OneNote for recording and coding qualitative data (+ more on tagging metaphor for flags)
Last year I experimented with using OneNote to record interviews: it allows to record audio syncronised with notes. The main reason is that I don't have resources (and to be fair don't see the need) to make full-text transcription of all interviews, so I use notes plus audio combination to work on the data.
Specific advantages of OneNote in this respect:
- My notes include key phrases, issues and emphasis, so I can easily recover the contents of the interview even without having full-text transcription (I actually transcribed one of the interviews, only to realise that it didn't add any new insights on the data for myself).
- I can go directly to an interesting note, click a button and then audio starts automatically - this is a very easy way to retrieve specific fragments in case I want more details.
- I can edit notes (e.g. in cases when I want to have a full-text quote) and add more notes without destroying the audio link. It's not perfectly synchronised, but works well enough for connecting right paragraphs to corresponding audio pieces.
Specific things you have to keep in mind if you want to use it this way:
- Make sure you have an external microphone. I didn't have it, so sometimes the audio quality doesn't make me happy. Fortunately, since using OneNote was an experiment I had a back-up audio recorder, so sometimes I have to use that audio and miss the advantages of syncronisation.
- There is a way for automatic transcription of (close to perfect) audio into notes (another reason to have an external microphone). I haven't tried it out yet, but if it works it would provide interesting opportunities (e.g. good quality automatic transcriptions would allow concentrate on meta-level in note-taking).
Now to the coding. I didn't want to port data from OneNote to any external qualitative data analysis system, since those I checked wouldn't allow to use audio or would break the connection between audio and notes. OneNote has some basic "coding" functionality, but unfortunately this is not enough for what I want.
I thought of coding the data with OneNote flags: flags allow to mark fragments of text and then retrieve it as summaries (makes sense to read this post if you need a better understanding of how it works). I guess OneNote flags were not intended for a use in a way I envisioned for them, so not surprising I have a long list of issues that don't make me happy. Anyway, I'll write them down - who know what inspiration the developers might need for the next version :)
What I miss:
- User defined icons (or keywords/tags) to remember easily what is behind certain flag (it's a bit difficult to remember what did I mark with blue/yellow/green geometrical figure :)
- Ability to define keyboard shortcuts for all flags I want (currently only nine flags have predefined shortcuts, to add others I have to go via a couple of menu levels - quite annoying). Alternatively, I could think of a general flag shortcut that would allow me to select a flag from existing ones or add a new one (and I really would love to add text (tags :) as flags).
- Ability to flag section of text (e.g. one sentence, one word) instead of a whole paragraph as it is now. With pieces of interviews heavily flagged my summaries become too long and unreadable.
- Flag summaries
- Ability to see context (e.g. page name) in front of a flag if I go for a summary across different pages
- Ability to see summaries for specific flags only.
- Exporting flag summaries (e.g. in a table format with page name : flag : note - I'll find a way to port it into more powerful tools)
- All kind of advanced stuff (e.g. ability to look at co-occurancies and relationsips between flags, see below for more).
In general, I believe that the whole idea of flags and summaries could grow much further then what is there now. Current functionality supporting flags seems to come from an idea of someone using just a few to mark important fragments or action points - it definitely doesn't scale beyond that. I'd think about flags in OneNote as tags - in a way those are used in del.icio.us, Flickr or blogs - not necessarily social, but definitely a way to organise, retrieve and analyse your own digital bits.
In that respect it would require a flexible flagging (tagging :) system, probably with text-based flags, and a set of tools to retrieve and display slices of data per flag (or combination of flags). Don't know how much it is implementation-wise, but ideas and examples of how it might work are out there in the open (and I'm prepared to work out a couple of scenarios on how this thing might work).