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ATLAS.ti : The Basics

A tutorial to get started with the computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) program ATLAS.ti.

Basic Terminology

There are some fundamentals to cover to acquaint yourself with ATLAS.ti.  

Your ATLAS.ti Project

Is essentially a container for your quotations, coding information, notes, documents, and everything else associated with an individual project.  For example, if you have 100 documents in one project and 100 different documents in another project, all of them coded and annotated, the ATLAS.ti project (previously referred to as a Hermeneutic Unit (HU)), is the architecture that keeps everything together within its own project.

Important Note about Saving your Project!

If you want to move your project file to a different computer, or otherwise create a copy to work from, you must Export! Saving the project only saves the your working copy stored in your AppData folder, which is inaccessible to the user. Exporting creates the neat .altproj file package, which you can then import into ATLAS.ti on another machine. However, if you haved linked documents (usually audio/video files too large for import), you need to bring those to the new machine as well. See information about linked documents on the Creating a Project section of this guide.

Primary Documents (PDs)

The things you are going to be analyzing.  They can be anything from text files to video, audio, image, and even geographic data files. When you're working with your documents, ATLAS.ti works on a copy to preserve your original files.


Capture meaning in your data and represent occurrences that cannot be found by simple text based searching.  Codes can operate on different levels, depending on the depth of analysis as well as qualitative research methodology.  Generally, as you are working, you will come across similar occurrences and want to classify them.  This is coding.  See the coding pages for more information.


Parts of the PDs that are interesting to you.  They are what correspond to codes you have assigned, and can be called up and highlighted for visualization purposes.  In a text document, the quotation will be a string of words.  Quotations for other file types that do not include words will look a little different, e.g. a recurring symbol in multiple paintings, similar excerpts from multiple interviews,  or a point on a map. 


These are kind of like annotations you would write in the margin of a book when something interesting occurred to you.  Different from codes, memos are simply jottings that come to mind as you are working, and can be linked to codes and quotations.


Networks are used to help you visualize relationships among entities in your results. You can map out what contradictions, causes and effects, or associations between your ideas, and create your own relationship labels that define your analysis.


Links are like networks, but are used to connect your quotations, both coded and uncoded. You can use link names like "contradicts" or "expands upon" to link relevant quotations together.

Your Workspace

Almost everything you will need in ATLAS.ti is accessible from the Home tab. The layout in ATLAS.ti 8 is similar to Microsoft Office products. The Home tab will be your friend throughout your research. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the buttons' locations. Note that you won't be able to access this screen without importing some documents, like the example project outlined on Creating a Project.


home tab selected, main workspace of atlas.ti, primary documents to left, codes on right, text highlighted with selected code, most everything you need to access is in home tab, managers group

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