Computer Software in Statistical Analysis: Role & Examples

Instructor: Nick Chandler
Making sense out of piles of research data can be a daunting prospect. This lesson looks at the computer software available to conduct analyses of research results.

Analyzing Data

Imagine you've just spent weeks, months, or even years gathering data for a research project, and now you want to analyze it all to find out what it means. Going through all that data is going to be quite the challenge. Some research projects are even abandoned when the researchers come to the stage of processing and analyzing all the data collected from sources, called raw data.

So what can you do? The data seems too massive to handle, and you have some doubts about some survey questions that seem unclear or miss-worded. How do you deal with all this data and make sure the results are useful and informative? The answer lies in computer software.

Computer Software

In the last two decades more and more software packages have been designed to help with data analysis. The software is designed for questionnaire-based research, called quantitative research, and for other types of research, such as interviews and focus groups, which is called qualitative research. Let's have a look at the programs and packages for these two types of research.

Programs for Qualitative Research

Very often, qualitative research involves dealing with long texts, and so the software involves such functions as text retrieval, coding, and building conceptual networks. For example, this software works if you want to analyze the content of a document for key words or themes and then rank the words relating to a topic by frequency of use. Sometimes it can be hard to choose between the software available, and there is information online to help with the choice. For example, the Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) Networking Project has been set up to help researchers find out which is the best software for their needs.

Programs for Quantitative Research

One of the most well-known packages for quantitative research is called SPSS, which stands for Statistics Package for the Social Sciences. It gives many options for statistical analysis and offers output in the form of tables, graphs, pie-charts and other diagrams. The software is easy to use, but that does not mean it is problem-free. The data put in must be correct and the suitable form of analysis chosen, otherwise the results will be misleading or simply wrong. Thus, you still need a knowledge of statistics to choose the appropriate method and necessary parameters of the analysis.

Commercial Programs

Some software has been developed for commercial use, such as spreadsheet and database packages. These packages are useful for providing basic figures such as averages, standard deviation, and so on. However, for academic research the results need to be considered as to whether they are statistically significant or not. Commercial packages are not (yet) capable of such analyses, and this is why programs such as SPSS are recommended above spreadsheets and databases. Let's have a look at the different software packages - both commercial and non-commercial.

Sources of Software

When you are aware of your needs for analysis and what sort of packages are best for you, there are a number of places where you can get your package from. Let's have a look at the options available:

Open source software is available with a license. The holder of the copyright for the software has the right to distribute the software, often at no cost. For example, vlc media player was developed and made freely available to the public. For statistical analysis, here are a few of the many open source software packages available:

• ADaMSoft. This is a general statistical software package that can be used for data mining and data management.

• CBEcon. This package is web-based and helps with econometrics, which refers to the analysis of specific economic data using statistical methods.

• JASP. This is an alternative to SPSS.

• Ploticus. This software package has been designed with a focus on creating graphs from raw data.

• Simfit. The software from this package enables the use to work on graphs, such as when trying to fit curves or plot data on a graph.

Freeware is also an option when you want to get hold of some software for analyzing data. There are some general statistical software packages available, such as MaxStat Lite, or some more specialized packages, such as WinBUGS for Bayesian analyses or SPS for using Rodger's method in statistical analysis.

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