Where quantitative data consists of numbers (or text responses, such as categories, that have been converted into numbers), qualitative data typically consists of texts, images, or film footage. Qualitative data obviously requires a different method of analysis than quantitative data. NVivo is a popular software program used to assist a variety of qualitative data forms and analysis approaches. It is designed to help you organize, analyze and find insights in unstructured, or qualitative data like: interviews, open-ended survey responses, articles, social media and web content.
Accessing and using NVivo
NVivo is accessed via the Virtual Laboratory (vLab). For instructions on how to access the vLab, head to the vLab page here.
The videos below introduce the work area and concepts for Windows (6:11") and Mac (5:45") users.
How you use NVivo really depends on the qualitative method and type of data you intend to use. Text-based data (e.g. interview, focus group, or case study transcripts, open-ended survey responses, internet forum discussion threads) and thematic analysis or content analysis methods are most common in qualitative or mixed-methods research projects.
NVivo is invaluable when managing and ‘coding’ conversational transcripts (such as interviews, focus groups, or forum discussions) for thematic analysis. In NVivo, your data files are imported as your ‘Sources’ (e.g. 10 interview transcripts in Word document or PDF form). Themes and subthemes don’t just ‘appear’ after having viewed your data once or twice, regardless of whether you use NVivo, pen and paper, or some other format; you’ll need to generate and refine working ‘codes’ (meaningful commonalities in your data relevant to your research question). These codes can be represented by things called ‘Nodes’ in NVivo, which can then be ordered in hierarchies (to represent themes and subthemes).
Codes can be generated ‘inductively’ or ‘deductively’, and ultimately this approach determines whether your overall approach to the thematic analysis or content analysis is ‘inductive’ or ‘deductive’. An inductive approach to thematic analysis means that you aim to ‘explore’ your data without expectations of what you will find. Codes are generated and refined in a reiterative process, and emerging themes are synthesised in a creative and interpretive way. A deductive approach to thematic analysis means that you aim to ‘confirm’ whether your data is representative of past research findings (either qualitative or quantitative); with this approach, the researcher begins with a particular theory or set of past empirical findings they want to confirm, and develop a coding framework prior to beginning the data coding. The data is coded to fit the predetermined framework, and any data that doesn’t ‘confirm’ the predetermined codes can be subsequently coded using an inductive approach. In this way, a researcher might find that their qualitative data ‘confirms’ past research, ‘confirms’ past research but also adds new empirical or theoretical insights, or does not ‘confirm’ past theory or research and instead generates novel findings.
- If your data consists of a large number of written responses to open-ended survey questions (particularly for online research), you might find it more efficient to build or export your data into a Microsoft Excel file, and manage and code your data using Excel spreadsheets. In this situation, the spreadsheet ‘rows’ would contain your response cases, and the spreadsheet ‘columns’ would be your codes, and after reiterative refinement and synthesis, your themes and subthemes. The presence or absence of a code, or theme/subtheme, could be indicated using a symbol, letter, or numeral in the cell per case per theme.
- NVivo can appear confusing at first because its organisational and command terms will be new to you (e.g. ‘nodes’, ‘sources’, ‘sets’). You cannot expect NVivo to give you ‘output’ in the way SPSS does, and instead should think of it more as a tool to assist your organisation, synthesis, and interpretation of the data – for qualitative research, your brain is the analysis program. There’s a reason many researchers are wary of qualitative research, and that’s because it is labour and energy intensive, and you really do need to think about your data and what it means in a way you may not always do when using SPSS (you click the commands and you get a p value, right?). But qualitative research is rewarding, creative, and provides unique insights into phenomena when done well- and NVivo can help you achieve that, so don’t be scared to use it just because it’s strange and new.
- Free NVivo Resources and NVivo video Tutorials: a vast array of support tools and resources for your NVivo analyses.
- Need help right now? Take advantage of NVivo's own easy to follow ‘how-to’ instructions by searching their Frequently Asked Questions.
- The following book is an excellent introductory guide to qualitative methods and analysis for psychological research: Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. SAGE.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
This error message usually occurs when projects saved on a Network location are closed unexpectedly, e.g. computer is shut down without closing NVivo, computer goes into power saving mode, network connection is lost etc.
Please open the project from the machine where the project was shut down unexpectedly. 'NVivo project recovery' wizard will launch and you may be offered options to repair the project. Please follow the prompts in the wizard to attempt the recovery of your project.
The project size limit in NVivo for Windows is 10GB (or unlimited, for NVivo Server projects).
NVivo projects are able to handle up to thousands of sources including documents, audio, video, pictures, pdfs and datasets.
Please note that by default, audio and video sources over 20MB will be stored externally to your project and they will not contribute to your project's file size. You may choose to increase this limit to a maximum of 40MB (or 100MB, for NVivo Server projects).
NVivo only allows you to import and work with documents in the following formats:
- Microsoft Word (.doc and .docx)
- Adobe Portable Document Format (.pdf)
- Rich Text Format (.rtf)
- Text (.txt)
- Open Document (.odt)
A sample project is provided with NVivo software. The sample project demonstrates many of the key features of NVivo and includes examples of the different types of source materials that you can bring into NVivo - documents, datasets, audio, video and picture sources. The sample project is available from the Start screen. On the Start screen, in the New section, click Sample Project.
‘Content analysis’ is an approach that is very similar to thematic analysis, and many researchers use these terms and approaches interchangeably. However, content analysis is ultimately more sympathetic to ‘quantifying’ qualitative data by the use of frequencies and counts. For example, you might code responses to a theme and then describe that there were n = 56 (70%) cases coded at that theme. Similarly you might report that a particular term (e.g. an adjective) was used n = 20 times by different participants in your sample of interviewees. NVivo allows you to enter ‘Queries’ that conduct searches within and between text documents to locate and quantify particular types of words or phrases, and can then present these to you as output in lists or even ‘Models’ (such as ‘word trees’ or ‘word clouds’), if desired.
- Create a new folder within your ‘documents’ folder (use a name that you can easily identify e.g., my NVivo files)
- save the file(s) you wish to import in that folder
- start NVivo
- create a new project and THEN
- import the file(s) from the folder you created earlier, by clicking 'documents' on the top left of the NVivo menu.