Do you have data in hand and are ready to start coding?  In the past, qualitative researchers' main tools for qualitative coding included scissors and colored highlighters, but today many choose to use a Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) software package instead.  

Why a QDA package?  QDA packages today have advanced functionality that allow for rigorous and systematic analyses.  In addition to providing an easy way to develop, update, and complete coding, QDA software includes analysis tools that provide data on the relationships between codes, easily quantify qualitative coding, and seamlessly incorporate metadata or characteristics of your data in your analysis.

Which QDA package should you choose?  Choosing a QDA software is a decision you should make based on three criteria.  First, the price point.  The strongest QDA software packages are all proprietary and require a fee for use, but prices vary.  Compare prices and see which QDA software are in your budget.  Second, your data source and the types of analyses you would like to conduct.  Make sure that the QDA packages you're interested in will support the type of data you're working with.  This is especially important for those of you working with visual, audio, or video files.  Furthermore, make sure the QDA package provides the types of analysis tools you will need to complete your work.  You'll need to assess whether the package can incorporate survey data you've collected, provides lexical or text analysis tools, and reports any kind of quantification of your coding you may need to complete your analysis.  Finally, you will need to consider how easy the software is to use.  This is a purely personal choice.  I recommend downloading a trial version of the packages you're considering and playing around in the sample databases they come with to see how you feel about the interface.  Not all interfaces are alike!

For information on the most popular QDA packages available, check out the QDA comparison table.