Audience Dialogue

Software for audience research

This page, and the pages that it leads to, are a guide to some of the widely available software packages, with comments on their suitability for various types of research.

If you're a statistician these pages will seem insultingly over-simplified - but they're not aimed at you. For an overview of research software for professionals, try this Glasgow University stats site instead.

With audience research (as with social and market research) there are three types of things that software needs to do:
(1) Get data into a computer (input)
(2) Process data (analysis)
(3) Get data out of the computer, in a form that human brains can understand (output).

The data comes in two quite different varieties:
(a) The quantitative data (numbers and codes) produced by questionnaires;
(b) The words produced by qualitative research.

Because most software only handles words or numbers, not both, this means there are six types of software to consider:

  Quantitative Qualitative
Input 1. Data entry 4. Text entry
Analysis 2. Statistical analysis 5. Qualitative analysis
Output 3. Statistical output 6.Text output

It would be nice to divide this review into those six types, but the available software doesn't fall into those neat groups. Some software does a lot of those things, while other programs are very specialized.

A few years ago this website had one large page on research software. But it got too big, so we've split it into five parts: this page (with the overview), and separate pages for
statistical software and
qualitative software and
content analysis software and
visualization software and
how to analyse surveys using Excel(not a great idea, but as this software is so common, here's how to do it as painlessly as possible).

The commonest question from visitors to these pages seems to be "Which software is best?" The answer's easy, but maybe not very helpful: "It depends on (a) what you are trying to do, (b) how much time you want to spend learning how to use the software, (c) who you might find to help you, and (d) how often you will use the software."

Few of the programs described on these pages are easy to use. (The exceptions are probably Inspiration and Epidata.) Even if you've learned statistics or qualitative research at university level, it still takes time to learn to use this software. Though you can probably start doing productive work in a week, it's likely to take you months before you understand it enough to use all the features you might need. It's only when you use the software for a real project that you discover its limitations and strengths.