Coding is a fundamental task in most qualitative projects. 'Coding' your files is a way of gathering all the references to a specific topic, theme, person or other entity. You can code all types of files and bring the references together in a single 'node':

 Content coded at the node Economy from an interview transcript, video focus group and survey dataset.

The process of coding can generate ideas and help you to identify patterns and theories in your research material.

For example, you could gather all the negative opinions about a policy and examine them together in a node—from there, you could tease out common threads and ask questions like What do young people think and do their opinions differ from those of older people?

You can also code to gather content at nodes that represent the subjects of your research, such as people or places. For example, if you have survey responses from a class of students, you can create a case node to represent each student, and then code their opinions at their case node.

Deciding on an approach

The way you approach the analysis of files can depend on the:

  • Methodology you are using (if any)
  • Amount and type of data you have
  • Time available

NVivo does not prescribe an approach but provides the tools to let you work the way that suits you best.  For example, if you have many files or you have large dataset files—make the most of NVivo's auto codingfeature. If you have a smaller number of files that require close analysis—take advantage of the easy-to-use coding techniques.

You can create a node structure and then code your material at the 'ready-made' nodes or you can create nodes as you work through your files.

'Broad-brush' coding using queries

You can use NVivo queries to automatically code your files based on the words or phrases they contain. This can be a useful starting point for reviewing your data.

  • Run a Word Frequency query to see (and code) the words that occur most often—for example, if the word literacy appears frequently you can save all occurrences in a node for further investigation
  • Run a Text Search query on a specific word or phrase and automatically code the text that is found—for example, find and code all the occurrences of climate change.

Coding in files

While working in a file you can select content and then code it at new or existing nodes.

NVivo provides the following ways to code your files:

  • Select and code content using the options on the Analyze tab of the menu.
  • Drag and drop selected content on a node in List View. You can customize your workspace to make the most of drag and drop coding—list the nodes on the left and display your file on the right.
  • In Vivo code to make a new node from selected words or phrases.

Coding entire files to a node

You can code entire files to new or existing nodes.  This can be useful, if you want to code everything in the file to a particular theme node, or if the file represents the responses of an individual and you want to code it all at their case node.

If you select a file in List View or have a file open in Detail View, you can code the entire content at a new or existing code.

You can also code an entire file at a new node if you create nodes automatically when importing files. You can:

  • Use Evernote tags to create and code at nodes
  • Specify nodes to code to when you capture web pages.
  • Choose to create case nodes when you import your files.

When you code entire files, the content is coded as described below:

File type

How the content is coded

Documents All the text (and any images) in the document are coded as a single coding reference.

All the text in the PDF is coded as a single coding reference.


The content of each codable cell in the dataset is coded as a separate coding reference.

Audio and Video

Media coded via the timeline is coded as a single coding reference.

Text in the Content column of a transcript is coded as a separate coding reference.


The entire picture is coded to the node.

If there is a log, the content of each cell in the log is coded to the node as a separate coding reference.

Auto coding structured content

If you are working with structured content, auto coding provides a fast way to organize it into nodes—for example, if you have a dataset of survey responses, you can gather the answers to each question in a node. Automatic coding in datasets

Making sure team members code consistently

If multiple researchers are coding the same material, you may be interested in the consistency of their coding.

To help team members understand the meaning of nodes, create a codebook that lists the nodes and their descriptions.

You can run a Coding Comparison query to check the 'inter-rater reliability' using the Kappa coefficient.

Remember that inconsistency in coding is not necessarily negative—it may prompt productive debate and deeper insights into the data.

'Coding on' in a node

When you open a node, you can explore the references gathered there. As you make new discoveries, you may want to code the content at other nodes—this is called 'coding on'. You can use the same coding techniques that you use to code a file.