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NVivo for Literature Reviews

Using NVivo 12 Qualitative Research Software for Literature Reviews and Analytical Writing

Overview of "Brainstorming" Functions in NVivo

NVivo has text-based and visual functions to help you "brainstorm" themes for your literature review. You can deploy these functions at any time. From the research stage, to synthesis, to writing. Even at the very beginning of your project.

As detailed below, NVivo's brainstorming functions include:

  • Word Frequency Searches
  • Concept Maps, Mind Maps, and Project Maps

Word Frequency Searches and Concept Maps are best for initial brainstorming. As you refine potential themes, Mind Maps are helpful because you can convert them into Nodes. Project Maps are more relevant when you are nearing the end of the research process. A more detailed comparison between the different kinds of visual maps is set out in the Concept Maps section below.


Word Frequency Searches

A Word Frequency Search identifies the most frequently occurring words across all or any of the text-readable documents in your NVivo project file.

Running a Word Frequency Search

To begin, click on the Explore tab and select Word Frequency. (You can also use the Query Wizard, explained later in this guide here. Or open the Search list in the Navigation View, select Queries, then right-click in the List View and select New Query, Word Frequency.)

Here is a screenshot of the Word Frequency search box.

 

Screenshot of the NVivo Word Frequency Search dialogue box

 

Some pointers to assist with searching.

  • By default, NVivo will search all of the source documents you have imported into NVivo (i.e. Files and Externals).
  • You can narrow or broaden your search by clicking on Selected Items in the Detail View. For example, you can restrict your search to specific source documents (i.e. Internal or External Files). Or you can add Nodes, Memos, Classifications, etc. to your search.
  • You can limit or broaden your search by choosing from the options provided to qualify your search terms. (I.e. exact matches, stemmed words, synonyms, specialisations, or generalisations).
  • To perform the search, click on Run Query at the top right corner of the Detail View. Note that by default NVivo does not save Queries. To save a search, you have to select Add to Project (also at top right).

Word Frequency Search Results

Results appear initially in the form of a list of words ranked by frequency. To exclude a word from your search, right click on the word and select Add to Stop Words List. Then run the query again.

For a literature review, a useful form of result is a Word Cloud. The Word Cloud tab appears at the far right of the Detail View.

 

Screenshot of NVivo word cloud

 

A Word Cloud can be exported as an image by right-clicking and choosing to Export Word Cloud.

You can also create a Node automatically for any word included in the Word Cloud. Right-click on the word where it appears and select Create [Word] as Node.

  • NB: this approach will result in a Node comprised of every reference to the word in every document you have searched. For a literature review, a better approach may be to identify Nodes using the Word Cloud, but create and populate them manually (i.e. based on a more contextualised reading of where frequently-occurring words occur in your source documents.)

Item-Specific Word Clouds

You can also generate a Word Cloud quickly from any item in your NVivo project (e.g. a source document or Node). Open the item in the Detail View and select Word Cloud from the right of the top ribbon.

WordClouds.com

For some purposes, the Word Clouds available in NVivo are not ideal. For example, NVivo's Word Frequency Searches are based on identifying words rather than phrases. So, if you have a list of both words and phrases which you would like to use to produce a word cloud, NVivo is unable to generate satisfactory results.

A useful free resource which provides broader word cloud functionality is WordClouds.com.

Some pointers when using WordClouds.com:

  • Although both Microsoft Office documents (.doc/x, .csv) and text files (.txt) are supported, we have found that text files work more reliably. 
  • Your text file should include words and phrases in a list separated by returns. Do not include spaces before or after the words/phrases in your list.
  • For phrases, separate the words with a tilde symbol ("~") rather than a space. So, to treat "literature review" as a single term rather than "literature" and "review" separately, use "literature~review".
  • Once you have generated your word cloud, use the slider above the word cloud to add or subtract words/phrases from your list.
  • You can choose from a wide range of designs and colour schemes from the top ribbon.
  • You can export your word cloud as a PDF, JPEG, or PNG file.

 

Concept Maps, Mind Maps, and Project Maps

NVivo allows you to create different kinds of visual maps to workshop ideas and project items.

Below you can find more information about Concept Maps, Mind Maps, and Project Maps - how they are different, and how to create them in your NVivo project.

