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NVivo: Introduction and Basics

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

How NVivo Can Help

NVivo can help you produce a high-quality literature review. You can use it to:

  • Import source documents such as  (includes citation managers such as EndNote or other reference management software)
  • Run quantitative text frequency searches. This identifies commonly occurring terms across all or any documents in your project file
  • Develop and test themes—before reading, as you read, and after reading
  • Brainstorm and refine themes using a variety of visual techniques
  • Capture sections of text as you read and classify them according to themes
  • Use Memos to annotate and manage your reading process
  • Create a centralized project file which stores your source documents, records of your research journey, and sections of text categorized by theme
  • Run search queries across some or all documents in your project file. These could be source documents, coded text, research notes, keywords, abstracts, etc.

Other Resources

Lit Review Tips & Troubleshooting

Text Readability

Something you will want to bear in mind here is "text readability".

  • A document is text-readable if a computer can recognise individual words. This allows users to copy or search any of the text.
  • Text files or Word documents (doc or docx files) are text-readable. Most recently-created PDFs are also text-readable.
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro and Microsoft Word can often create a text-readable version of a PDF.

Some reasons why text-readable PDF versions of source documents may not be available:

  • Some e-books and journal articles may be available as PDFs but are DRM-protected. This can prevent full-text access.
  • Old methods of scanning books or journal articles as PDFs. PDFs created in the past may not be text-readable. OCR may not work with old PDFs.
  • The printed document itself is of poor quality. For example, with documents typed with manual typewriters, a lack of uniformity may make text recognition impossible.
  • Copyright restrictions may prevent the creation or use of a PDF. More information regarding your copyright obligations as a user of material provided by Deakin is available by following this link.

Using Text-Readable PDF and Text Documents as Internal Files in NVivo

NVivo works best with text-readable PDFs or text files.

  • When importing text-readable PDFs or text files, NVivo creates new copies. It stores them as Internal Files.
  • Text-readable PDFs or text files are the easiest documents to Code in NVivo. The Coded text is also available for extra functions such as Word Frequency Searches.
  • Hence wherever you can access or create a text-readable pdf, you should.

Non-Readable PDFs

If you have access to a PDF but the full text is not readable (e.g. because of DRM or OCR problems), you have to make a choice.

  • You can import the PDF as an Internal File.
  • This will allow you to Code the PDF on-screen and see the results of your Coding as highlighting on the PDF.
  • However, you will be Coding by region instead of text. This means NVivo will take screenshots of the parts of the PDF you assign to Nodes. Thus NVivo's text-based functions (e.g. Word Frequency Searches and Text Queries) will not be available.
  • Alternatively, you can create an External File.
  • This allows you to populate a text document with key sections of text that you enter yourself.
  • You will not be able to read or see the actual document within NVivo. Nor will you see your Coding as highlighting on the document. But NVivo will be able to access the limited text you enter for Word Frequency Searches, Text Queries, etc.

What if I have no PDF?

  • Creating your own PDF versions of source documents is usually straightforward. But check for copyright restrictions first.
  • You can get free or inexpensive scanning apps for most smartphones. Try Clear Scan or Genius Scan.
  • Q: What if I only want to reference a small part of a hard-copy text? I don't want to go to the trouble of scanning a document.

A: Your best option is to create an External File and populate it yourself within NVivo.