In NVivo, cases represent the 'units of analysis' in your research study—for example, the people you interviewed or the communities you studied. Your project might have cases for people, places, organizations, events or other entities that you want to analyze and compare.

Cases are like containers that hold all the information related to a person, place or other unit of analysis. You can open a case to see all the information that has been coded there—for example, you could review everything that Mary said or everything about Harkers Island.

When you begin a project, it is a good idea to decide on your units of analysis and plan for the cases you will need to represent them.

Cases can have attributes (variables) such as Age, Gender or Location. For example—you might make a case for a participant called Ken, assign attributes like Age and Education level, and then code all of Ken's content at the case:

Content coded at a case from an interview transcript, survey dataset and video focus group.

When collecting data, record the descriptive information to support the comparisons you want to make. For example, asking whether young people see issues differently from older people requires that you record the age of your participants. You can store these attributes directly in NVivo or in a separate file (text file or spreadsheet) and import it later.

Do I need cases?

Not all projects require cases. Whether you need to set up cases depends on your research question and methodology.

If you want to make comparisons based on the attributes of people, places, organizations or other 'units of analysis' then cases provide a useful way to do this.

But if your project does not require these types of comparisons, then there is no need to create cases. For example, you may not need cases if you are doing a literature review or conducting in-depth interviews with only a few stakeholders.

Creating cases for different types of data

In general, setting up cases involves:

  • Adding one or more case classifications (and associated attributes) to your project
  • Creating cases
  • Assigning cases to a classification and defining attribute values
  • Coding relevant content at the case

Depending on the type of data you're analyzing, NVivo provides ways to automate this process. For example—if you're working with interviews, you can automatically create cases from your interview files. Create cases automatically

Explore cases using queries

After creating cases, assigning attribute values and coding content at themes—you can use queries to make comparisons or gather the data in revealing ways.



Coding query

Review what participants over the age of forty said about water quality.

Crosstab query

Check for the dominant themes across different age groups and education levels.

Matrix coding query

Check for coding co-occurrence - see where content is coded at environment and positive attitude or negative attitude

Group query

See all participants by community or age.

Run a Coding query, and then a Word Frequency query

Gather all the material by female participants and create a new node based on the results. Then run a Word Frequency query on this new node to check for commonly used terms. Do the same for the male participants and compare your findings.

Explore cases using charts and other visualizations

After you setup cases and code your content at themes, you can use visualizations to look for commonalities, patterns or trends.



Compare the coding for two cases using a Comparison Diagram.

This is a useful way to check for similarities and differences between cases.

In this example, the cases Helen and Paul both have coding at the nodes Jobs and Economy.

Coding comparison diagram showing commonalities and differences between two cases.

Check the demographic spread of cases in a Hierarchy chart.

For example, you may want to check the representation of male and females in different age groups.

Hierarchy chart showing the spread of participants by age and gender.

Use a chart to explore the coding for a case.

This gives you a feel for the dominant themes reported by a case.

Chart indicating the dominant themes for a case.

Use a chart to explore cases that have coding at a selected theme.

This example shows the cases that have coding at the node Real Estate Development. It also shows the percentage of each case that is coded at the node.

It can be a useful way to see which cases mention a theme most often.

Chart showing cases that have coding at the node Real estate development.

Use an Explore diagram to see the items connected to a case and then step through the related project data

An explore diagram with the case Dorothy at the center

See the most frequently used words for a case in a Word Cloud.

Most frequently occurring words displayed in a Word Cloud.

Creating case hierarchies

You can organize cases in hierarchies (parents and children) in ways that make sense for your project.

For example, you might want to organize places into broader groupings:

  • Down East Communities
    • Atlantic
    • Straits
    • Cedar Island
    • Marshallberg
  • Landmarks
    • Cape Lookout
    • Cape Point
    • Snug Harbor

If there is no logical connection between your cases (or perhaps these connections are not yet apparent) you can just add cases at the top level of the hierarchy.

You can right-click on a parent and choose to aggregate coding from all the children. When you open the parent case, you will see content coded at all the child cases. This is useful when you want to review or query the content for a broad grouping—for example, run a Word Frequency query on Down East Communities.

Summarize cases in a Framework Matrix

Framework matrices provide a way to summarize or condense your files in a grid that has rows for cases (for example, people you interviewed) and columns for theme nodes.

Each cell in the grid represents the intersection of a case and theme—when you enter text into the cell you can create a summary of the content relevant to that case and theme.

Cases summarized in a Framework Matrix.

Using the grid, you can easily scan down the columns to compare cases or across to look more closely at an individual case. Framework matrices