Chapter 7 - Coding (NVIVO)

Chapter 7 discusses coding, coding schemes and coded retrieval as key tools of qualitative analysis. We discuss the terminology and philosophies which underpin coding processes. Specific methodologies use particular routines when coding. More general thematic analyses or less code-based methods may use coding devices in ways which include data reduction strategies, indexing and marking data. The structures of coding schemes, alternate groupings and basic retrieval mechanisms are key to moving forward with analysis. See all coloured illustrations (from the book) of software tasks and functions, numbered in chapter order

Sections included in the chapters:

Inductive, deductive and abductive approaches

Theoretical coding

Grounded Theory

Visual data, coding directly or via a transcript


Filtering devices

Horizontal or Vertical cuts

Moving on

Quantitative overviews

Hierarchical and non-hierarchical coding schemes

How to escape the structures of your coding schemes


Nodes can be containers (like codes) which when they are applied to data enable retrieval or further organisation; they can also be empty – for example they can act like hierarchical top-level codes with nodes underneath them which do contain or have been applied to, data. The step by step sections here are mainly about the application of thematic or reflective nodes.


Nodes (in the former case above) are containers for or links to data exemplars based on, conceptual ideas, themes, codes or more structurally (see below) for people, contexts, places etc. In this handout, the terms nodes, codes, keywords, and themes are used similarly. Node is a term which refers to a point in the NVivo database but a code label may be the name you give the node. Codes or nodes can be your ideas about the data – they can be generated inductively or deductively, and may be refined, changed, grouped or deleted at any time. Applying nodes etc., to passages of source data at a minimum, provides the basic code and retrieve actions needed to accumulate together, all the bits of data linked by common threads and themes. The term ‘references’ in this context to be data sitting at or referenced by

Each Node of any sort can be linked directly to one memo – so that relevant analytic notes are easily accessible from the node itself                             


These nodes (applied in the same ways as thematic nodes) facilitate interrogation across individual cases or categories of respondent. You may additionally need to apply e.g socio-demographic information to whole data files - or to e.g. a speaker within a focus group. In either case in NVivo each of those catchments of data need to be at their own node. Then to be efficient those nodes should be linked to a Node Classification (which in turn enables socio-demographic information to be applied). We describe this process in greater detail in Chapter 12 Exercises but see the Node folders below in Figure 7.1 which contain the structural nodes representing cases or respondents’ nodes for Case Study A, Young Peoples project – (these nodes are linked to a Node Classification –not illustrated which allows attributes to be assigned, based on their age, gender, nationality etc. The relevant node Classification for Case Study A is illustrated in Figure XXX in Chapter 12 exercises.

Do you have too much information i.e. complex facts, features and information to keep in your head when it will come to interrogating and comparing across and within different files and cases? If so, see Chapter 12 in the book and the Chapter 12 exercise on, Organizing data 


TIP: When starting out it is easy to confuse folder hieracrhy with node hierarchy. Hierarchy folders are useful, but be sure you are creating nodes or sub nodes when you mean to be, not folders and sub folders!


It is useful to begin to think of using Nodes Folders to separate different types of Nodes. We already created folders for data in the Sources function to contribute to a useful structural framework.


NODE FOLDERS ARE UNDER THE MAIN Nodes FOLDER IN THE NAVIGATION PANE AND ARE ALSO WAYS TO ORGANSE CODES – BUT ARE BETTER CONCEIVED AS WAYS TO SEPARATE DIFFERENT NODES WHICH HAVE DIFFERENT PURPOSES OR ORIGINS e.g. CASE Nodes, THEMATIC nodes, AUTO codes. You can also use the top “Nodes” level as a separate location and we sometimes use that area for thematic nodes – only using sub folders for the clearly different nodes.

FOLDERS: for beginners we advise not to create more than 1 level of sub folders (this is where it is useful to be sure you are clear that you are not confusing the need for sub folders with the need for sub-nodes)

NODE HIERARCHIES: if you need a bit more complexity in your node structure this is fine– a few more levels in the hierarchical structures of Nodes themselves, say in the thematic node/code areas would be appropriate, but we would suggest that more than 4 levels within the hierarchy of Nodes themselves is over complexifying the management of ideas. In TEAM projects, there might be a decision to restrict to two levels of hierarchy for reasons of simplicity when sharing data later.

