


Translation in Five-Level QDA: What's in a name? Actually, quite a lot

Translation in Five-Level QDA: What's in a name? Actually, quite a lot
By Nicholas Woolf on Jul 07, 2017 at 07:00 PM in Five-Level QDA in practice

“Translation” is the key concept in our Five-Level QDA method, so it’s important to know what it means. The word just showed up in the title of Susanne Friese’s blog post on the ATLAS.ti website – “Translating the process of open/initial coding in Grounded Theory” – and Susanne ended by inviting readers “to read more about this process of translation” in our textbooks on the Five-Level QDA method coming from Routledge in September. But as Susanne uses the word “translation” in a very different way from us we want to clear it up right away.


Don't lose your analytic reflections: The value of writing spaces in CAQDAS packages

Don't lose your analytic reflections: The value of writing spaces in CAQDAS packages
By Christina Silver on Jun 17, 2017 at 09:30 AM in CAQDAS commentary

Writing spaces are one of the most valuable features of dedicated CAQDAS packages. But I often see projects that make little use of them. Here’s why they are so potentially powerful.


Harnessing NVivo Classifications: it's all about units

Harnessing NVivo Classifications: it's all about units
By Christina Silver on May 29, 2017 at 06:01 AM in NVivo Learning, Five-Level QDA in practice

Kath McNiff’'s post on the NVivo Blog about classifying data in NVivo has prompted me to get writing about how I deal with this teaching challenge. For me, teaching students to choose between the available tools for classifying data and how to harness them appropriately revolves around units.

For years I've experimented with different ways of teaching how to harness the NVivo tools for classifying factual characteristics of data and respondents - for example the socio-demographics of participants or the metadata about documentary evidence. One of the great things about NVivo is that it offers several different ways of doing this, making it a very flexible tool.