Software Review-- winMax
Research Design and Methodology
Prof. Richard Wilk
winMAXis a software program distributed by Scolari at (www.scolari.com). Technical support can also be found at this site. Updates, winMax history and philosophy are located at (www.winmax.de).
Student $215; Educational $350; Standard $575
Platform (software and hardware requirements):
486 or Pentium Processor; Windows 95, 98 or Windows NT; 16 MB RAM, SVGA—no version for Mac computers is available.
Any researcher analyzing large amounts of textual material such as field notes, transcripts of qualitative interviews, answers to open-ended questions, observation protocols, etc. Although much is made in the promotional materials about the need to combine qualitative and quantitative data, I think what was meant was that the program permits a certain degree of quantification of your qualitative data. Statistical or other numerical data are not manipulable in this program.
According to its creator, winMAX is a software program designed to facilitate "scientific text analysis" using a "case-oriented quantification approach" combining qualitative and quantitative operations during the evaluation of qualitative research data. The program itself is straightforward and I was able to learn it in a few hours. The theoretical framework underlying it (and elaborated in the accompanying 176 page Adobe file) is not. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. Ideally a program for organizing and analyzing one’s field data should bear this sort of relationship to the theories employed. What is important is how successfully such a program is able to do justice to its theoretical underpinnings.
How does it work?
The demo CD-ROM provided by winMax includes all the basic features of the full program. It is possible to import texts from one’s own files into the demo program which makes the simulations much more meaningful than preset texts can. What winMAX does is provide a variety of ways to code text passages for the purpose of interpreting and systematizing them. To do this it is first necessary to import the texts in question from another word processing program into winMAX as ASCII (or text-only) files. Once entered, the coding can proceed using codes, memos, and variables. The layout of the program features four separate windows which can be accessed simultaneously: "list of texts," "list of codes," "list of coded segments," and "working text." This layout is very helpful when tagging text passages, establishing lists of codes, searching by term, referencing the relationships between different codes, or different texts, etc. Additional functions which permit the researcher to extract and view or print groups of coded passages, lists of codes, etc. work fine once the basic routine has been learned. Searches are possible in a variety of configurations, including a rather intriguing Key Word in Context (KWIC) function. Searching across files is possible as is the retrieval of a significant amount of statistical information about the frequency with which words or phrases occur in the texts.
The Adobe tutor program provided with the CD is a big help, and can be used on-screen by flipping back and forth between the tutorial and the demo program windows. Videos of several basic sample scenarios are also provided, but I found them too fast to learn, and just about right to confirm what I figured out on my own with the tutorial. The text walks through the steps very methodically, and missteps are for the most part accepted graciously. The coding and notes functions in winMAX are set up in an obvious enough manner, but I would have preferred if I could have resized more of the windows.
Its relevance to an ERG researcher:
winMAX would be most helpful to someone who had accumulated a greater or lesser amount of material in text form and was ready to analyze it for patterns and categories. An ERG researcher would, I think, be in a similar position to many other social scientists in terms of the kinds of data collected and the questions to be asked of the material.
In reviewing a software tool such as winMAX it is important to distinguish between the general task of organizing one’s material, and the specific circumstances of a given software program designed to facilitate this task. When contemplating any software it is important to realize what it can and cannot do for you. A software program will not organize the material for you. Nor will it interpret the meanings of your field notes. In many ways such a program can do very little of the hard work for you. Under the best of circumstances, it will make the hard work of combing through, and finding passages in, the data easier.
In most situations winMAX provides a user-friendly interface between the researcher and the raw material to be analyzed, and it permits various ways of systematizing the variables and concepts of interest. The time I spent working with this program has demonstrated to me some of the possibilities for simplifying what can be very tedious work. After wrestling with half a dozen other, cheaper--in some cases even free--software programs designed to do similar kinds of work, I was relieved to find one which I, as a somewhat reluctant computer user, could teach myself how to use.
At more than $200/copy I am not quite ready to purchase winMAX for my personal use, but when the time comes to sift through my research data, I will definitely consider it.