Classify cases

You use case classifications to record descriptive information about the entities you are studying.

You can create the case classifications that suit your project and record information about the people, institutions, places or any other type of  'case' that is relevant to your research.

Why classify cases?

Classifying a case involves:

  • Describing the type of case (for example - Person, Place, Organization)
  • Defining the attribute values (for example - Age, Location, Size)

You use coding to connect this classification information to the qualitative data. For example, consider this passage of text:

I feel very worried about climate change, especially the impact on my children. We live on the coast so I am particularly concerned about rising sea levels and the destruction of the beautiful coral reefs. The problems seem overwhelming and I don't know where to start.

You might code the passage at the following 'theme' codes:

  • climate change
  • rising sea levels
  • coral reefs
  • feeling overwhelmed

To collect descriptive information about the speaker, you would also code the passage at the case

  • Mary (female, aged 40)

As you code more content at cases you can use queries to ask meaningful questions—How do young women respond to the challenge of climate change? Do their attitudes differ from those of older women?

How do I classify cases?

Before you can classify cases you need to set up (or import) case classifications. Case classifications describe the type of case—for example,

  • Person
  • Organization
  • Institution
  • Site

For each classification you can add the attributes you are interesting in collecting:

  • Person
    • Age group
    • Country of birth
    • Sex
  • Organization
    • Industry
    • Sector
    • Size

When you create a case (or edit its properties) you can assign it to a classification and define the attributes.

Assign cases to a classification

You must create at least one classification before you can classify cases.

To assign cases to a classification:

  • In List View, select the cases, and then right click and choose Classification.

IMPORTANT  If you change the classification of a case after you have set the attribute values you may lose data—for example, if you assign a case to the classification person, with values for age and sex, and the new classification does not have these attributes the values are removed.

Set the attribute values for cases

  1. In Navigation View, click the case classification for the cases you want to work with.
  2. In List View, expand each case to see the attributes and attribute values.
  3. Select the attribute, then click in the value field. As you type, NVivo suggests a matching value—you can choose this value or enter a new one.

Working with a large number of cases

If you have a lot of cases, then NVivo provides ways to speed the process up.

What form is your data in?

Suggested approach

I have a spreadsheet that contains a list of cases and their attribute values.

Import the spreadsheet as a classification sheet containing demographic information about the participants. The cases are created when you import the classification sheet (if they do not already exist).

I have a dataset of survey responses including demographic information about respondents.

Use the Survey Import Wizard to automatically create and classify cases representing each of the respondents. Responses are automatically coded to the case. Analyzing surveys

I have a dataset containing social media data.

Use the Autocode Wizard to code and classify. For example, when you use the wizard to code to Username, cases for users are created and automatically classified—such as 'Facebook User' or 'Twitter User'.

I have created cases in my project but they are not classified yet.

Select a number of cases in List View and assign a classification. For example, select all the cases representing people you interviewed and classify them as Student. You can open the classification sheet for the classification Student and set the attribute values for each student.

You can classify cases at any stage of your project but you may want to consider the following:

  • When you are collecting data make sure you record the descriptive information that supports the questions you want to ask. For example, if you want to compare attitudes based on location make sure you collect this information. You can store it directly in NVivo or in a separate file (text file or spreadsheet) and import it later.
  • You need to classify cases and code content at the cases before you can use queries to ask comparative questions—such as, How are large organizations adapting to climate change? How do they differ from smaller organizations?

Review the cases in a classification

  • In Navigation View, under Cases, click Case Classifications, and then click the classification.

The cases are displayed in List View. Click the Expand button An icon for expanding a node hierarchy to review the attribute values for a case.

Cases displayed in List View.

Change the classification of a case

CAUTION  Changing the classification of a case may result in the loss of data—for example, if you assign a case to the classification Person, with values for age and occupation, and the new classification does not have these attributes then the values are removed.

  1. In List View, select the case.
  2. On the Home tab, click Item > Case Properties.
  3. Select the Attribute Values tab to see attribute value settings.
  4. From the Case Classification list, select a different classification for the case.


  • When you change from one case classification to another, NVivo looks for common attributes and updates the values in the new classification. If existing attributes are not available in the new classification, the values are lost. If there are different attributes in the new classification, then the values are set to the default.
  • To update the attribute values, click the arrow in the Value field to select a value for each attribute. To add a value, click in the Value field and enter a new value. You can also set attribute values via the classification sheet.
  • To quickly change the classification for a selected case in List View, select Classification from the context menu.