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 coding and query-based coding features. 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 in the Coding group on 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.
  • Right-click to access options on the shortcut menu.
  • In Vivo code to make a new node from selected words or phrases.
  • Quick code using nicknames for common nodes—for example desalination could have the nickname desal. You select the content you want to code and enter or select the nickname.

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.

Each page of the PDF is also coded as region (image). For example, a two page PDF (which contains text) will be coded as three separate coding references—one for the text, and one for each page.


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

If the dataset contains file shortcuts, the content of the destination file is also coded entire to the node.

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 interviews that contain the same questions (and are consistently structured), you can gather the answers to each question in a node.

Auto coding can be used to reorganize a wide range of materials—from focus group transcripts to survey responses or any material that has a consistent structure. You can auto code the following:

  • Speaker You can automatically create cases from the speakers in an interview or focus group transcript. NVivo checks for the speaker name at the start of each line and automatically creates a case and codes the associated content. Automatic coding in documents
  • Paragraph styles If you have applied paragraph styles consistently in your document files, you can use them to auto code. For example, you could make nodes for each question in an interview and code the responses. Automatic coding in documents
  • Structured paragraphs You can auto code your document  files by paragraph if they are tightly structured—for example, where each paragraph explores a different theme.  NVivo makes a node for each paragraph and uses the paragraph number as the node name. Automatic coding in documents
  • Datasets If you have a dataset, your data is structured into rows and columns. NVivo provides automated tools that allow you analyze large amounts of data quickly. Automatic coding in datasets
  • Custom field (columns) in audio or video transcripts For example, if you have added the custom field Speaker, NVivo can create a node for each speaker and code the content at the node.
  • Ranges Where your files are already structured by theme or topic you may want to use range coding. For example, code paragraphs 1-5 at the node conservation or transcript rows 2-4 at the node sanctuary. Range coding also supports paper-based coding—for example, you can print out a document with the paragraph numbers displayed, mark up the text to code and then range code in NVivo.

Auto coding using existing patterns

Available in Plus only

Pattern-based auto coding is an experimental feature that you can test and try out. This feature is designed to speed up the coding process for large volumes of textual content.

When you auto code using existing patterns, NVivo compares each text passage—for example, sentence or paragraph—to the content already coded to existing nodes. If the content of the text passage is similar in wording to content already coded to a node, then the text passage will be coded to that node.

Pattern-based auto coding is an experimental feature that may work better for some projects than others. Automatic coding using existing coding patterns

Automatically detect and code themes or sentiment

Available in Plus only

If you are working with large volumes of data, or have limited time, you can quickly identify broad themes and sentiment in your files using the Auto Code Wizard.

This process uses a different engine to pattern-based coding—it uses linguistic processes and a specialized sentiment dictionary to produce results.

Automated insights may work better for some projects than others. Automated insights

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.

NVivo provides a number of ways to check consistency or coder reliability:

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.