About coding


Coding is a fundamental task in most qualitative projects—it involves gathering all the material about a particular theme or case into a node for further exploration. This topic provides an overview of coding and introduces possible approaches.

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What is coding?

'Coding' your sources is a way of gathering all the references to a specific topic, theme, person or other entity. You can code all types of sources and bring the references together in a single 'node':

The process of coding can generate ideas and help you to identify patterns and theories in your research material.  

For example, you could gather all the negative opinions about a policy and examine them together in a node—from there, you could tease out common threads and ask questions like What do young people think and do their opinions differ from those of older people?  

You can also code to gather source content at nodes that represent the subjects of your research, such as people or places. For example, if you have survey responses from a class of students, you can create a case node to represent each student, and then code their opinions at their case node.

You can code manually within a source or do some fast coding using query-based coding features.

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Deciding on an approach

The way you approach the analysis of sources can depend on the

  • Methodology you are using (if any)
  • Amount and type of data you have
  • Time available

NVivo does not prescribe an approach but provides the tools to let you work the way that suits you best. For example, if you have large dataset sources—make the most of NVivo's auto coding feature. If you have a smaller number of sources that require close analysis—take advantage of the easy-to-use manual coding tools.

You can create a node structure and then code your material at the 'ready-made' nodes or you can create nodes as you work through your source materials.

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'Broad-brush' coding using queries

You can use NVivo queries to automatically code your sources based on the words or phrases they contain. This can be a useful starting point for reviewing your data.

For example, you can

  • Run a Text Search query on a specific word or phrase and automatically code the text that is found—for example, find and code all the occurrences of climate change.
  • Run a Word Frequency query to see the words that occur most often—for example, if the word literacy appears frequently you can then run a Text Search query to find and code all occurrences of literacy.

Refer to Run a Word Frequency query and Run a Text Search query for detailed instructions.

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Manual coding in sources

While working in a source you can select content and then code it at new or existing nodes.

NVivo provides the following ways to manually code your sources:

  • Select and code content using the options on the Analyze tab of the NVivo ribbon.

  • Drag and drop selected content on a node in List View.

  • In vivo code to make a new node from selected words or phrases.

The content available for coding depends on the type of source you are working with, refer to the following topics for more information:

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Coding entire sources to a node

You can code entire sources to new or existing nodes. This can be useful, if you want to code everything in the source to a particular theme node, or if the source represents the responses of an individual and you want to code it all at their case node.

If you select a source in List View or have a source open in Detail View, you can code the entire content at a new or existing node—refer to More manual coding techniques (code entire sources at a node).

When you code entire sources, the content is coded as described below:

Source type How the content is coded
Documents All the text (and any images) in the document are coded as a single coding reference.
PDFs All the text in the PDF is coded as a single coding reference.


The content of each codable cell in the dataset is coded as a separate coding reference.

Audio and Video

The media is coded as a single coding reference.
If there is a transcript, the content of each cell in the Content column is coded as a separate coding reference.


The entire picture is coded as a single coding reference.

If there is a log, the content of each cell in the log is coded to the node as a separate coding reference.

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Auto coding structured content

If you are working with structured source material, auto coding provides a fast way to organize it into nodes—for example, if you have a dataset of survey responses,  you can gather the answers to each question in a node.

In this release of NVivo for Mac, you can auto code datasets, however other types of auto coding—for example, documents by paragraph style—are not available. Refer to Automatic coding in dataset sources for more information.

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Making sure team members code consistently

If multiple researchers are coding the same material, you may be interested in the consistency of their coding. You can run a Coding Comparison query to check the 'inter-rater reliability' using the Kappa coefficient.

Where coding consistency is important, it may be useful to agree on a node structure early and have regular discussions about how the structure is evolving.

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'Coding on' in a node

When you open a node, you can explore the references gathered there. As you make new discoveries, you may want to code the content at other nodes—this is called 'coding on'. You can use the same manual coding techniques that you use to code a source.

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