Chapter 11 – Mapping (Nvivo)

CHAPTER 11 discusses some of the varying principles, functions and rationales behind mapping tools where they are available in software. Mapping in a graphic sense may relate to theoretical models or simply be a way of stepping back from the data to express, visualize and communicate connections that are beginning to be observed.

Sections included in the chapter:

Traditions of mapping

Specific functions and specialities

Mapping to express theory

Expressing links between text passages

Visualizing co-occurring codes

Linking concepts

Layers, creating, hiding and revealing them

In NVivo the mapping tool is called the Modeler. (These exercises are largely complied using other sample data.)


Models are another visual way to represent what is happening in your project or ideas you have about how various things may be connected. Models are comprised of shapes and connectors which can represent project items, if desired. Models are created by adding these shapes to a blank “sheet”. New models are created like any other new project item – from the List pane, using the Project menu, or via the New button. (We’ll use the first method here.)

  • In the Navigation pane, click on the Models section, and then click in the List pane. R-click and choose New Model
  •  OR in Explore Ribbon tab>New Model
  • In the New Model window, enter a name and (optionally) a description. When you click OK, a new blank model is displayed in the Detail pane

Nvivo image

  • You can add empty/abstract shapes click once on a shape in the Shapes palette on the left or R-click > New Shape)
  • Or add project items R-click > Add Project Items – see Figure 11.2. below

Figure 11.2

Figure 11.2 

  • Add connectors from one shape or project item to another by clicking on the source object and then holding Ctrl and clicking on the target object, and then R-click (on target object) > New Connector
  • Add names to abstract shapes that you have added by double clicking quickly to get the properties box up, or double-clicking slowly to enter a label in the background - on them to go to their Properties (also accessible by R-click)


Explore connections

One way to utilize a Model is to explore the connections the project items in your Model have to each other by adding Associated Data. To do this:

  1. R-click on a project item of interest already in your Model
  2. Choose ‘Add Associated Data…’

 Figure 11.3

Figure 11.3 

      3. The Add Associated Data box appears, asking you to choose any other items you want to see on the Model to which the item is connected.

  • Note you can bring in new project items this way
  • Or you can have NVivo display connections between items already in your Model
  • Or If you right click on any item in a model you can choose to add associated data

As you add project items, those already in the Model are greyed out in the Select window so you can’t add an item twice. You can begin to see how the model allows you to look in on your project and progress from above – to see what connections have been made – where the exceptions are. See illustration below. The community minded node is sitting in 4 files – but not in Mary or Grace – is there a reason for that? Does that need investigating? 

Nvivo image

The model above, for example, starts to give an idea of the different images that men and women interviewees have about volunteers.



  • Open any project item directly from a model by selecting it > R-click > Open Project Item.
  • Remove an object from the model by selecting the object > R-click > Delete
    • IMPORTANT: DO NOT Delete from Project!
  • Models are highly customizable. You can change the font of the labels, the fill color, etc. of all the shapes you select - use the Home Ribbon tab to find editing options You can even use small images instead of shapes. (Select the shape you want to transform into an image and go to Format > Fill > Image and browse for your picture.) Project items are customizable, too, in terms of fill and color, but not in terms of shape
  • You can make a “mess” really quickly with a model depending on the amount of associated items you bring in with a project item. Don’t be afraid to play with the model layout (Model > Layout) to see if that helps clean things up. (And there’s always “Undo”!)
  • Remember that the distance of any one object from any other object means NOTHING. If you want items that are closer to each other to mean they have a stronger association, that’s fine, but YOU need to set that up manually
  • Zoom out – expand – models, more than anything else, may cause you to feel as though you’re running out of “screen estate”. To get more room to work, try some of the following:
    • Undock the model (View Ribbon tab > Undock)
    • Zoom out to see more (View > Zoom)
  • Groups (in the right palette) work like transparency layers. Create different groups to be able to show the building of ideas within your model.
    • Select the items required – select Custom Groups tab in the palette, R-click in the palette to create a new group
    • Add more items, shapes, and connectors to the group by selecting the relevant items and placing a check in the left column on the palette under the large checkmark
    • Toggle the viewing of each group by (un)checking the right column under the eye icon

TIP: It may be easiest to make and arrange your final model first, and then work backward to create groups.

  • Interrogate by viewing the relevant Node Classifications (& attributes) tab in the palette– switch off selections (particular values) in the right palette (under the RH column) to switch off the items relevant to the selected attribute value (or to create a Custom group) – or switch back on


  • File menu>Print will print any docked model in the detail pane
  • Any model can be copied (Ctrl-A > Ctrl-C) and then pasted into Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint for viewing outside NVivo. Make sure everything is arranged where you want it before doing this, however, since once outside NVivo, the model becomes a single layer image and none of the parts can be adjusted (nor can individual project items be launched)

Ann Lewins, Christina Silver and Jen Patashnick. 2014