Nvivo for a literature review: How and why

Recently, I decided to use Nvivo for my literature review. Firstly, Nvivo doesn’t take out all of the leg work of doing a literature review, for me it is an organisational tool. Secondly, I wish I had started this sooner!

The Why

I was reading about data analysis for my confirmation document and every book suggested familiarising yourself with the program you would use. At the time, I had no experience with Nvivo, I thought how am I going to get practise with no data? Some how along the way, I discovered that some people use it for their literature review. I decided this would be a fantastic, low pressure, method for familarising myself with the program. This actually had the unintended result of allowing myself to confidently say ‘Yes! I can do that!’ when offered Research Assistant work that would involve using Nvivo.

The next reason I decided to use Nvivo was I had no method for organising my quotes that I liked, beyond a spreadsheet and a word document. I personally didn’t like this method, as I felt I couldn’t search and categorise things the way I wanted. Nvivo allows me to categorise quotes under multiple ‘nodes’.

My research focuses on tourism and I wanted a method for sorting my articles (quickly) into: tourist, organisations, volunteers, and host communities. I also wanted a way of looking at how the methods intersected, along with the theoretical frameworks. I know this could probably be done in excel, but I couldn’t quickly access my quotes while searching for the above criteria (well, at least with my limited knowledge of excel).

The How

The next section will require some knowledge of Nvivo and will contain screenshots of Nvivo 11 for Mac. Although they have similar features, I know the Windows version might look different and has extra features. Throughout the post below I have tried to provide the alternate names for the Nvivo 12 (Windows).

Importing references

Firstly, I import my articles under the ‘internals’ sources and into a folder called ‘articles’. I name each one with the authors name and year. In Nvivo 12 (Windows) I think the ‘internals’ folder is simply called ‘Files’.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 1.12.02 pm

This is a quick shot of what it looks like. If you already have a significant EndNote library you can import this, which is what I originally did. I code all of my articles using nodes kept in my ‘literature review’ folder. This will allow me to keep these nodes seperate from my data collection later.

At first, I was unsure of how to keep this current. My technique is to enter an article into EndNote, then manually import it into Nvivo. I then code it as I read. I think this is the most efficient method.

Assigning classifications to the references

As mentioned above, I originally wanted quick access to both sorting and finding quotes. To do this I use the ‘source’ classification available in Nvivo. This is called a ‘file classification’ in the Nvivo 12 for Windows.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 1.16.37 pm

As you can see, my source classification has a title: ‘Reference’ and different attributes listed below. These will import from Endnote (some of them). The most important reason for doing this is it allows me to do a ‘Matrix Coding Inquiry’ which I will now show you an example of output:

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 1.20.15 pm.png

In the left column you can see some nodes I chose to display for this example. The row across the top shows the ‘attributes’. The intersections of these show the number of times these have been coded together. If we look at the yellow box, we can see I have coded ‘Images of Africa’ three times in a reference that has the attribute ‘volunteer tourist’. This is useful to me if I want to write about literature on volunteer tourists discuss their host communities. I can double click on this and view the three times I have coded this and it looks like:

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 1.22.28 pm.png

This of course takes a fair amount of organisation, but it helps me to easily find intersections of different categories. You can also look at the intersection of two nodes in the same way.

If you don’t need to find specific intersections you can also view individual nodes:

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 1.25.40 pm.png

I wrote this post because I struggled to find the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of using Nvivo for a literature review. I would strongly recommend it, as it is a great tool for this purpose. I’m not an expert at Nvivo yet, but I really enjoy using it.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below!

An update 3rd April 2020:

Nvivo 12 (for Mac) looks much more like Nvivo for Windows, and very different to some of the screenshots in this post. Please keep this in mind.

I have since made a new post with an update on my thoughts.

I have also made a YouTube video which may be of interest to you: