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NVivo: Introduction and Basics

An introduction and overview of NVivo to help researchers organize and analyze qualitative data.

Starting a Project

When you open NVivo you have the option to create a new project, open a sample project, or open a recent/other project. In NVivo, a project file is the home for everything related to a project like your data sources, memos, even related literature. All of the files you import are bundled into the larger project file, which is why this file can become quite large. 

 Creating an NVivo Project File

  1. Open NVivo, then click Blank Project. The New Project dialog box opens.
  2. Enter a name for the project in the Project title area.
  3. (Optional) Change the directory location of the file.
  • Note: If you are using the application gateway, the default file location is your OneDrive account.
  1. (Optional) Enter a description of the project.
  2. You can choose to keep a log of user actions. This is helpful and recommended if are you collaborating with others on the same project.
  3. Select next.

New Project Saving and Back-up Options

You can choose to autosave your project. This may slow down your computer depending on the size of your project, so be sure you have enough memory for this. You can also choose to display save reminders, which is recommended if you do not autosave your project. NVivo also automatically creates recovery files as a short-term back, and you can choose how frequent it saves a backup as well as how many recent backup versions are kept.

NVivo Workspace

After you create a project, the main NVivo workspace will open. The most frequently used menu is the Navigation Pane on the left, where you can navigate to different parts of the NVivo project file. At the top, the Ribbon includes the actions that you can do in each area. After opening an item from the Navigation Pane, details will be shown in the List View. After selecting a file from the List, your primary work will be done in the Detail View.

NVivo Workspace Overview

RIGHT-CLICK: Context (right-click) menus are available throughout the NVivo workspace. If you right-click on an item or in the whitespace, you will see a menu with the available actions for that area.

Project Categories Project Item Info Examples
Data The data you plan to analyze; the folders you use to organize your data Word Docs, PDFs, images, videos
Codes Thematic or analytical framework represented in codes Codes, themes, concepts, ideas, events, etc.
Cases Units of observations or analysis People, places, organizations
Classifications (Groups of Attributes) Categorical data based on characteristics of individuals, groups, or places--linked to data or cases Demographics or other variables (e.g., gender, age, building location, tax value, etc.)
Notes Comments, connections, and reflections on specific data, codes, analyses, etc. Memos, annotations on data observations, links between files
Sets (Item Collections) Ways to group your data: time, multivariable groups, etc. Static sets, Search folders (e.g., 3 + generations of men)

Project Item Details

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.

Data files can include:

  • Word or text files
  • PDFs
  • Pictures
  • Audio/Video
  • .html and PDF-Captured websites
  • Social media content using NCapture
  • Surveys and datasets
  • Citation management software files (Zotero, etc)
  • Notes

Coding - These contain the concepts (codes) and any defined relationships between concepts (codes)

  • Codes - 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 representing individual instances or subjects, such as people, organizations, or events.  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 - 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 - Categories used to organize cases or nodes based on attributes, which provide additional information or metadata.  For example, with people, demographic characteristics such as gender and educational attainment, can be stored.  This allows, for example, queries to be recalled based on an attribute like education.
    • Attributes - Descriptive variables or properties associated with cases or nodes, such as age, gender, location, or date

Notes - Ideas, insights, and other items to note during research and analysis

  • Memos - Notes, reflections, or insights created in NVivo to document your thoughts, observations, or interpretations about the data or analysis process. Subfolders can be created to organize memos.
  • Annotations - Comments or notes linked directly to specific sections of your sources, used to capture ideas or questions about the data. This is helpful so you can flag things 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.