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NVivo for Literature Reviews

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


The most useful result of Coding with NVivo, especially for a literature review, is the Nodes. Each Node contains the sections of text you have allocated to the theme the Node represents.

As explained earlier, some qualitative researchers refer to Node results as Coding Reports. Here we will be using the term Node for simplicity.

View Node as Text

The following image shows a Node displayed as text.



Node showing results as text


  • Note that NVivo has extracted the text from the Coded PDF documents. For each text-readable PDF source document, NVivo provides the title of the document, followed by the sections of text Coded to the relevant Node.
  • At the bottom of the Detail View is a reference to a PDF which is not text-readable. For this document, the Node includes a reference only and no text. To view the Coded text, it is necessary to click on the PDF tab at the right of screen (as in the following example).
    • Note that Coded text from a DRM-protected PDF will appear as a series of dots (i.e .......). Such Coded text must also be viewed via the PDF tab (as in the following example).

View Node as PDF

Here is a Node in the form of a highlighted PDF.


Framework Matrices

A Framework Matrix is a grid generated within NVivo which can be exported as a spreadsheet. It is a good way to see all your Coding at a glance.

Setting Up a Framework Matrix

To set up a Framework Matrix for a literature review, you first need to create a Case for each source document. (In qualitative research, Cases are often used to keep track of research subjects such as interviewees, e.g. Jenny, 33, copyright lawyer.)

  1. Click on Files in the Navigation View, then select all the source documents in the List View.
  2. Right-click on the source documents and select Create As, then Create As Cases.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for any External Files.

Creating a Framework Matrix

Now create the Framework Matrix.

  1. Go to Create on the top ribbon and select Framework Matrix. (Alternatively, click on Notes in the Navigation View, then select Framework Matrix, right-click in the List View and select New Framework Matrix).
  2. Complete the information required for the three tabs of the New Framework Matrix dialogue box.
    • General: Give the Framework Matrix a name (and a description if you wish).
    • Rows: Use the Select button to add some or all of the Cases you have created with the names of your source documents.
    • Columns: Use the Select button to add some or all of your Nodes.

  3. When the Framework Matrix is first created, the cells—with the names of your source documents along the vertical axis to the left and your Nodes along the horizontal axis above—will be empty.
  4. If you like, you can populate the cells manually with summaries of how the source documents relate to your Nodes.
  5. Alternatively, you can select the Auto Summarize command that appears in the top ribbon. This will automatically populate each cell with text you have Coded (i.e. from the source document directly to the left of the cell to the Node directly above the cell).
  6. By right-clicking either on the name of the Framework Matrix or on the Matrix itself, you can select Export Framework Matrix. The resultant spreadsheet can be imported into Microsoft Excel, for example. A sample spreadsheet containing Coding data from a Framework Matrix automatically populated using the Auto Summarize command is set out below.



Queries - Using the Query Wizard

Queries are usually most useful after your Coding is significantly progressed or completed. You can use Queries to assist with synthesising content for your literature review. The most relevant Queries for a literature review are Text Search Queries and Word Frequency Queries.

NVivo's Query Wizard simplifies the Query process and is our primary focus here.

Getting Started with the Query Wizard

To access the Query Wizard, select the Explore tab and choose Query Wizard from the top ribbon.

The first two options in the main Query Wizard dialogue box are:

  • See where particular terms occur in content (i.e. run a text search)
  • Identify frequently occurring terms in content (i.e. run a word frequency search)



For each of these options, selecting the kind of Query you want to run is the first step of four.

Running a Text Search

A Text Search searches for specific text across all or any of the sources in your NVivo project file (i.e. Files, Externals, Memos, etc.).

  1. Use the second dialogue box to formulate the text you would like to search for. This can be a single word or a phrase. Boolean operators are accessible via the Special button. Find options are accessible via the slider.
  2. Use the third dialogue box to define the source documents you would like to search. The provided options allow you to search:
  3. Finally, use the fourth dialogue box to save the Query if you would like to.

Note that the Query Wizard does not allow a Compound Text Search Query, i.e. a Query which combines the results of two text searches. Information about these more sophisticated searches is provided by QSR here.

Running a Word Frequency Search

Word Frequency Searches are discussed earlier in this guide here. After Coding, running Word Frequency Searches which are limited to Nodes may produce particularly relevant results. You will have already filtered out a lot of irrelevant information.

To use the Query Wizard to perform a Word Frequency Search, select the second option in the Wizard dialogue box. From there,

  1. Use the second dialogue box to limit the number and length of words to be found, and to incorporate variations (e.g. synonyms) via the Find slider.
  2. Use the third dialogue box to define the source documents you would like to search. The provided options allow you to search:
  3. Finally, use the fourth dialogue box to save the Query if you would like to.

Additional advice about how to formulate Word Frequency Queries - and how to quickly produce a Word Cloud for any document in your NVivo project - is available earlier in this guide here.