Reducing Qualitative Data Analysis Through Autocomplete Text Fields

By Tommy Jackson on September 1, 2016


One of the difficulties in doing research that occurs during the data analysis phase is how to analyze open text entries. Anytime data is collected into a text field, it becomes a qualitative data point when it comes to data analysis. Analyzing qualitative data tends to be more time consuming and is open to the analyst’s interpretation.

In some cases it is difficult to come up with all the options to include in a drop down choice field. So many times, other is offered as a selection and a text entry field is made available to capture the other descriptor. In many cases, a text field is offered simply because there might be a lot of other type options even when most people will enter the same response because the potential answers are not part of a validated scale. Whatever the reason, this makes for complex qualitative data analysis.


The challenge was to develop a way to allow both free text entry and a choice of drop down items. Ideally where the drop down list grew as a result of prior entries into the field and where the choices would appear once someone began to type into the field. That way the person had a choice to select an option or continue typing.


Prelude Dynamics proposed that it could add functionality to Prelude EDC, an electronic data collection system, that would capture the information entered into the field and display it back as selectable options within a dropdown list.


Prelude added functionality to Prelude EDC called an autocomplete function. The autocomplete captures information that is entered into a text field and when the next person starts to enter information, offers the previously entered responses. In this fashion, the subsequent users have access to a growing list of options to choose from. With a little training, users would know to choose the best option that describes what they would enter or add a new option where none fit.

Results & Benefits

Autocomplete has allowed data entry of qualitative fields to become organically quantitative. As information is entered into the field, a drop down list populates with prior entries. Each subsequent person has access to a growing drop down list of options to select or can enter their own. This basically let’s the person doing the data entry select qualitatively the category that best fits their answer.

The statisticians have commented positively about how this has impacted their work. “It used to be that I would spend hours reading through a list of text entries and try to make sense of them by categorizing them into groups for analysis. Using Prelude EDC’s Autocomplete function has greatly reduced the time I spend on that. People select existing options categorizing their entries. All I have to do is look at the ones that weren’t selected frequently and decide whether to have an ‘other category’ or code them into existing categories. It is so much easier.”

As a result of using the new Autocomplete feature, data is more streamlined, data analysis time is shorter and more efficient, there are less errors and less is left up to the statistician’s subjective analysis. The people doing the data entry report they appreciate being able to select from existing options instead of entering the same text over and over again.

In the end, the data is cleaner and can be analyzed quicker. This improves confidence in the results of the study and reduces time to market for new drugs.

About Prelude Dynamics & Prelude EDC

Prelude Dynamics is a global provider of customized web-based software systems for data collection, analysis and management of clinical trials, studies and registries. We streamline eClinical operations through our unique and innovative Prelude EDC software system, which allows us to rapidly configure data collection solutions for pharmaceutical, CRO, medical device, animal health, and university organizations.

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