Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

In Brief

What it does

Windows-based qualitative researcher’s workbench which helps researchers to organise all their material and their thoughts in one place. It supports thorough and systematic analysis of transcripts or other qualitative data using a variety approaches ranging from the quasi-quantitative to through to unstructured, intuitive or ideas-led methods.

Supplier

QSR

Our ratings

Score 3.5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 4.5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

£795 for single user with volume discounts up to 25% and special rates for educational and government sector users. Annual support and maintenance is £160.

Pros

  • Much improved ease-of-use over version 1
  • Now incorporates a mapping tool for free-format thinking or mind-mapping
  • Very flexible: offers many different way to sift and analyse data
  • Can share work and collaborate on the analysis locally or internationally

Cons

  • Hard to analyse groups where participants of individual groups don’t all share the same sample characteristics
  • Performing queries can still be a challenge
  • No easy way to import structured lists or tagged items from Excel or Word
  • Word export uses styles in an illogical way; PowerPoint export virtually unusable

In Depth

XSight, when it launched midway through 2004, was the first serious attempt to bring IT to bear on the work of the qualitative market researcher. It presented a welcome breakaway from the many code-and-tag qual tools used by social researchers. But after two and a half years and a couple of minor upgrades on, the program was looking tired – and some researchers were finding fault for it being a bit stiff and unfriendly.

It is clear that QSR, authors of both XSight and also NVivo, which is widely used in academia, have listened carefully to users and critics, because the transition from version 1 to 2 is like taking a flight from wintry Britain and emerging into the warmth and sunshine of the tropics. The program is brighter, more colourful and altogether more fluid in its approach. There are many great new features to save time and effort on the journey that starts with a wall of words and ends with those of nuggets of wisdom and understanding that get clients excited.

Not only does the program look much nicer, but it addresses several serious lacks in version 1. For example, free-form tagging, outside of analysis frameworks, which was a serious deficit. Now, you have a stock of coloured circles, stars and the like that you can apply, giving each one your own annotation. You can track these all the way through to your report, and your annotation will appear as a tooltip whenever you mouse the shape, which is handy if you use a lot of them.

The biggest change is what QSR call maps. This allows you to map out a tree diagram of ideas for analysis. Anyone familiar with mind maps will recognise the similarity, though it is not a true mind map. Your concepts sit in discrete but linked boxes. You cannot annotate the links as you can with a mind map, only the boxes. But it is fit for purpose, as you can grow your ideas organically, like on a whiteboard and when you are ready, transform it into a ready-to-go analysis framework. It partly overcomes another of my bugbears, in that setting up the analysis frameworks can be extremely tedious – especially if you have book for a discussion guide to work to. But the program still lacks a decent import from structured lists in either Word or Excel, where either the guide or analysis data has already been given a structure externally.

The new interface makes the software much more usable overall. It now supports drag and drop throughout. It also provides plenty of toolbars, which are all configurable, so you can put your favourite tools together, or hide the ones you rarely use. All the options are also available from the toolbar and many also by keyboard shortcuts or from right mouse clicks.

In the old program, your display would split vertically to let you have two work areas in view at once, but the analysis framework and outputs from queries always had exclusive use of the top pane. In version 2 you can use your two display regions however you like, simply by dragging the tab of view from one pane to another, which alone makes the application much more productive to use.

Querying is still a bit of a dark art, and in my view, the default display remains somewhat cluttered and unfriendly, though the capability is extremely useful. Perhaps this will be the focus for version 3. However, the report writing capabilites are greatly improved, and the export to Word works a bit better than it did. Unfortunately it writes out headings as character styles, not paragraph styles, which means you cannot generate a table of contents, and a lot of the rest of the formatting is hard coded as local overrides, so you could spend hours trying to make an almost nice document into something presentable. I cannot imagine who would use the ‘presentation’ feature, which is a bit like PowerPoint, but not enough like it to be much help.

But these niggles are fairly peripheral and should not deter anyone from requesting an evaluation copy. Many users write their presentations in a separate window in Word or PowerPoint, and it is terribly easy to cut and past between the two.

Now I have used the software for analysing some transcripts myself, I cannot think of a better way to do it. If you are still shuffling documents on paper or trying to organise material in Excel and Word, a copy of this should save you enough time to be able to leave the office on time most days.

Customer perspective: Liz Montgomery at GfK London

GfK NOP now make significant use of XSight, with 23 licences in the UK and further afield. Liz Montgomery, Divisional Director, GfK NOP Business and Technology, is a regular user and has moved from version 1 to version 2. She comments on her experiences with XSight 2:

“One of the things I have noticed  you can use it in a lot of different ways. Some people like to start by using the whiteboards, which they (QSR) call maps. This works well if you are time rich and have a more open palette to analyse. Other people will start with a much more structured approach, with a detailed analysis framework, yet others will just put themes in and work their transcript items back into the themes.

It is a very good collaborative tool, especially for large international projects, and is getting stronger in this. We often have five or more consultants working on a project in different locations; it can really help to give them a structure to write things up, overall. But it also gives them to freedom to add stuff in, and it does not mess up the layout, – and we can import it and incorporate and re-analyse it later.

I particularly like the free search capability, and also ‘ideas’ – if you have an idea it encourages you to write it down now, when you think of it, even if the idea falls over later when you come back to look at it, but sometimes it gives you something very exciting.

You could do a lot with version 1, but the old interface was clunky and slow. In the new version it is much faster, and the toolbars seem to be more logical.

The biggest improvement is maps, which I think of these as whiteboards, and along with it the ability to link everything together onto the whiteboard. And tagging is great. It was absent before and was really needed. Tags give you lots of flexibility to organise your data.

Another big improvement is the way you can select and output quotes, which worked before but was rather ugly in the old program. You can even write your whole presentation in this if you want to, and I know of some people who do just that. For me, it is really useful being able to output the analysis and the quotes into a nicely formatted Word document.

At GfK NOP, we see it as adding a lot of richness. It is a very positive marketing tool with some clients, for example, but also it does genuinely gives you efficiency and the ability to handle the data in ways you could not easily do before. I have found particularly, with some complex studies where there is a lot of data, that it would be quite hard to analyse with traditional methods and look at it really thoroughly, which this lets you do, and do it quickly too.

The fear for some qualitative researchers is this is automating thinking and it definitely doesn’t do that. You have to do the thinking. It enables you to think more and look at everything quicker – and just get more out of the data.”

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, April 2007, Issue 492

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