Here are five tools I enjoy using with different kinds of data.
Qualtrics – I began using Qualtrics in 2010 when collecting survey data for my dissertation. Survey Monkey and Google Forms didn’t have the features I needed. John MacDermott helped me get started with a Penn Qualtrics account. I appreciated the ability to send reminder emails only to those who had not yet clicked on my survey without having to annoy people who had already finished it. I could export to Excel or Access. I could import lots of email addresses into panels and then generate random samples. I could share survey designs with colleagues or just share results without risking my painstaking setup of skip logic. Most recently, I used Qualtrics for the Mashup 2013 online voting.
Excel – I think Excel is amazing at so many levels. We have improving our Excel Guide for months now, adding sample spreadsheets and handouts. I use Excel daily. I copy/paste data from a webpage, and clean it up so I can pull out numbers for an email message. I use filters to find data entry errors. I create text formulas to rearrange words or extract first names for name-tags. Much of my work involves tracking and synthesizing information from many sources, and I find Excel pivot tables a big timesaver. I also love teaching others how to use Excel – it keeps me on my toes, and often teaches me a new trick or two.
NVivo – I just started using NVivo this April, teaching myself using our NVivo Guide. It is getting me excited to go deeper into qualitative research! You can bring in such a variety of data – video interviews, text transcripts, PDFs, spreadsheets and database files. You can click and drag your data to tag it with “node” names. You can collect text phrases and notice similarities across interviews. You can “auto-code” interviews. I wish I had learned about NVivo earlier – it would have saved me a lot of time.
Access – I see Microsoft Access as Excel’s big brother – more intimidating and more powerful. A few years ago, I made Access macros that generated a few hundred webpages each morning – so I invested many hours in the Access learning curve. Today, I find myself using Google Drive as a substitute. I depend on Access though for a few key tasks. It has some rare features, like the wizard that finds unmatched records – helps me quickly locate missing information. And I appreciate the wizard that finds duplicates for helping combine lists efficiently. Lately, I’m hearing rave reviews for FileMaker Pro so I plan to explore that over the summer.
WordPress – WordPress doesn’t quite fit the rest of this list, except that I find it so incredibly functional. This April marked the second birthday for the PennWIC blog which has far exceeded my expectations. I’ve been thrilled to watch individual posts go viral, and certainly, I did not expect several hundred people to want to get our posts by email! The platform has been simple, easy and a pleasure to use. We host posts by many people, and we can manage tags and categories intuitively. I find that we are better now at sharing ideas and information in a timely way. Now, if I could only understand how the plug-ins work…