Empirical Software Engineering

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 343-365

First online:

Using Metaphor to Analyse Qualitative Data: Vulcans and Humans in Software Development

  • Helen SharpAffiliated withComputing Department, The Open University Email author 
  • , Mark WoodmanAffiliated withSchool of Computing Science, Middlesex University
  • , Fiona HovendenAffiliated withPandora’s Lab

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This paper reports on an experience of using metaphor in qualitative research of software engineering in practice. Our project aimed to uncover non-technical factors affecting the adoption and evolution of Software Quality Management Systems (referred to here as ‘the quality process’). Previously we have reported the tensions we uncovered around the quality process in four companies, based on semi-structured interviews. This paper extends this work by applying metaphor to the results. We show how we were able to produce more general statements regarding the tensions and their amelioration, and then introduce results from a fifth company, which we compare against our general statements. We find that these statements are generally supported by results from this fifth company. Finally we present some reflections on our experience of using metaphor in this way.


Qualitative methods metaphor software process improvement software quality management systems