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Setting yourself up to Conducting a solid Literature Review

Nowadays, it is so hard, with enormous amounts of articles and books published, to keep track of all the information out there. Cross-/Inter-disciplinary studies only compound the issue, not to mention the increase in information from non-traditional sources (King, 2011), which add more varied forms of review (online sources: blogs, podcasts, videos; educational /institutional websites, etc.).

This is why it is so important to have a clear understanding of the literature and where one situates themselves in such a dialogue. There are conversations happening everywhere. Whom you choose to engage with and how matters. This is where the Literature Review comes in.

A very useful tool for the modern research is CAQDAS. In this article, I will go over some of the uses for Nvivo, to examine the emergence of themes and patterns in the Literature. What is more, Nvivo can chart and graph data for you, providing visual representations with links to direct citations. Managing the Literature Review in this way enables the use of physical evidence to back up claims of trends and gaps in the literature.

Once you get a new idea, or theme to investigate, it is easy to re-purpose Nvivo to examine what you want. Here are some helpful resources I have found to learn more about creating a Literature Review in Nvivo. I've added the minutes (in parantheses) to indicate where these topics are addressed in the video.

TIP: Change the settings in Youtube to watch the video at x1.5 speed and save a little time!

Managing Source Attributes

Managing Topic Nodes and Case Nodes

> Create Topic Nodes such Nodes as:


Further Research Ideas

Lit Review Gaps

Good Quotes


Overall Findings

Create Case Nodes for important Authors, then use Matrix Coding query to compare specific topics (20”00)

> Select Authors in Sources, right click Create As Case Nodes.

> Merge all the Authors into one node.

> Create an Authors folder under Nodes

> Add the date to Query name when creating Queries

Text query

See who is talking about what. Look for key words.

> Create new Nodes with key words (specify that it is Text Search Query results in node name)

> Create Word Tree

Word frequency query

Coding Query

Compare 2 Topic Nodes to see what is being said across themes/topics

Compare Topic Node and Case Node to see what particular Authors say about a Topic

More details about Coding query

Framework Matrices

> Under Sources tab, click Framework Matrices

> Right click New Framework Matrix

For EX: Definitions of a particular Topic by Author

> Click on Analyze tab and Auto Summarize

—> Nvivo collates definitions and they can be Exported

Taking notes and memos

  • Take notes on Key Themes and Thoughts about them

  • Link to Models or analyze the Memos themselves with the above procedures

  • Memos can also be the first draft of Literature Review article. Can be exported into Word .doc.

Node Matrices

  • See the content in a Framework Matrix

  • Allows us to see which themes are more prominently discussed and which themes needing further exploration.

  • Also, see how perspectives on a theme have changed over time (cross-referencing Themes with Years, or Authors with Years).

EX: Benefits & Methodology, to see how these findings are being produced.


> Click on Model menu and Explore tab

> Got to Models menu, Create new model and save to project

> Create shapes and relationships.

> In Model tab, click Add project items to link with Memo or Nodes

Creating Charts

> Go to Explore tab

EX: Chart Sources by Year

You can see the amount of Sources per year: when most activity happening, OR time periods/areas that you need to go and collect more Sources for


EX: Nodes, Sources, Memos, etc.

  • To help generate modelling

  • Also helps to keep track of evolution of theory and hypothesis.

This can be part of a grounded theory process, or create snapshots of the research analysis process.

I haven't gotten my head wrapped around how to manage Relationships yet, so I might post about this again later. If you have info to share, please email me!


I wish I had known about this sooner....

>Set up word .doc transcription with HEADINGS and save TONS OF TIME! It will automatically code the content for you under the Headings, menaing you won't have to code all your data manually!


Nvivo for Mac series:

Sadly, it is not possible to import from a citation manager (like EndNote, Mendeley, Papers, etc.) to Nvivo yet. Please write to Nvivo and let them know how that makes you feel.

Honestly, I'm thinking now, there's no reason not to do this for every project. Creates validity, rigour and helps to have a clear picture of the field as you get started which can be tricky in Humanities where results are more nuanced and often contextual. Because they cannot be extracted from context, not only do we have to understand the results in our field, but also the contexts in which they are being investigated (with the populations being investigated, or the methods, frameworks and procedures through which the findings are analyzed).

I strongly encourage qualitative researchers to consider this method as a starting point for any type of investigation. I'm about to embark on the Nvivo Lit Review journey myself, I'd love to hear from you and what strategies or tools you use to organize your thoughts!


King, G. (2011). Ensuring the Data-Rich Future of the Social Sciences. Science, 331(6018), 719–721.

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