New to NVivo? Some advice for beginners…


Lyn Lavery

Below are some tips that we give researchers in our training courses. If you’re an NVivo “newbie” and/or have taught yourself NVivo, read on for some advice that may save you a lot of time and headaches down the track!

Know your qualitative methodology

NVivo is not a methodology itself (although people often make the mistake of thinking it is!). The software is designed to suit a range of qualitative methodologies, and it’s essential to decide on the approach you will be taking before beginning your analysis. This ensures that your NVivo project is set up in the right way, and that your coding methods are appropriate. If you’re not up to speed with the different qualitative approaches that you can take, chat to colleagues to find out what authors they’d recommend. Our favourite qualitative books include:

  • Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. London, UK: SAGE.
  • Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
  • Richards, L., & Morse, J. (2012). Readme first for a user’s guide to qualitative methods (3rd ed.). London, UK: SAGE.
Consider the formatting of your transcripts

If you utilise Microsoft Word’s styles feature to identify speakers, questions, or topic sections within your document, you’ll be able to utilise NVivo’s auto coding feature. This means that you can gather up everything a participant said in one place or track overall responses to individual questions. While styles can be applied in NVivo after import, it’s much easier (and quicker) if you prepare your documents beforehand. Note that in NVivo 12 you can auto code on speaker names, even if you don’t have styles applied.

When preparing your transcripts, keep in mind that any features specific to Microsoft Word documents will not be imported. This includes information in the header or footer of the document or tracked changes. We’d also recommend avoiding the use of tables in your transcripts.

How will you organise your data?

Folders are an excellent way of organising your data, particularly if you have numerous files. They can also be used to narrow the scope of queries further into your data analysis. Folders can be based on any criteria relevant to your project – e.g. data type, geographic site, or intervention stage. Decide at the outset of your NVivo project as to what the most useful folder structure will be. While this can be created at any stage of the process, it can be useful to have it in place from the start so that documents can be directly imported into the relevant folder(s).

Use a journal to keep track of your project

When setting up an NVivo project, one of the first things we do is to create a research log or journal file. We use this as a place to record progress and activities, as well as any thoughts and reflections we have about the data. Set this up at the beginning of your project – you can create this as a ‘Memo’ in NVivo.

We also like to record the date and time of each memo entry. This can be quickly created in an NVivo memo – ensure the memo is in ‘edit’ mode, that the cursor is at the correct location, and select Ctrl + Shift + T. A handy tip for when you’re so immersed in data analysis that you no longer remember the date and time!

Save, back up and back up again

Develop a clear system for where you will save your NVivo project, the naming convention, and how often you will back it up. If you have this established from the outset it reduces the risk of losing projects or confusion over which is the latest version to work on. Your NVivo project represents huge amounts of your time, brain power, and effort – this isn’t something you want to lose!

You might also like to set a password for your NVivo projects – you can do this in the ‘Project Properties’ dialog box. Don’t forgot to set a hint in case you forget the password!

If you’re new to NVivo, we’d love to help you put your best foot forward. We have our NVivo Core Skills course offered in both face-to-face and online formats that is great for beginners. You can also contact us to arrange on-on-one project advice – we’ll help you ensure you have the best possible NVivo project setup for your intended analysis.