Free software alternatives for researchers (and students)

Posted: May 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books, research tools | Comments Off on Free software alternatives for researchers (and students)

I recently found an excellent article written by Nicholas Buchanan, a grad student at MIT, on free software alternatives for students and (other) researchers.  You can read his article here.  In it he lists and describes various tools for a range of tasks, including data analysis.  He also mentions TAMS and Zotero.

Nicholas writes:

“From operating systems to qualitative mark up and analysis, there are almost always free alternatives that are equivalent in function and quality to their proprietary counterparts. In fact, some free software is now the industry standard…”

If you are looking for such open source tools, or trying to decide between them, I recommend reading through this article.  Thanks, Nicholas!

TAMS Analyzer How To guide — new!

Posted: May 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools, TAMS | 2 Comments »

I have just finished an updated version of my (free) TAMS Analyzer How To guide which you can download here.  Alternatively, you can download it from my page at

My documentation includes information on the following:

  • Starting a new project in TAMS
  • Basic coding in TAMS
  • Using audio, pdf, and image files
  • Creating an Init file
  • Creating and using context codes
  • Running searches on coded data
  • Generating reports
  • Additional sources of information on TAMS

Matthew Weinstein, the author of TAMS, continues to improve the program, so be sure to check the TAMS website regularly for updates.  He has also created extensive documentation on TAMS and its features and functionalities, which can be downloaded separately or bundled with the software itself.

Zotero for capturing and archiving webpages

Posted: April 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | 2 Comments »

I have heard positive reviews of Zotero for years, but being a steadfast EndNote user I never tried it out.  Yesterday I finally got my first look at it, and yes — it does indeed look like a very useful tool.

Briefly, Zotero and EndNote are both tools for managing and publishing bibliographies, and are thus of great use to students, writers, academics, etc.   The two have similar functionalities, but Zotero is free, open source, and cloud-based.  EndNote, on the other hand, costs money to buy and to update, and it’s stored locally on your machine.  I don’t have any complaints with EndNote, and plan to keep using it.  However, Zotero has a number of special features which EndNote doesn’t have, one of which I want to mention today:

Zotero can capture and archive webpages.  Learn more about that functionality here.

Now isn’t that pretty cool?

If you are researching webpage content, this could be extremely useful for you, since by using Zotero you can easily capture and store such pages for later analysis.

A few caveats:

Zotero won’t capture links, moving pictures, audio, etc.  I don’t think you can use Zotero’s search functions to search within the text of the captured webpage.  (Note:  I was wrong about this — you can.  See comments below.  Thanks, Avram and Adam!)   (Speaking of which, have you tried out Evernote?  Evernote is another great tool for capturing and archiving webpages, and all the content captured is searchable.)  Finally, Zotero is not an analytical tool.  For coding and analysis, you’ll want to import the data into another program, such as AtlasTi, TAMS Analyzer, etc.

Remember now, Zotero is designed first and foremost for archiving (scholarly) sources; it wasn’t created to do website analysis, hence the drawbacks mentioned above.  However, as a “getting-started-on-your-website-analysis-project” kind of tool it might come in handy.

If you are interested in learning about tools for large scale website analysis projects, see my colleague Laura’s website here.

TAMS Analyzer help

Posted: April 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: TAMS | 1 Comment »

If you need help using TAMS Analyzer, I recommend that you:

  • get a (completely free) copy of my “getting started with TAMS” documentation by emailing me at:  blog4 [at] tabithahart [dot] net
  • download all of the documentation that Matthew Weinstein, the creator of TAMS, has written. Go here and click on the “Download” link and then the “Complete Documentation” link.  The complete documentation, made up of a dozen or so documents, covers a wide variety of TAMS-related topics.
  • see Matthew Weinstein’s video tutorials here.
  • contact Matthew and ask to be added to the TAMS Analyzer mailing list that he maintains.

File conversion tool: Zamzar

Posted: April 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | Comments Off on File conversion tool: Zamzar

My friend Peg recently introduced me to Zamzar, a free web-based tool for converting files.

Has anyone out there tried it?

I’ll post a review after I’ve tried it out.

Should you use TAMS?

Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools, TAMS | 4 Comments »

Recently I’ve had a spate of emails from researchers interested in using TAMS Analyzer.  As with the adoption of any new tool, people wonder if they should take the leap and invest their time and energy into learning how to use it.

I’ve been using TAMS for nearly a year now, and am happy with it.  I have used it to analyze a large data set comprised of interview transcripts, lesson transcripts, forum posts, text-based chats, and articles.  Using TAMS I have coded more than 4,000 segments of text.  I find TAMS an excellent tool for organizing and coding (first level, second level, etc.) my data.