Nvivo image

Figure 7.1



On the left of Figure 7.1 is the Nodes Folder (yellow folder icon) -(If thinking about a project with a mixed data set as in Case Study A) create folders which allow you to store different nodes in different folders. Or... If you are just thinking about thematic nodes, you can choose between putting all thematic nodes directly within the Nodes folder or as above create different folders to differentiate between Early inductive and (later?) thematic nodes. Remember as discussed in Chapter 7 this project used a mixture of grounded (inductive coding) and theoretical codes which were generated from the literature. The structures you create in Folders are up to you – but keep them simple. Don’t make life more difficult for yourself. As we discuss in Chapter 9 – the way you structure a coding scheme often reflects the way you like to work. An example of this is the way Ann Lewins puts all her thematic codes in the Nodes folder (she tidies up later) – whereas Christina Silver – whose project this is – likes to do some up-front tidying up!

TIP: The great thing about folders in NVivo is that you can change your mind, restructure them and move or drag nodes around between them whenever you like – really easily.

7.2.2 CREATING NODES – UP FRONT (a priori)

  • Click on the Node folder you want the node to be in
  • In Create Ribbon tab Click on New Node in the List pane, OR select an existing node and right click> new node, OR R-click in the space of the List pane
  • Label the node/code add a description. (Although optional, defining your nodes is strongly recommended.) A nickname is probably not necessary if you have named your node something brief
  • Colour? You can now colour your codes with a limited palette – Suggestion? certain types of code or hierarchies should be related by colour. Colour can be used to filter what you see in the data later
  • Consider the Aggregate option. (see more below)
  • Check the information in the List pane. Note the new node has appeared in the List pane. In the table alongside, it codes no Sources and has no References to content yet, but this information will update as you proceed with coding the data


  • For a new top level code/node, follow any of the steps above but be sure you do not have any other code selected in the List of nodes that you can see. NVivo terminology describes hierarchical nodes in terms of their “familial” relation to each other, so a top level node would be a parent, and a node under that parent would be a “child”
  • Successive layers of nodes can be viewed by hitting the plus sign next to a tree node to expand it. To hide the hierarchy hit the minus sign next to the higher level node
  • Create a new child (or sub) node by R-clicking on the parent (top-level) node for the new child. If something goes somewhere you didn’t expect, simply drag and drop it to where it ought to be. (Or cut and paste.)
  • Aggregation – Note that child nodes DO NOT automatically code to the parent node, and vice versa. If you want something coded to both the child node and the parent node, choose the Aggregate option when you create the node. You can also retrospectively aggregate a code. Aggregation collects from the next level down. The aggregate option has to be checked on the parent (higher)code. In a hierarchy of e.g. 4 layers – the aggregate option needs to be checked on 3 layers, then the very top node will collect the coding that happens at all 4 layers
  • Configuring the table of information 

7.3 Arranging the user interface to help you code


Although the default arrangement for the interface is shown above, you can customize what appears and where (to some extent) it is on your screen according to your needs and preferences. Experiment with the options on the View menu to find what works best for you. The following customizations (not all from the View menu) in particular you may find useful:

  • Rearrange the List and Detail panes such that the Detail pane
  • appears on the right and the List pane on the left
  • In View tab>Detail View>choose the right option. This can be especially convenient when you are doing a lot of coding
  • Resize panes Remember that all columns in the list can be resized so that the space allotted to the List pane versus the Detail pane can be adjusted by grabbing the splitter bar line in between the areas you wish to resize and dragging it of the View Ribbon tab options
  • Code stripe views There are several choices to be made about how you view codes in the margin area.– note that when using NVivo 10 SP3 or later the code stripes display opens automatically ). Sometimes pro-actively varying the codes on display in the margin (against a specific selection of data) will remind you of the presence or absence of particular concepts or topics you are currently focused upon

TIP: Always use the Recently Used Nodes view, when in coding mode.

Nvivo image


Just as there are many ways to create and code to new nodes, there are multiple ways to code data at nodes you have already created. You can also using some of these methods to select more than one code to apply to the selected passage of data. We show 3 techniques – there are more!

TIP : ALWAYS use the View /Code Stripes> Recently Used Nodes view, when in coding mode 

7.4.1. Technique 1 – Drag and drop

  • A favourite for many researchers, drag and drop coding allows you to drag a highlighted selection of data onto any code showing in the List pane. This, of course, necessitates the list pane be showing Nodes (as opposed to Sources or anything else from the Navigation pane)
  • Simply hold down left click of mouse and and drag it onto the desired node
  • IMPORTANT: One way to speed up drag and drop coding and see the most nodes possible on the screen at one time is to rearrange the windows so that the List containing the nodes is on the left side, and the Detail pane of the source is on the right side (as above)
  • Do this by going to View Ribbon tab /Detail View /Right
  • Then arrange vertical splitter bars to accommodate as much text on the right as possible while seeing enough of the code labels on the left     

