Understand the key concepts

This page introduces key concepts that will help you to get up and running in NVivo.


In NVivo, files include the materials you want to analyze and your ideas about them. Here are some examples of the files you might work with in your project:

Types of files displayed in Navigation View.

Find out more about the types of files you can import and refer to Bring in your files and get organized for ideas about how you can prepare and manage your files.

Coding and nodes

You code your files to gather material about a topic and store it in a container called a node.

As you explore your files, you can select content and code it at a node. For example, while working through your interviews you find that a number of participants talk about the natural environment—code each occurrence at the node Natural Environment.

Coding a paragraph at the node Natural Environment.

When you open the node, you can see all the references in one place—allowing you to reflect on the topic, develop your ideas, compare attitudes and discover patterns:

Opening the node Natural Environment and exploring the references in one place.

Organizing your nodes is also an important part of the analytical process. As you catalog your nodes in a hierarchy, you can refine your thoughts and draw connections between themes. For example, since the themes of Natural Environment and Water Quality are related, you might organize them like this:

  • Natural Environment
    • Habitat
    • Landscape
    • Water quality

Refer to Coding for information on ways to code (along with links to detailed instructions).

For coding strategies and ideas, refer to Code files and manage nodes.

Theme nodes and case nodes

You can create different types of nodes in your NVivo project to represent the themes and cases in your data.

 Nodes and Cases displayed in List View.

1 Theme nodes represent the topics found in your files. These nodes might be descriptive (this text is about that topic) or more analytical (this issue matters because...).

2 Case nodes represent your 'units of observation'—which might include people, places, sites or organizations. You can use case classifications to record information about your cases.

Case Classifications (to manage demographic attributes for case coding)

In the course of your research, you may want to make comparisons based on:

  • The demographic attributes of your participants (for example, you may want to compare attitudes based on education or age).
  • The attributes of places, organizations or other entities (for example, you could compare how issues are handled in large and small schools).

To make these kinds of comparisons, you need to set up case classifications. For example, to gather demographic information about interview participants you could:

Process of setting up classifications, cases and attributes.

Refer to Create case classifications for detailed instructions.

File Classifications (to manage bibliographical data)

You can use file classifications to manage the bibliographical attributes of your files.

For example, if you work with articles you could:

Process of setting up file classifications and assigning bibliographical attributes.

Setting up file classifications also facilitates the use of queries and visualizations—for example, you could use a matrix coding query to see if a theme is prevalent across various types of files (is a theme appearing in interviews but not in journal articles?)