Here are my reasons for using TAMS:

  1. I found it awkward to switch back and forth between a Windows-based application and my native Mac apps and desktop.  When first shopping around for qualitative data analysis software, I really wanted to use AtlasTi.  AtlasTi is the tool of choice in my department and across my institution at large.  I bought a copy of it and ran it on my Mac using VMWare Fusion.  VMWare Fusion is one of a number of handy programs that allows you to run Windows-only applications on a Mac.  This setup worked just fine, but it hogged my laptop’s memory and thus slowed the application’s performance.  Also, I frequently needed to access information from my native Mac applications and desktop, and it was klunky switching back and forth between those and my virtual machine.
  2. TAMS is written specifically for Mac OSX.  After the experience above, I decided that I only wanted to work with a tool that would run directly on my Mac.  There’s not a lot of choice out there, and…
  3. TAMS is free.  It doesn’t get much better than that.
  4. I’m doing this project on my own, so I don’t need a tool that facilitates collaboration.  As a Mac user, if I did ever want a tool that would ease the tasks of sharing, discussing, and analyzing data, I might opt for a web-based tool like Dedoose.  Note that TAMS does support collaborative projects — I just haven’t tried out those features myself.
  5. I’m happiest working on my own machine, which I can easily carry around with me.  If I didn’t have a portable machine, or if was working on a number of machines at different locations, I’d probably use a web-based tool like Dedoose.

I’m not saying that TAMS is perfect.  Choosing a qualitative data analysis tool, however, is not about finding perfection.  Rather, it’s about selecting a tool that is well-suited to your circumstances and your needs.  You take into account your data set, your analytic approach, the equipment you’re working with, the people on your team, etc.  For my particular needs, TAMS has been a good match.

Platforms for online focus groups & meetings

Posted: March 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | Comments Off on Platforms for online focus groups & meetings

What platforms do you like for conducting online focus groups and/or meetings?  I have been looking into GoToMeeting and Mikogo, as well as Skype’s conference functionalities.

The GoToMeeting website states that it can be used for up to 15 people, and that it works on Mac or PC.  Participants can call in via phone or a computer enabled with speakers and a microphone.  The meeting leader/organizer can show visual materials by opening them up on her desktop and clicking through them (it’s essentially a screen share function).  GoToMeeting does have a free 30-day trial, but after that you need to buy a monthly or annual subscription.  (USD $49 and $468, respectively.)

Like GoToMeeting, Mikogo is a platform for real-time voice-to-voice meetings.  It offers desktop sharing and the presenter role can be easily switched.  The free (yes, free!) version of Mikogo supports meetings of up to 10 people.  If you want to use it for larger meetings, then you’ll need to buy the company’s BeamYourScreen tool, which has additional features, like live customer support.

I like Skype and have blogged about using it for one-to-one interviews.  Some advantages of Skype are that Skype-to-Skype calls are free and the program is easy to use.  However, I do see a couple of potential drawbacks to Skype’s conference call functionality.  First, each person has to have Skype loaded on their machine, and it could be a hassle to get members of large groups to download and operate it.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t seem to support the real-time use of visual aids, such as PowerPoint.

If you have used any of these please feel free to share your thoughts on their usefulness, strengths and weaknesses, etc.

Capturing activity on a Mac screen: iShowYou

Posted: March 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | Comments Off on Capturing activity on a Mac screen: iShowYou

I’ve just discovered iShowYou, a satisfyingly easy-to-use tool for capturing activity (including sound) on a Mac screen.  Captures are generated in movie (QuickTime) format.  I can see this tool being extremely useful for projects in which you need to record chat or user activity.

iShowYou would also be valuable for recording visual instructions for colleagues.  Imagine, for example, you wanted to train someone in how to use an online research tool, but couldn’t meet face-to-face.  You could record your own use of the tool, complete with verbal instructions, and send the recording to them.

iShowYou is very inexpensive – only USD $20 for the basic version, and is very user friendly.  I haven’t used it very much yet but so far I like it very much.

Other tools for capturing on-screen activity are FRAPS and Camtasia.  I haven’t used either of these.  If you have, please feel free to share your opinion on them.

DiscoverText for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Posted: March 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | 1 Comment »

DiscoverText is a relatively new tool used for scraping and analyzing textual data from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, RSS feeds, etc.  It was created by Dr. Stuart Shulman, the same person behind Coding Analysis Toolkit (CAT).  (See my previous post on CAT here.)

Like many web-based analytical tools, DiscoverText works on a subscription model.  The Professional edition of DiscoverText runs at USD$25/month, but you can sign up for a free trial version of it for one month.  There is also a free Community edition with limited features.  Some organizations have an Enterprise license allowing all of its members to use it.  (The University of Washington has an Enterprise license for about one year, so any of you researchers at UW should check it out ASAP.)  You can learn more about the pricing here.

I have not used DiscoverText yet but am attending a webinar about it this week, so I should have some first-hand information on it soon.

New documentation for TAMS Analyzer

Posted: March 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools, TAMS | 6 Comments »

I recently completed a short “how-to” guide for getting started with TAMS Analyzer.  This documentation will shortly be linked to the CSSCR Documentation and Handouts page here.  You can also email me directly for a copy.  Feel free to send me any feedback or suggestions on making the documentation easier to work with.

UPDATE 04/13/2011:  I’m currently working on a revision of this documentation that will reflect the most recent updates in TAMS. It should be ready within a few weeks.  In the meantime, if you want the old documentation (which will help you get started with TAMS) just let me know and I’ll send it to you right away.