JITE v33n4 - Under Review - The Ethnograph

Volume 33, Number 4
Summer 1996

Seidel, J., Friese, S., & Leonard, D. C. (1995). The Ethnograph [vers 4.0]. Qualis Research Associates, P.O. Box 2070, Amherst, MA 01004. $207.00.

Richard E. Satchwell

Management and analysis of qualitative research data is an enormous and often frustrating task for social science researchers. The computer program entitled The Ethnograph is designed to ease the frustration and facilitate the analysis of qualitative research data. The Ethnograph program was utilized recently by the Technology for All Americans Project during its formal consensus process, which included the review of a rationale and structure document directed at the study of technology by more than 500 persons. This review offers comments and shares insights for analyzing qualitative data based on that experience.

The Ethnograph software is designed to enhance and assist the process of noticing items of interest in data, collecting instances, and reasoning about those items. The data collected as part of the review of a national document included comments, suggestions, and critical issues surrounding the development of a rationale and structure for the study of technology. During this process, it was important to consider each comment or suggestion and to account for critical issues. The Ethnograph computer program worked very well for this purpose.

Creating a Data File

Before items of interest can be identified in data, a data file must be created by keying-in text. In our document review process the data consisted of comments written in the margins of the document by reviewers and their responses to questions at the end of each section of the document. The built-in editor or any word processing program that has the ability to save a file in the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) format may be used for this purpose.

This program promises to make qualitative research a reality on the Internet. Our project explored the potential to review the document electronically via the Internet. We were able to create data files from each response submitted from our review form, eliminating the need to retype each comment.

The documentation for this software program provides clear directions for importing files from various word processing programs into the desired format for The Ethnograph. The completed data file is imported into the program and is automatically formatted into a 40 character, single spaced, line numbered file (see Figure 1), which is then used to explore items of interest.

The Coding Procedure

The Ethnograph allows the researcher to explore the qualitative data to find and mark interesting items in the data file in a number of ways. The coding procedure also allows the researcher to develop a profile of the data source, providing the researcher with the ability to recall files and develop a profile of the demographics used in the study. A code mapping procedure must be devised by the researcher. This consists of reviewing each file to find interesting items in the data and marking the line segments that contain those items of interest with a particular code word (see Figure 1).

A code word is used to identify a segment of text that is of interest and might be needed at a future time. A code word can consist of up to ten letters, symbols, or spaces. Twelve code words can be used to identify a segment of text. As Figure 1 illustrates, segments can be nested and/or overlapped. This nesting or overlapping can be executed to a maximum of seven levels. Overall, there is no limit to the total number of code words that the researcher can use when analyzing a data file.

The code mapping process can be completed on the computer monitor or on paper. If the latter method is used, the researcher must recall each individual computer file and complete the coding process by identifying the start and stop lines for each coded text segment.

Figure 1
An example of a coded data file for The Ethnograph


Q6: Well delineated! Suggest continual    11    |
 reinforcement that reassessment of       12    |
 components be addressed as an ongoing    13    |
 process. Every effort should be made     14    |
 to include the study of technology as    15    |
 a separate core curriculum. An           16    |   Rationale
 intensified effort to identify and       17    |
 demonstrate the difference between       18    |
 technology education and educational     19    |
 technology is necessary to clarify       20    |
 direction for local school board         21    |
 funding practices.                       22____|

+Editing                                  24
P15: Tech Ed vs. Ed Tech - This           26    |
 confusion is one of the primary          27    |
 reasons for local school boards to       28    |   Discipline
 minimize the funding of technology       29    |
 education as a separate core subject.    30____|_
 School boards, administrators, all       31    | |
 teachers, parents must be educated as    32    | | Definition, Call
 to the profound difference!!             33____|_|
P21: Regarding Technological Design box   35    |
 - Outstanding!                           36____|   Components

Exploring the Data

The Ethnograph makes it easy to explore the data in ways that interest the researcher. As we reviewed the data collected from a national review of a draft document, it was imperative that we identify the critical issues. After generating a data file for each reviewer, we were able to recall each code word as one large data set and begin to develop an understanding of the critical issues surrounding our document. This process also allowed us to develop a sense of how well the reviewers agreed, or came to consensus with each section of the document. The face sheet attached to each individual data file made it possible to reveal the demographics of the reviewers.

Code words used to identify segments of text can be searched individually or combined in a number of ways to reveal different aspects of the data. For example, by coding segments with multiple codes such as gender (for any comment surrounding gender issues) and rationale (the code word used to identify segments concerning the rationale for the study of technology) we were able to identify places within the rationale section of our document that needed attention to issues regarding gender.

Summary output of the data can be generated in three different ways: (a) as segments of text by displaying the actual text of each segment, (b) as frequency counts of the coded segments, and (c) as summary output that simply lists the line number coordinates of the different segments. The use of each type of output depends on the type of data and the desired end use of the output. For example, our project was able to generate output that enabled us to tabulate the number of reviewers who agreed or disagreed with various questions on the review forms at the end of each section of text.

Advantages of The Ethnograph

  • The size of the program and DOS version of the software allow it to operate on almost any IBM compatible machine still in use.
  • The program will allow the researcher to explore qualitative data in a variety of formats.
  • The cost of the program does not prohibit low budget projects from making use of its capabilities.
  • Data can be imported from existing word processors or edited within the program.
  • The program will allow the researcher to quantify qualitative data.
  • The program documentation is useful and provides an excellent tutorial to help the novice user. There is also an excellent narrative in an appendix dealing with qualitative research in general.

Disadvantages of The Ethnograph

  • This is a DOS based program that does not run under Windows, prohibiting the use of a mouse-driven menu.
  • The operating system for this program demands that the user know how to use the Program Manager in Windows or DOS commands to manipulate the data files.

Managing qualitative data and analyzing a large volume of text can be frustrating and time consuming for any researcher. The Ethnograph, designed to run on DOS-based computers, makes this task easier. The program offers the researcher flexibility for coding data files to explore items of interest to the individual research effort. Overall, The Ethnograph would be a valuable addition to the software library of any social science researcher interested in the analysis of qualitative data. Further information and a demonstration copy of this program can be found on the Qualis Research Associates home page at http://www.qualisresearch.com.

System Requirements: IBM compatible computer with an 80286 or higher processor, at least 2 megabytes of RAM, and a hard disk with a minimum of 2 megabytes of free disk space.

Reference Citation: Satchwell, R. (1996). Review of The ethnograph. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 33(4), 78-82

Tracy Gilmore