ATLAS.ti vs NVivo vs MAXQDA

There is a range of available software that has developed over the years and distinctions have been made between kinds of CAQDAS (text retrievers, code and retrieve, qualitative comparative analysis, theory building).

I am right now in the beginning of my research, trying to compare and better understand each QDA software available on the market. My university doesn’t offer any free license for Qualitative or Mix-Methods software, what represent some freedom but as well an extra charge for someone who has to pay for everything.

My purposes and research are very complex and almost cover every single possibility that these softwares presents. I had not the possibility to try them all, even that there are some trial versions, so free licenses are more than welcome 😉

Let’s review the three more used private QDA softwares available:


The purpose of ATLAS.ti is to help researchers uncover and systematically analyze complex phenomena hidden in unstructured data (text, multimedia, geospatial). The program provides tools that let the user locate, code, and annotate findings in primary data material, to weigh and evaluate their importance, and to visualize the often complex relations between them.

Advantages of Atlas.ti

  • Supports multimedia files and PDFs
  • East Asian and Middle Eastern language support
  • Google Earth is embedded
  • Multiple ways of working in the system (high flexibility)
  • On-Board Transcription Engine
  • Visual model building and “mind mapping” using the Network Editor
  • Export to SPSS, HTML, CSV

Limitations of Atlas.ti

  • Managing the project requires care because of the external database system—changes need to be carefully saved.
  • Main working code list does not have a functioning hierarchical structure.
  • Query tool lacks the ability to integrate searchers for text with searches for coded data.


Tutorials on

Videos on Youtube


NVivo is a qualitative data analysis (QDA) computer software package produced by QSR International. It has been designed for qualitative researchers working with very rich text-based and/or multimedia information, where deep levels of analysis on small or large volumes of data are required.

NVivo uses an interface similar to Microsoft making it user-friendly, while it is easily accessible from any mobile device including an iPhone, iPad, tablet, and Android phone using EverNote. These features work well for various size projects and with single to multiple person teams. Online video tutorials and support manual are available for users who wish to view a demonstration or need assistance with understanding NVivo functions.

Advantages of NVivo

  • Available in several languages (English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Simplified Chinese)
  • Allows simultaneous use and sharing of data among research team members
  • Supports data formats such as audio files, videos, digital photos, Word, PDF, spreadsheets, rich text, plain text and web and social media data
  • NCapture add-on imports data from social media sites (e.g. Facebook posts, LinkedIn comments, YouTube videos)
  • Interchange data with applications like Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, IBM SPSS Statistics, EndNote, Microsoft OneNote, SurveyMonkey and Evernote

Limitations of NVivo

  • Importing large datasets can take a large amount of time or may result in an error message
  • NVivo Mac has limited functionality (e.g. undo option not available for all actions)
  • Files from other programs, such as OneNote, not always imported accurately (i.e. missing data, change in layout).


Tutorials on

Videos on Youtube


MAXQDA is a software program designed for computer-assisted qualitative and mixed methods data, text and multimedia analysis in academic, scientific, and business institutions. It is the successor of winMAX, which was first made available in 1989. It is being developed and distributed by VERBI Software based in Berlin, Germany

Unlike most other CAQDAS, MAXQDA was not developed on the background of Grounded Theory. Instead the software is designed for both qualitative, quantitative research and (mixed methods research).

The emphasis on going beyond qualitative research can be observed in the extensive attributes function (called variables in the programme itself) and the ability of the programme to deal relatively quickly with larger numbers of interviews

Advantages of MAXQDA

  • Cloud-based, or does not require internet access
  • Excellent for mixed methods
  • Coding is made easy with drag and drop, color assignments, and weights
  • Several tutorials, user discussion boards, and support options are available via the MAXQDA product website.
  • All data is stored in one .mx5 (Windows) or .mx11 file (Mac)
  • Internal program media player
  • Import and coding of PDF and graphic files
  • Georeferencing
  • Powerful Multimedia Features – Analyze Audio and Video without Transcript
  • Literature Connection – Analyze Your Literature
  • Smart Publisher – Professional Report Generator
  • MAXQDA Mobile App – Extend the Possibilities for Your Research

Limitations of MAXQDA

  • Projects cannot be accessed simultaneously by multiple users. Rather team members must have access to the program, work separately, and then merge files together.


Tutorials on

Videos on Youtube

License comparison

Before you buy your student license make sure you have a look at this comparison in cost and features.

Software Atlas.ti Nvivo MAXQDA
Windows/Mac Windows and Mac OS X* Windows and Mac OS X Windows and Mac OS X
License duration 2 Years 1 Year 2 Years
Installation 1 2 2
Free trial period 30 Days 30 Days 30 Days
Promotions Includes MAXDictio Includes MAXDictio
Student License Cost $99 – PC+Mac/$69 – Mac 120 $** 115 $
Download Demo Link Link Link

* ATLAS.ti for Mac OS X requires OS version 10.8 ‘Mountain Lion’ or higher. Nvivo is less demanding and it requires Mac OS X 10.7.5 or higher and MAXQDA is the least demanding and it requires Mac OS X 10.7 or higher.

Sept 2015. Warwick University

4 thoughts on “ATLAS.ti vs NVivo vs MAXQDA

  1. Hi Manuel: Thanks for making this available. Just a couple of clarifications: a. The ATLAS.ti free trial does not expire; you can use it forever, but with small projects. b. The student license can be installed in two personal computers; c. The Mac only license is not sold anymore. Now you get both Windows and Mac for the price of one 2-year student license (US$99); you may also export to XML; d. you may create a hierarchical coding system using transitive code-to-code relations (IS A and IS PART OF), and you can code using that hierarchy through the Code Tree and the Code Forest; e. Although in ATLAS.ti Windows you have the option of adding external documents, saving is a easy as clicking on the Save button. However, to back up the project, you have to create a Copy Bundle, which will protect your project against computer malfunction. ATLAS.ti Mac does not require a Copy Bundle because document are always imported.

    Thank you!


  2. Hi Ricardo!

    Thanks a lot for your reply here. I was actually hesitating if I should go to ATLAS.ti as far as I am Mac user.

    I have just checked your WP and found that you offer free courses, in different languages, but d you organize Software Presentations? I mean, do you organize events where a 1:1 could be done and new user could take a first contact with ATLAS.ti with a professional?


  3. Hi Manuel: thanks for writing back. We offer free software presentations through web conferencing, where we give an overview of ATLAS.ti Mac and Windows. To register for any of these, go to: We also offer free software presentations for groups. For that, we require a group of three or more people. I am the instructor of the English-language webinars. I hope to keep in contact with you. You may contact me at ricardo.contreras at


  4. I purchased an AtlasTI 6 student license precisely because the AtlasTI website clearly stated that the student license never expired. This assured me that I would be able to continue to build on my project and open it long after I finished my PhD. However, after two years later, when I reinstalled AtlasTI 6 on a new computer and went through the registration process, my license was rejected.

    The AtlasTI staff first denied that a non-expiring student license existed, but when I provided screen shots proving this, they offered the weak excuse that since I was no longer a student, my right to use it had technically expired.
    This weak excuse to maximize company profit seriously eroded my trust in AtlasTI. I will never use it again.

    MaxQDA offers a very good product and HyperResearch is considerably cheaper and offers less restrictive licensing options.


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