The Ethnomatters team has been wanting to do a review of software tools for a while now but when we got down to writing them, we realized that there are already very comprehensive software reviews in places like the University of Surrey’s website. So we decided to rather compile short posts on the tools that each of us used in our last ethnographic project, highlighting what worked, what didn’t work and what we’re thinking of trying in the future. We’d love to hear from you about your own experiences so please feel free to add yours in the comments below for further reading!
For my latest project (“Understanding sources“), I needed to collect data from a really wide variety of sources. I had interview data, articles and papers from web, and then a multitude of Wikipedia talk pages, edits, history versions, related articles and image and video sources. For interviewing, I use my beautiful and incredibly trustworthy Zoom H2 audio recorder. I do my own transcriptions (as suggested by Jenna in order to get a really close understanding of the data) and for that I use ExpressScribe which seems to work pretty well. I like that you can use “hot keys” to stop and play and that the speed dial is in a good place for slowing down the dictation.
I do a lot of Skype interviews with Wikipedians. It’s not ideal as an interview medium but it’s a great way to get to know folks. I use Ecamm Skype recorder to record interviews, or just take notes while I talk without an audio transcript when the conversation is more sensitive. I’d love to think about how I could make these interviews more intimate since I really feel the lack of social presence from these mediated communications, but perhaps this is actually a good way of communicating with people who aren’t always that confident in social situations.
My biggest challenge was in coding up the Wikipedia talk pages and preserving some of the weird formatting in the wiki markup in order to code up the material. I tried PDF-ing the talk pages and annotating them on Acrobat but that didn’t work well at all because I couldn’t search across the documents or see the codes very easily. I tried copying and pasting into Word but the documents were way too big and the pages were re-formatted in the move which made it difficult to analyze. I have had good experiences with Atlas.ti in the past but I am on a Mac and couldn’t quite work out how to use bootcamp or to pay the license fees, so Tricia recommended I try using Evernote. I basically copied and pasted each talk page into a new Evernote note, put it in one long table and made another column for codes. Evernote is great because it works well with web research — it’s really quick and easy to take a snapshot of any page on the web and to add tags to it. But coding up talk pages using a single row gets completely unwieldy since every time you add another code or edit anything, the rows are slightly “off”. When I move to Oxford, I’m actually going to re-code this all in Atlas.ti. I’ll keep using Evernote, I’m sure, because it’s a much better tool than Delicious or other bookmarking tools (keeping a local copy of the article is really important) but I really want to be able to compare different stories with one another and I feel like I should really do this systematically in Atlas.ti.
I started using Mendeley a little while ago (after being really happy with Zotero) and now I’m a little sad that I moved. The Word plugin was buggy and the Mendeley team took weeks to get back to me and get them fixed up. The Word plugin that enables you to insert citations into your document and create bibliographies is still a lot slower than Zotero. I recently discovered Citavi which is better than the lot of them with much better PDF annotation and extraction tools and a handy “Knowledge organizer” function that enables you to organize projects or papers, but it’s only available for Windows at the moment (unless you can run Parallels or something similar).
Anyone out there who has done content analysis of Wikipedia edit/talk pages? Would love find out how you organize!
Read other posts in the Tools We Use series:
- Jenna Burrell’s The tools we use: Beyond Cassette Tapes
- Rachelle Annechino’s The tools we use: Bring some colored markers
- Tricia Wang’s The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?
Featured image by OZinOH on Flickr, CC BY NC.