Using natural language processing technology for qualitative data analysis

Kevin Crowston, Eileen E. Allen, Robert Heckman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Social researchers often apply qualitative research methods to study groups and their communications artifacts. The use of computer-mediated communications has dramatically increased the volume of text available, but coding such text requires considerable manual effort. We discuss how systems that process text in human languages (i.e. natural language processing [NLP]) might partially automate content analysis by extracting theoretical evidence. We present a case study of the use of NLP for qualitative analysis in which the NLP rules showed good performance on a number of codes. With the current level of performance, use of an NLP system could reduce the amount of text to be examined by a human coder by an order of magnitude or more, potentially increasing the speed of coding by a comparable degree. The paper is significant as it is one of the first to demonstrate the use of high-level NLP techniques for qualitative data analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-543
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • coding
  • group maintenance
  • natural language processing
  • qualitative data analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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