Tools and Techniques to use NVivo for network analysis in qualitative research for mapping connections and relationships

Before we take a deep dive into understanding NVivo, it is critical to understand the context in which NVivo evolved and the different arguments that have been made by researchers regarding the role of NVivo in qualitative research.

Qualitative research and use of qualitative methods is a very powerful choice when it comes to understanding the details of a process or experience or when you need more information to decide the boundaries or traits of the issues that are being studied or for that matter analyze the different reasons when the information available is non numeric. Which could be either text or visual. Research finds its use and various fields which could diverse from criminal justice, teaching, finance. Healthcare. Management, Policy making and even sports.

What are the reasons that provoke NVivo users to use this tool in their research? Just solely depends on the diversity of fields and the huge variety of questions that are a part of the thrill of qualitative research and those questions that invite qualitative data and analysis around every corner. As you build expertise the wider the arena in which the data needs to be analyzed, as in the bigger the tent in which the research must be undertaken more will be the challenges. Mostly revolving around the many choices that need to be made about the way the data must be handled. Choices will also vary. Based on whether the research involves exploration, description, comparison, pattern analysis, theory, testing, theory building or evaluation. Another significant choice that the research researchers have is the compilation of methodologies that are being used, some of which are all in the evolving. And sometimes even overlapping. Some of the examples of these are Action, research, conversation, analysis, Ethnographic analysis, life History, Grounded Theory, and phenomenology. Authorities in the field of research most of the time encourage and insist researchers to identify a fixed between purpose and method. If a researcher decides to use qualitative approach in his research, it should be determined by the purpose and the methodology of the research rather than any prior preference or choice of the researcher. The same is true regarding the use of NVivo technique as well, where tools used should be informed by the goals of the researcher rather than the simplicity of using it, the visual appeal, or the familiarity it provides to the researcher as well as the reader. NVivo as a qualitative analysis tool is not unheard of by researchers. However, not many researchers would know how long this technique has been available and, in comparison to other manual methods, what makes it better and different in terms of its application and output.

The present version of NVivo is based on the work of Lyn and Tom Richards, who began to develop the software somewhere in the year 1981. They figured out qualitative solutions to research in 1995 and since that time and NVivo has retained its basic features of being able to handle text via different techniques of coding, writing, linking, adding demographics, searching for patterns, and reporting or exporting the data from one place to another. After the inception of NVivo over the years various software developers made the capabilities of NVivo even more sophisticated and made it capable to analyze a wider range of data types, which includes audio, video, survey, surveys, Web pages etc. and it can now also work with increasingly complex searches and difficult modes of output, which could vary from being numeric, visual, or textual in different capacities.

 We will try and discuss some tips and tricks and practical ways to address in vivo and its application in qualitative research. However, a lot of learning comes through patience and experimentation, and researchers should keep trying using NVivo for their qualitative research to be able to gain expertise and understand its application in totality and read best possible benefits in context of output. Qualitative methods in their characteristics are extremely rich, diverse, and complicated in context of knowledge and practice.

Do we really need to use NVivo for the Qualitative Analysis:

NVivo is incredibly useful for conducting qualitative analysis. Though for small qualitative research, this technique may not be worth learning. But let us look at five main reasons for which including this technique in your qualitative research toolkit may well be worth it.

  • NVivo assists in keeping audit trails and reduce the need for administrative tasks: Qualitative research is messy and that is pretty much a known fact. Using NVivo helps to keep the mess at bay. The best way to do it is to keep a research journal memo with NVivo. The memo can help you to log progress, completed tasks etc. It allows you to keep an audit and ensures the robustness of your data analysis. Other than bringing down the huge chunk of administrative tasks, NVivo also makes it possible for you to keep all the data, coding, models, and reflections in a single database. This search simplicity of NVivo makes it easy to find things in a jiffy. Let us look at in more detail how the memo function in NVivo work?

