Nvivo: Year 1 of your PhD



The far-away land of data analysis and ‘write up’.

Talking with a fellow Doctoral Researcher last week, I was reminded how daunting it can be early in your PhD when you know at some stage you’ll have to learn new software such as Nvivo- but it seems like a far-away place that you’ll visit after “data collection”.
Pat Bazeley recommends using technical software as early in your PhD journey as possible. For several reasons, including not getting overwhelmed with learning tech stuff at the end, but also most importantly to remind yourself that data collection and data analysis are not separate processes in qualitative research.
But how to do this practically in your first year?
You’ll likely  have many other priorities, might be unsure about your future software choices and your research design might still be in early stages.
Here are a few exercises that you could do in Year 1 of PhD that will enhance your skill level and get you familiar with the software, whilst contributing to your PhD.
  • Record and transcribe your Supervision session: (Remember to ask permission before recording anyone).   This will give you a good idea about the amount of time it takes to listen and transcribe an interview. It may influence your research design. You could also code your Supervision transcripts- are there particular ways you respond to feedback? What patterns can you recognise in your interaction with your supervisor? Are there themes or words that you use a lot? Are there things you’d like to follow up on?
  • Researcher Identity Memo : As suggested by Maxwell (2013) Researcher Identity Memo’s help to explore personal goals, recognize assumptions and draw on experiential knowledge. Starting your Researcher Identity Memo straight away in Nvivo will help you keep track of your changing thoughts, assumptions and shifts in your research focus.  Keep this updated via “insert date/time”.
  • Literature Review: Nvivo is not my favourite software for doing Literature Reviews, but some academics find it useful. Here is a good link on how to. You could also take Pat Thomson advice about identifying patterns and groups of literature and use Nvivo to make these categories.
  • Create a model or mind map:  Nvivo model’s and mind maps are a good entry level option for trying out how concepts, theories, ideas might fit together.
  • Audio-record your 3 Minute Thesis presentation:  Use this as a basis for transcription, coding, mapping.

I’m sure that there are many other ways to use Nvivo in your first year.

There are plenty of useful Youtube Tutorials on Nvivo and I would suggest have a decent play with the software. This way if you can then afford to attend a formal training session you’ll be able to maximise your participation and learning.

Good Luck!


About Sarina Kilham

I'm a Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Trained as a social scientist and with a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture, I'm interested in farmer's experiences of growing feedstock for biodiesel production. My research has focused on biodiesel production in Brazil and Timor-Leste. Also on Twitter @sarinakilham and blogging at thequalitativeresearcher.net
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