Software for qualitative study

PhD study usually involves huge sets of data, and the command of some software makes it less painful to deal with this matter. In this blog, Ivy introduces three types of software to improve your academic output.

By Ivy Zhuo.

Transcription generating tools

Transcribing is indeed a challenging task for a lot of qualitative researchers who collect mostly audio or video data and need to turn these into text for further data analysis. Therefore, having access to tools which could help us with this daunting task is a big help. It depends on whether the form of data we collect, we could use different transcription generating tools to help ourselves.

If we are collecting Video data, one of the easiest things to do is to upload the video to streamline on Microsoft account and then generate its caption. Although the caption is not 100% accurate, it does capture the main text and saves our time in doing the word-to-word transcription work.

A group of 5 people sat around a table discussing a book that one of the group is holding.
Transcribing interviews and focus groups can take up a lot of time. Image: University of Warwick.

If we are collecting Audio data, then Otter could be employed to assist us with the process. It is believed to be a leader in the voice-to-text transcription space, which uses artificial intelligence. It picks up the voice in an audio feed, processes it through an AI algorithm, and starts stacking the words on the page, ready to read, highlight, and copy. Although the accuracy is not 100%, it does produce the text that we need to have a general idea of the recorded audio and help us to locate the information we are looking for.

Reference management tools


This tool advertises itself as the best reference management tool and has been acknowledge widely in academia. In fact, the University of Warwick offers the license to use Endnote for free during our study here and Warwick library has a recorded training course available regarding how to use Endnote in our writing for reference in-text citation and generating the reference list. If you have problem in using this tool, you could also turn to our library staff through

This tool is also recommended by one of the professors in my department, who finds it to be very useful and has been using this app since its first birth in the early 1990s. He believes that this app saves his time in sorting out the references and contributes to his flexibility as well. Sometimes, different journal/book/chapter requires different citation rules and with this app, we can easily generate different references styles at the click of a button.

An exterior image of the University of Warwick Library. There is a road on the left hand side of the image and some trees in the foreground.
The Library offers support for using programmes like EndNote. Image: University of Warwick.

Mendeley and Zotero

Both tools have been used by some of my senior PhD friends and they found it to be very useful for academic writing and relatively friendlier to people who are not so good at technology. Mendeley has the strongest website and community platform. If your research content is diverse, Zotero is the easiest method to gather citation records for non-PDF content. Zotero’s single-click capture works with more databases, catalogues, and websites than Mendeley’s browser extension.

However, the license for both is not supported by the University and a fee may occur if we need a big cloud storage. For Mendeley, it is free to use and offers 2GB cloud storage. For Zotero, it is also free to use but offers only 300 MB free storage and $20 per year for 2GB. As we could see, Mendeley offers a bigger free storage, which perhaps also explains why it is more popular among my PhD friends.

Although our university does not offer courses on both apps, there are plenty of instruction videos on YouTube for us to pick up the two tools for our academic study.

Data analysis tools


This is a tool adopted by qualitative researchers for organizing, analysing, visualizing and report their data, particularly useful for conducting thematic analysis. It also accepts data in a wide variety of formats: e.g., audio files, videos, digital photos, Word, PDF, spreadsheets, rich text, plain text and web and social media data. The University of Warwick offers the license to use NVivo for free during our study here and Warwick IT service offers training courses on NVivo on a rotating basis. If you are a qualitative researcher and intend to improve your efficiency of organizing and analysing your large quantities of data, NVivo could be your solution.


Although NVivo tends to be more popular in academia, some researchers do find MAXQDA more capable and easier to use. Besides, it could also be utilized for mixed methods. Additionally, compared to NVivo, MAXQDA is less pricey, which makes it a better substitute when we are no longer supported by the university to use NVivo.

Two girls with black hair sat at a desk. There is an open laptop and a calculator on the desk.
Image: University of Warwick.

Certainly, the above is never an exhaustive list of the types of software useful for our PhD study or maybe even not the best software for the specific purpose we discuss here. However, these are the common ones that have been employed by most of the colleagues around me and suggested by them as well. If you have never experienced the benefits from the technology for your PhD study, why not have a go?

Have you used any of these tools? Which are the most useful? Let us know by tweeting us @researchex, by messaging us on Instagram @warwicklibrary, or by emailing us at

If you’re looking for other blogs to help your PhD journey, why not check out Ivy’s blog on the best places for academic reading or if you’ve got your Upgrade coming up, check out Ellie’s post on 5 top tips for upgrade success.

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