A code is a collection of references from your files about a specific theme, topic, concept, idea or experience. These codes could be descriptive or analytical. You might already know the topics you are exploring when you begin your research, or you might identify themes that emerge as you code your files.

You gather references to the theme by coding files to the code. For example, while exploring your files (documents, datasets, pictures, video or audio) you could code any content related to 'illegal fishing practices' to the code illegal fishing. Then when you open the code (by double-clicking it in List View) you can see all the references in one place.

Create codes for the themes in your data

  • Do you already know which themes or topics you will be exploring? You can create a code structure before you begin coding, and easily add any codes that emerge as you work through your files. Create codes manually
  • If you don't already know what themes might emerge from your project you can work 'up' from your files, creating codes as you go. Manual coding techniques
  • You can also use queries to find and code content that relates to a particular theme to a new code. For example, you could run a Text Search query to find all references to development and automatically code this content at a new code. Create codes automatically
  • If your project includes a dataset, then you can use NVivo's 'autocoding' features to do 'broad brush coding'. For example, you could gather all responses to a particular interview question at a code. You can then open these codes and explore what people have said in response to a particular question, 'coding on' to create more codes as your themes emerge. Create codes automatically

(This feature is only available in NVivo installations with coding enhancements enabled.)

Code hierarchies

You can organize codes (and cases) in hierarchies (i.e. in parent–child relationships) to organize your material and consolidate your thinking.

For example, you might organize codes related to water quality like this:

  • Poor water quality
    • Industrial waste
    • Domestic sewage
    • Agricultural runoff

Keeping your codes organized can help you to see connections, clarify your thinking and code efficiently—for more ideas about creating a manageable code structure, refer to Code files and manage codes (Build an efficient code hierarchy).

NOTE  Organizing your codes into hierarchies won't automatically include content coded to the child code in the parent code. To do this, you need to turn on aggregation Aggregate codes.

Explore codes