Overview and Comparison

  • Concept Maps are the most creative, free-form kind of mapping in NVivo. They can include project items, and can also include shapes designated to represent concepts, facts, people, etc. Connections between things are configured by the user, not automatically generated by NVivo.
  • Mind Maps have much less flexibility than Concept Maps. Mind Maps do not allow for the inclusion of project items. But Mind Maps can be translated directly into Nodes. Nodes created in this way replicate parent/sibling/child relationships established by the Mind Map.
  • Project Maps provide a visual representation of items in your NVivo project. Connections between items can be generated automatically by NVivo within a Project Map. Project Maps tend to be more useful as you enter the writing-up phase of your literature review. They offer a useful way to see at-a-glance connections between items in your NVivo project.

Concept Maps

Concept Maps are automatically saved and stored under the Maps heading in the Navigation View.

To begin, click on the Explore tab and select Concept Map. (You can also open the Maps list in the Navigation View, select Maps, then right-click in the List View and select New Concept Map.)

Here is a screenshot of a sample Concept Map.

 

Screenshot of sample NVivo Concept Map

 

You can use a variety of techniques to develop and enhance your Concept Maps.

  • Shapes in the Add Shapes column in the Detail View can be dragged and dropped onto the Concept Map canvas.
  • Shapes can be resized, their colour changed, and text entered to display in their centre.
  • Add project items (e.g. source documents, Nodes, Memos, etc.) using the Add Project Items button in the top ribbon. (You can also right-click in the Concept Map and select Add Project Items.)
  • Arrows between shapes and items can be added using the Connector button in the top ribbon.
  • The colours of shapes and borders, and the colours and font of text, can be edited using commands in the top ribbon.

Completed or draft Concept Maps:

  • can be exported as an image, by right-clicking and choosing to Export Concept Map.
  • can be duplicated, by copy and pasting the title of the Concept Map in the List View.
  • can be edited at any time. Click on the blue word Edit at the top of the Map (or right-click within the Map canvas and select Edit).

Mind Maps

Mind Maps are automatically saved and stored under the heading Maps in the Navigation View.

To begin, click on the Explore tab and select Mind Map. (You can also open the Maps list in the Navigation View, select Maps, then right-click in the List View and select New Mind Map.)

Here is a screenshot of sample Mind Map.

 

Screenshot of sample NVivo Mind Map

 

You can use a variety of techniques to develop and enhance your Mind Maps.

  • A new Mind Map comprises a single green oval shape which can be populated with text to represent an Idea.
  • By selecting the first oval, you can use the top ribbon to add:
    • a Sibling Idea (a connected Idea at the same level as the first),
    • a Child Idea (a connected sub-Idea of the first), or
    • a standalone Floating Idea.
  • The oval shapes can be resized and text entered to display in their centre. The appearance of ovals and text can be changed using commands in the top ribbon.

Completed or draft Mind Maps:

  • can be exported as an image, by right-clicking and choosing to Export Map.
  • can be duplicated, by copy and pasting the title of the Mind Map in the List View.
  • can be edited at any time, by clicking on the blue word Edit at the top of the Map (or right-clicking within the Map canvas and selecting Edit).

Most importantly, the Mind Map can be converted into Nodes. Use the top ribbon command Create as Nodes or Cases (this command can also be accessed by right-clicking in the Mind Map). The structure of Sibling and Child relationships will be translated from the Mind Map to the newly-created Nodes. Floating Ideas are placed at the top level of Node.

Project Maps

Project Maps are automatically saved and stored under the heading Maps in the Navigation View.

To begin, click on the Explore tab and select Project Map. (You can also open the Maps list in the Navigation View, select Maps, then right-click in the List View and select New Project Map.)

Here is a small Project Map showing three source documents and the Nodes to which parts of those documents have been Coded.

 

Screenshot of small sample NVivo Project Map

 

Here is a second Project Map showing more expansive connections across a whole NVivo project.

 

Screenshot of large sample NVivo Project Map

 

You can use a variety of techniques to develop and enhance your Project Maps.

  • An empty Project Map can be populated by clicking on Add Project Items in the top ribbon. (You can also right-click in the Project Map. Or drag items from the List View into the Project Map.)
  • You can show the connections for any project item you have added to your Project Map. Select Show Associated Items from the top ribbon (you have to highlight the item first). Or you can right-click on the item and select Show Associated Items.
  • Project Maps can quickly become cluttered. The Layout options (top left of the top ribbon) automatically reconfigure the Map according to set designs. This can help make the available information more intelligible.

Completed or draft Project Maps:

  • can be exported as an image, by right-clicking and choosing to Export Map.
  • can be duplicated, by copy and pasting the title of the Mind Map in the List View.
  • can be edited at any time. Click on the blue word Edit at the top of the Map. (Or right-click within the Map canvas and select Edit).