7.4.2 Technique 2 – Right click over selected data

  • Select text – Right click over text > Code at Existing Nodes/ navigate around Nodes /codes system hierarchies to find the codes that are relevant and check the relevant boxes alongside -/click OK

Nvivo image


Figure 7.3

7.4.3 Technique 3 - Using Quick Coding bar at the base


Nvivo image

Figure 7.4

  • Select the data you wish to code first.
  • along the Quick coding bar at the base of the detail pane Click on the Select Location  icon ... on the first (three dots) icon on the middle left of the bar at base of detail pane
  • The new node will go into the Nodes folder by default if you do not change the selection at the first icon
  • Select the second icon – opens the Select Project Items pane
  • Single click the folder in which the nodes you’re interested reside
  • Then, ‘tick’ or ‘check’ the node(s) you wish to use for the data you have highlighted
  • Once you have checked the relevant nodes (navigate around the hierarchies by clicking on plus + signs) Click OK
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Lastly, on the Coding bar, be sure to hit the green checkmark towards the righthand edge of the quick coding bar to confirm the action. The previous steps might not accomplish anything without this!


These are nodes which are created and attached to selected data in one operation

  • Using the same Quick Coding Bar above in Figure 7.4. – allows you to create a new (inductive? grounded? ) code by overtyping or filling in the Code At bar towards the right hand side of the bottom ‘quick coding’ bar. Be sure to hit the green checkmark to confirm the action.


  • See above in Figure 7.3– after selecting text you have the option to right click > Code Selection at New node – here again you will find it by default will put the new node straight under the Nodes folder unless you hit the Select button to choose EITHER another folder OR a node to hand your new node from

Figure 7.5

Figure 7.5

There are more ways to code – for instance there is a recently used list of codes available and selectable from the bottom Code-at (Quick Coding) bar. Experiment to come up with a way that best supports your preferred way to work.

There are also Uncoding actions which are possible (see Red Cross icon) and next exercises.

Remember – any coding initiated in the Quick Coding bar – needs to be confirmed by hitting the green check (tick) icon along towards the bottom right of the bar.


See the online Help menu in NVivo to explore how it is possible to identify connections between nodes, to then join 2 nodes together with your defined relationships, then assign the new complex node to data where the relationship holds true. Not a vital process and one you may not have time for, but it provides an extra dimension in coding data and is exclusive to NVivo.

Chapter 8 in the book discusses the immediate results of coding processes –i.e. the ability to retrieve all that coded data along particular lines and then to enhance and focus retrieval - to filter – manipulate- recode – export. See next exercises in the section related to Chapter 8


This section is necessarily brief but provides basic familiarisation with some useful data handling, annotation and coding devices for multi-media (note that for sound only the devices are similar to those illustrating video). Mostly, other sample data is used in the illustrations.


Figure 7.6

Figure 7.6

  • With the picture on view, click to edit.


  • Make a selection within the graphic/right click/ Insert a row – and write notes.


  • Make a selection/right click /Code selection.


  • Code the notes instead


Coding multimedia data is very similar to coding textual data. For either audio or video sources, you can select transcript text and code per usual, or you can select a segment on the progress bar and code that directly as if you’d highlighted text.

See also basic transcription multimedia pages Section 5.5.2(synchronised transcription, notes etc) The difference is not in how the coding works, but how passages are selected and how coding stripes are displayed.

  • To select a passage – (see Exercise4, F7 to start play, F7 to pause, F8 to stop – or see Play Back area in Media Ribbon tab). Once play has started hit F11 function key to start the selection, Hit F12 to finish the selection
  • To code the passage – right click over the blue rectangle now showing along the Progress bar. Code as you would text (see coding exercises 7.D. and 7.E.)
  • You can also code the transcript, as you would text
  • If synchronous transcripts or notes (i.e. the text were coded), coding stripes appear solidly alongside the transcript, and “shadow coding”, analogous to the solid coding stripe, will appear alongside the video progress bar. (Or vice versa if coding has been done on the play bar) Shadow coding looks like coding stripes with hatch marks which give it a slightly lighter colored look. Any annotations and links (more on these later) will appear above the progress bar as light blue (annotations) or reddish (links) coding stripes

Figure 7.7

Figure 7.7

You have been coding in order to make collections of segments of data along particular topic and concept based lines of discovery and enquiry. See next the exercises about retrieval of those topic based collections in the section related to Chapter 8.

Ann Lewins, Christina Silver and Jen Patashnick. 2014