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Introduction to NVivo

Overview of basic mechanics of using NVivo to organize and analyze qualitative data.

NVivo Support Guide

I highly recommend opening the sample project to get a sense of what a populated project will look like and to explore the functionality before working with your data.

Librarian for Political Science, Public Policy, and Sociology

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Ryan Denniston

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Why Use NVivo?

  • Provides centralized place to store documents, transcripts, audio and video, webpages, and many other types of data.
  • Queries allow NVivo to pull together pieces of information across files that are identified as important (coded).
  • Built-in visualization tools allow for the exploration of the data and the relationships between concepts.
  • Contains built-in sample project populated with data to practice functionality.
  • Both PC and Mac versions are available.
  • Groups of researchers can simultaneously work on large project and later, merge projects together.

Basic Elements of NVivo

Navigation Pane (left side)

Data - Research materials to be coded and analyzed

  • Files - Stores imported research materials of all types (documents, images, audiovisual material, etc.).  New folders can be created to organize materials.
  • File Classifications - allow for categories of files to be created.  For example, all audio or video files could be displayed if classified.
  • Externals - references to materials not able to be imported into NVivo (library books, physical materials, etc.).  Once created, a reference can contain anything, including a summary, notes on the significance of the item, etc. 
  • NVivo allows for editing of files, but in general, data sources should not be edited.  Externals may be an exception, since they refer to imported data sources but are not the data sources themselves

Codes - These contain the concepts and any defined relationships between concepts that will be applied to the research materials.

  • Nodes - the concepts that will be identified within the research materials.  Nodes can be hierarchically arranged (for example, attitude might contain both positive and negative subnodes).  Folders can also be created to organize different types of nodes or different components of the research project.
  • Relationships - special types of codes that defines the connection between two nodes or individual research subjects.  Relationships can help to organize materials, and relationships can be directional or non-directional (person A is the supervisor of person B, versus person A is associated with person B).
  • Relationship Types - stores the relationship definitions contained in the project.  Relationship types are fully customizable.

Cases - the units of analysis in your study.  For example, cases would be people if the study was centered on analyzing interviews.  Each person will be displayed along with the numbers of files and references coded with the person's name.

  • Cases can contain subfolders to organize different types of cases (people, places, etc.).
  • Cases can also be hierarchically arranged (children as sub-cases under the head of the household, etc.).
  • Case Classifications - contains descriptive information for your cases.  For example, with people, demographic characteristics such as gender and educational attainment, can be stored.  This allows, for example, responses to be recalled based on an attribute like education.

Notes - stores notes taken during research

  • Memos - documents that store text and images.  Use memos to keep track of research progress and observations of the data.  Subfolders can be created to organize memos.
  • Framework Matrices - displays cases as rows and codes or other components of the material as columns.  Used to see a spreadsheet-like view of the same code or interview question for selected people.
  • Annotations - store notes or comments in data files.  Use these to flag problems or questions without editing the underlying data.
  • See Also Links - allows for links to be created between files.  Useful for referring to another file when problems or questions emerge as coding is underway.

Search - stores any saved queries and query results.  Results can be exported and examined outside of NVivo.

Maps - stores any visualized maps created in the Explore section of the top toolbar.  NVivo contains a number of different map types, some which maps underlying relationships in the data, others that a researcher produces to identify relations between cases or concepts.

Output - stores any formatted reports that contain information about the project.  NVivo contains a number of predefined reports but fully customized reports can also be built.