Creating Memo with NVivo

NVivo Gives you the option of creating a memo or a research journal. You should use it right from the beginning as it will help you to maintain focus while your work and at a later stage you will be able to evaluate the direction you are taking. While you're reading questions, discussing, or observing issues that arise while you're on with your research, keep notes and thoughts about them in the memo. Keeping the record like this will give you the freedom to track your ideas and to trace the path that those ideas have taken from the beginning and lead you to more confident realizations. Visualization Techniques in NVivo (Mind Maps and Concept Maps) help you to keep notes about thoughts you have around those questions as you read, discuss, observe, or simply reflect on issues as they arise, and date these. Keeping a record will allow you to keep track of your ideas and to trace the path those ideas have taken from initial, hesitant conceptualizations to final, confident realizations. They can facilitate your examination and framing of various camps in your areas of research or how particular theories might overlap. As you work, your initial Maps might help refine your questions (or generate new ones), so more deliberate (purposive) data gathering can occur. These visual explorations become part of your data and can be explored, managed, and tracked within NVivo.

With NVivo data and coding can be shared:  in qualitative research, if you have completed your data analysis manually then you would be having prints of transcripts with you and notes all around everywhere scattered and make it next to impossible to share it with a colleague, co researcher or even your supervisor. With NVivo all this hassle is finished as your data can easily be shared with others in a very systematic manner. Even if the person you wish to share your data with, does not have NVivo then the information can be exported.

NVivo have a strong backup of data: The transcripts that are there with you manually, other than being difficult to transport and share they do not have a backup. NVivo helps you to create a complete back up of your project. In the light of the recently faced pandemic, it looks even more relevant as sometimes when it becomes challenging to access a particular place physically for an extended period, having a backup that can be opened from any place is surely going to make you less perturbed and more relaxed as you can have access to your data from home as well as your office or anywhere else.

NVivo makes it possible to retrieve your coding: The reason that researchers love to use NVivo are that they can easily retrieve and review their coding. All thar is needed is to simply open the code and all the coding will be compiled at one place. What is even better is that your coding links back to the context it came from. You can easily, with a click of a mouse view the coding in context of the original data file.

Your queries of Data and coding can be answered:  The query functionality of NVivo is extremely handy. The text-based queries allow you to search for the most frequently used words in the data or even search for a particular word or a phrase. Coding queries allows you to identify patterns in your coding or even compare across sub groups.

NVivo makes it possible to work with different types of qualitative data:  The researcher may undertake different types of qualitative study. When he is working on mixed methods or even basic qualitative research with literature review component it becomes possible with NVivo to analyse across different data formats with the same thematic structure. You can import journal article and other PDF’s and compare with the existing literature review to assess the quality of the review. Or, if you have taken up a survey with a couple of open-ended questions, you can import the excel file containing the data enables you to code it alongside the transcripts from the interviews in the survey, that may be semi structured in nature.

NVivo makes the sub group analysis easier: in the process of marking up themes with pencil on hard copy of transcripts but when the number of participants is massive, this can become herculean and even more challenging when you must compare or explore responses by different cub groups within your sample. NVivo has some exclusive and fantastic features such as matrix coding queries that makes doing this a cake walk and complete pleasure for the researcher.


NVivo makes you as better and efficient researcher: This becomes an outcome of the effective use of all the features and advantages of NVivo listed above. NVivo can make your work much faster, in both analysis as well as the writing stage. You can extract information across selected criteria with the push of a few buttons and at the time of drafting your thesis or report, there is a capacity to easily insert verbatim text directly from the NVivo project. This adds on to your researching skills and makes you less overwhelmed to take up a bigger and more challenging research.

 To use or not to use NVivo:

The research tools available with NVivo allows the researcher to interrogate his or her data at a particular level.  This can help in improving the rigor of the analysis process by validating a few of the researcher’s own impressions of the data. However, when we talk in context of reliability and validity, the software isn’t the best option. This especially true when one talks of thematic analysis that emerge half way through the data analysis process. This is more because of the fluidic nature of the way in these thematic ideas emerge. It is still possible to check the content on specific nodes and this could affect the interrelationship of the thematic ideas, but NVivo is less useful is searching through the thematic idea to get a deeper understanding of the data. NVivo is an expensive software and because of the high cost associated with purchasing its updated version many researchers refrain from using it. Another deterrent in using this software is the time-consuming learning process due to overwhelming number of functions associated with it. This makes it a challenge for new or novice researchers and they prefer to use the manual technique than learn a very complicated and complex software. It is important that the researcher recognizes the value of electronic as well as manual tools in the qualitative data analysis and management and remain open to the idea of making use of the advantages of each one of them wherever applicable.

Category : Research
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