A network based on text segments that are linked to each other is often referred to as a hypertext. The original sequential text is de-linearized, broken down into pieces that are then reconnected, making it possible to traverse from one piece of data to another piece of data regardless of their original positions.
As in ATLAS.ti, you cannot only work with text, this also applies to other data sources like images, audio, video or geo data.
Cross-references between text passages are very common also in conventional media like books - just think of religious and juridical texts, literature, journals etc. Footnotes and end notes are another common deviation from the pure linearity of sequential text. However, in conventional media, not much navigational support is provided for "traversing" between the pieces of data that reference each other.
This manual for example is a computer-related hypertext application that displays operational information in suitable small chunks (compared to lengthy printed information), but with a considerable amount of linkage to other pieces of information.
Another well-known hypermedia structure is the World Wide Web with its textual, graphical and other multimedia information distributed world-wide.
What are the advantages of direct connections between text segments, compared to the traditional procedures of qualitative text analysis?
The code & retrieve paradigm, which is so prevalent for many systems supporting the qualitative researcher, is not adequate for certain types of analysis. In formal terms, attaching codes to chunks of data creates named sets of segments with almost no internal structure. This is not to say that partitioning lots of text segments into sets is not useful. On the contrary, classification leads to manageable amounts of segments that later can be retrieved with the help of the attached code words. But this may not be the only way you want to look at your data.
The concept of hypertext introduces explicit relations between passages. These links have to be built manually and result from an intellectual effort. The system cannot decide for you that segment x is in contradiction to segment y. After the work of establishing the links, you can make semantically richer retrievals like: "Show statements contrary to statement x." See Manager for Links and Analytic Functions of Networks.
Hypertext allows you to create different paths through the data you are analyzing. For example, you may create a time line different from the strict sequence of the original text.
While a code offers fast access to sets of data segments that are similar, it defines only a simple relation between them, namely equivalence.
Hyperlinks can express more differentiated relationships between quotations, for example:
- statement A contradicts / supports / refers to statement B.
- Image quotation X in document 7 illustrates what has been said in quotation Y in document 12.
The data segment that you can relate to each other can be from the same or different documents.
ATLAS.ti incorporates procedures for creating and browsing hypertext structures. It allows for two or more quotations being connected using named relations. See About Relations.
Further, you can create graphical maps - using Networks - to make parts of your hyperspace accessible easily.
Hyperlinks may connect quotations (textual, graphical, multimedia) across documents (inter-textual links) or may link segments within the same primary document (intra-textual links). The natural boundary for hyperlinks, like all structures in ATLAS.ti, is the project.