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Posted 04.01.05
 
 
   

New Computer Program Helps Scholars 'Manage and Analyze' Qualitative Data

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Every day, researchers, teachers and businessmen and women are bombarded with new and cluttered information from all directions. Whether it is new research to analyze, papers to grade or a presentation to create, it is challenging to find the most important material. A researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia has developed a new computer content analysis program, Qualrus, which helps manage and analyze this qualitative data, or data that does not have a numeric value, for anyone overwhelmed by vast amounts of information.

"Other qualitative analysis programs offer little help with coding and are not more useful at the end of the project than at the beginning," said Ed Brent, professor of sociology at MU and creator of Qualrus. "Yet, between the beginning and end of data entry, a wealth of information has been entered in the project knowledge base. Qualrus takes advantage of this information to identify patterns in the data and use those patterns to suggest likely codes to the researcher."

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Brent began developing the software in order to help researchers conduct their work. Most of the time, researchers were handling unstructured data, which consisted of interviews, articles and literature data, Brent said. This type of information had become very difficult to sort through to determine the most important content.

Two years ago, Brent received a grant from the National Science Foundation to build and test Qualrus. Not only did he use it for research, but he began to use it in the classroom to help grade the first drafts of essays in a writing intensive course. By programming certain patterns of words and phrases, Brent could make Qualrus examine an essay and determine whether a student had answered the assigned questions.

Brent said his program isn't just for researchers and teachers. It also can be useful for large companies that have unstructured data such as press clippings and emails; for lawyers and physicians who want to summarize and review case materials for trials or medical charts; and for journalists who want to categorize, manage and analyze media content.

"We may be in the age of information, but we're not in an age of knowledge," Brent said. "We are bombarded by so much unstructured data that we have problems deciphering what's truly important. This program helps people sort through everything."

The latest version of Qualrus provides access to HTML pages on the Web. In the next two months, Brent will unveil a new version of Qualrus. It also will provide access to PDF files, which are protected documents that prohibit people from saving them as text.

For more information on the program, visit www.ideaworks.com.

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