As part of this tutorial series on how to use ConnectedText for qualitative data analysis, in the previous post I have suggested that it might be a good idea to design and set up your research project and work flow in CT before importing the data that you want to analyse. Now we are ready to discuss how to import your qualitative research data into CT.
Please note that I won’t go into all the possible ins and outs of importing stuff into CT. You can read all about that in CT’s Welcome project (Help file), which is available here [2.9MB]. The topics of interest are “Importing text,” “Images,” “Movies,” “Embed Youtube video in a topic,” “Files,” “URL,” and “Application button.” Instead, here I want to focus on the organising of the import process, with some import tips that may not be found in CT’s Welcome project.
As I suggested in the previous post, I prefer to conduct the import process as part of the analytical filtering process of sorting out what’s important and what’s not. Importing stuff into CT is an opportunity to execute one operation of reduction on the long road of reduction and abstraction that leads to the producing of your research report or dissertation.
After all the entire qualitative research process is about reducing things meaningfully. You start out with collecting possibly millions of words (and hundreds or thousands of media and other types of files). Then the challenge is to reduce these millions of words (captured in your interviews, participant observations, collected materials etc.) into an 80,000-word dissertation, and beyond that, into 10,000-word journal articles.
For this reason I recommend importing material incrementally, as and when needed for the analytical process. Import stuff for one of your case studies or import one type of data (such as all the interview transcripts) and then organise and possibly even analyse (code) them before importing the next batch. During the analysis of the first batch you will get new ideas about how to organise the entire project, so that the next batch can be imported into a more organised space.
As you are importing stuff, you can use the Navigator to see which topic to link the newly imported material to. Effectively you are building a meaningful hierarchy, so that it can be easily navigated by just simply following logical links from the Home (dashboard) page to where you need to go.
The Topic list pane can also be used for introducing some order. For example, when you import a series of interviews belonging to the same case study, you may want to name the topics according to a convention using the same starting letters and/or numbers, so that they appear in a particular (alphanumerical) order in the Topic list.
E.g. let’s say you are conducting an interview series with me about my use of CT. After you had transcribed your recorded interviews in MS Word, you could start importing the Word files and naming the resulting topics as “DRA1 Why CT,” “DRA2 Getting started” etc. (DRA being the code for the “Dr Andus” case study and the number signifying the chronological order of the interviews).
Then when you are analysing “DRA1 Why CT” and you want to break it up into smaller chunks (new topics) using the very helpful “Cut to new topic (CTRL+ALT+N)” context menu command in CT (which will leave a link to the newly “cut away” topic in the parent topic), you can name the new topics “DRA1.1”, “DRA1.2” etc. This will keep all the topics belonging to the same case study next to each other in the Topic list, making it easier to find them (especially after you end up with thousands of topics a few months or years down the road).
Now, back to some of the mechanics of importing data into CT. “Importing” may not in fact be the right term, if by ‘importing’ you would expect files and their contents to be all included in CT’s project file, like it happens in NVivo for instance. As CT is a wiki (and works as a website), mostly it is only text, markups (e.g. from HTML imports) and scripts that actually get imported into a CT topic (which are all some form of text anyway). Beyond that what I mean by “importing” simply includes creating links in a CT topic to external files, such as image files, PDF, PowerPoint, Excel and even programme files. Even though the image will be displayed inside your topic, it is effectively linked in from outside of CT’s topic and overall project file.
Remember, CT is called “ConnectedText,” and there must be a reason for this: it mostly works by connecting textual information (although numerical information is also a form of text for CT’s purposes, as long as we’re talking about the contents of a topic). Why is this important? So you understand that when you “import” a file that is other than text, such as an image file or a PDF, those files continue to sit in a folder deep inside your PC and not inside CT. If you move them or delete them, it might break the file association and they won’t display or launch from your CT topic. One way to avoid this problem is to copy these files into CT’s dedicated folder in its own folder structure.
But I find that too much hassle and I don’t want to duplicate hundreds or thousands of files. Instead, I consider the importing/linking of an external file as a part of the analysis process. Once I have decided to review a folder on my PC and decided what to import from there into CT, I am done with that folder for ever. While I will leave it where it is for archival purposes and in order not to break the link path to the CT topic, I never intend to go back there and duplicate my effort. The whole point of importing stuff into CT is to continue the rest of the analysis and processing of that information inside CT, as the main tool.
As I said earlier, for me importing is part of the analytical/filtering process. Before I decide to link to a file, I open it, read it, analyse it and extract only the most important information to be copied and pasted into the body of a CT topic (see how I use NoteTab to clean formatted text and to repair broken lines in text copied from a PDF here). I do include a link to the given file at the bottom of the topic but not because I ever want to return to it to analyse it again but only as a reference, so I know where that information comes from.
This process can work particularly well when you are reading for a literature review. You only want to import the summary and some quotes from a 20-page PDF article and not all of its 10,000 words. And also, you probably wouldn’t want to have to do that process all over again a year later, when you want to remind yourself of that article. You won’t have to because the summary and the key quotes are now in your CT topic, with a link to the original file just in case.
Let’s turn now to the specific mechanics of importing some important file types. Importing text files is easy, and copying and pasting might be the quickest way of doing that. However, most people would probably keep their interview transcripts and participant observation notes in some kind of a word-processor file such as Word. If it’s unformatted text, a simple copy and paste will do. However, if you already have rich text formatting applied, such as headings and font formatting (bold, italics), and some images embedded, you will need to use an import procedure.
Although CT’s import tool (Project > Import…) includes Rich Text Format (.RTF) as one of the options, I wouldn’t recommended it as it haven’t produced good results for me. Instead (and this was a tip from a CT forum user), save your MS Word document as “Web Page, Filtered” and import it as HTML using CT’s import tool. This is what you need to do in Word and then in CT:
- Open your Word document.
- Go to File > Save As.
- In the “Save as type” pull-down menu (right under “File name”) select “Web Page, Filtered.”
- Change the name of the file to the intended topic name according to the naming convention I suggested above.
- Click “Save.”
- Open your CT project.
- Go to Project > Import…
- In the import wizard select HTML for “Files to be considered.”
- Under “Source file” navigate to the folder where you had saved the converted Word file (now it’s an HTM file) and select it.
- Under the option “If topic exists” choose “Create a new one”, to make sure you don’t accidentally overwrite a topic that you may have already imported and edited before.
- Click “OK.”
- If you hadn’t done so in Word yet (which might be preferable), then after the import you can rename the imported topic according to the naming convention I suggested above.
As for “importing” (i.e. linking) content that’s other then text, it’s a simple “drag and drop” of the file from Windows Explorer (or your favourite file browser such as Directory Opus) straight into a CT topic that is open in edit mode. CT will recognise the type of file and will insert the necessary markup automatically. If you drag an image file, it will add an image markup so that the image can be displayed inside the topic in view mode. If you drag some other file type (PDF, Excel, PowerPoint etc.), then CT will create a file link, and clicking on that link will open the file in its respective application.
If you drag a URL straight from a web browser window, CT will convert it into a URL markup and create an external link that can be launched either in CT’s browser or an external browser like Firefox. Finally, if you drag a .exe file, CT will create a button in view mode, on the clicking of which the associated programme will launch. Neat or what? There are some other possibilities as well, but for those you will need to read CT’s Welcome project (Help file).
The main thing to note here is that CT can become the main depository of all the information related to your research project because you can either import it in text form or create a link to it. CT will become the brain and the central nervous system of your research project. But it also has some other internal organs to help you distil the essence of your project, which can emulate the CAQDAS process knows as “coding your material.” But more about that in my next post.