Why use NVivo for qualitative research?

Lyn Lavery

One of the questions I’m often asked is “Do I really need to use NVivo for my qualitative analysis?” My answer to this varies hugely, depending on both the person and the project. If you’re conducting a small qualitative study for example, it might not be worthwhile learning software such as NVivo. Generally speaking though, I think that NVivo (or other qualitative software) is incredibly useful for qualitative research. This blog post outlines my five top reasons for including NVivo in your qualitative analysis toolkit.

1. NVivo helps you keep an audit trial and minimises administrative tasks. There’s no getting around the fact that qualitative research is messy, and one of the best ways to stay on top of the messiness is to keep a research journal memo within NVivo. You can use a memo to log progress, completed tasks, decisions you’ve made etc. Keeping an audit trail such as this is one way to ensure the rigour of your data analysis. In terms of minimising administrative tasks, using NVivo ensures that all of your data, coding, reflections, models, etc., are kept in a single database. The search functionality in NVivo also makes it easy to find things in a hurry—can’t find that perfect quote to back up the point you’re making? Use NVivo’s text search query to find it using keywords from the quote.

2. NVivo enables data and coding to be shared. If you’ve completed your data analysis manually and are surrounded by printed transcripts with highlights or your walls are covered with post-it notes, how easy is it to share this with your colleagues or thesis supervisor? NVivo projects can be easily shared with others, or if your colleagues/supervisors don’t have NVivo, you can export your information so that it can be shared.

3. NVivo projects can be easily backed up. Continuing on from the previous point, how easy is it to back up highlighted transcripts and walls of post-its? NVivo projects can be easily backed up and in the context of the current pandemic this is particularly important. Sudden lockdowns mean we’re sometimes unable to physically access our offices—if the only copy of your data analysis is there and you’re required to work from home for an extended period, that’s going to significantly hold-up your analysis.

4. NVivo allows you to easily retrieve your coding. This is one of my favourite reasons for using NVivo, I love how easy it is to retrieve my coding and review it. Simply open a code (or a node if you’re on an earlier version) to view all of your coding in once place. Even better is the fact that your coding links back to the context that it came from, so with a click of your mouse you can quickly view the coding in the context of the original data file.

5. NVivo enables you to ask questions about your data and coding. One of the main reasons I recommend NVivo over manual methods of analysis is the query functionality. Text-based queries allow you to search for the most frequently occurring words in your data (great for coming up with initial ideas for your coding framework) or search for a specific word or phrase (great for looking at how particular terms have been used). Coding queries allow you to look for patterns in your coding or compare across sub-groups. If you’d like to take a particular code (or codes) and compare what the males said versus the females, or the more recent literature compared to older texts, this is no problem using NVivo’s crosstab or matrix coding queries.

There are many more reasons as to why I think NVivo is a valuable tool to add to your qualitative research toolkit. To hear more and learn some valuable tips and tricks for using NVivo, join us for our Research Accelerator 2021 virtual event.