Demystifying the Purpose and Functions of NVivo

If you are a student in qualitative coursework or a doctoral candidate working on a qualitative capstone project, then you have probably discussed or read about NVivo software. You may be under the impression that NVivo software has the capability not only to code your data or resources but also analyze it for you. As an Academic Skills Center peer tutor for NVivo software, I would like to provide insight by demystifying the purpose and functions of NVivo software and the support available to students at Walden.

NVivo (n.d.) software is designed to help you manage and organize data that is not easily reduced to numbers. In using NVivo (n.d.), you can create a project to store documents, organize documents, attach ideas to text (known as nodes in NVivo), and find patterns among your ideas. Now that you know more about NVivo software, here are four tips I would like to share with you about the software and support available at Walden.

1. NVivo must be purchased.  

To date, Walden does not require NVivo software as a mandatory text or resource—though it may be recommended. Whether required or not, at this point the software is not free; however, there is a student package that is greatly discounted ranging between $85.00 and $99.00, dependent upon if the user is MAC or Windows—which is much cheaper than the standard price at $1,599.00. The student discounted price allows 2-year access to the software, versus owning the software, allowing the user to have temporary access during coursework or capstone work. There is also a free 2-week trial to experience the software before purchasing.

2. NVivo does not code or analyze data.

NVivo software is an organizational tool that allows its user to hand code data electronically. The user can utilize a variety of electronic ways within the software to code: highlight drag and drop, right click, using the quick options in the toolbar, etc.; however, it is at the discretion of the user to manually apply these techniques.

Patton (2015) explained that qualitative data analysis is the process for which the researcher reduces the volume of text collected, identifies and groups categories together, and seeks some understanding of it. The true data analysis tool is the researcher; NVivo cannot independently reduce, identify groups or categories, or seek understanding.

3. Auto-coding is not completed independently by NVivo.

Users may hear the term ‘auto-coding’ and think that NVivo has a button within the software that once clicked, will organize one’s data into themes and categories (known as nodes within NVivo). There is an auto-coding feature, but it’s a quick method of organizing your data, based upon the structure of your resources. Users can auto code based on structure, style or existing coding patterns. This literally means that the user must have already organized their documents or data into identified patterns or themes by placing all information in a node into a paragraph, an Excel chart, or structured by numbers or bullets. NVivo (n.d.) explained that automated coding does not perform analysis on the results, you will need to perform further steps to draw meaning from the results.

4. The Academic Skills Center (ASC) can help students develop skills to utilize NVivo.

In NVivo software, you can create a project to store documents, organize documents, attach ideas to text (known as nodes), and assists users to find patterns among ideas. The peer tutor for NVivo can help students develop the skills required to organize, create nodes, and complete coding so that the user can draw deeper meaning from the data. To begin watch this short webinar on the Beginning Concepts for Using NVivo or make an appointment with the ASC’s NVivo tutor for more information.

Students who are currently working on their doctoral capstone or dissertation and have questions about designing or conducting a qualitative study should visit a Qualitative Methodology Advisor available in the Center for Research Quality.

I hope this information clarifies the purpose and functions of NVivo and provides guidance on which department to contact for support at Walden.


NVivo. (n.d.). Retrieved January 5, 2019, from

Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Jessica Dempsey is a Peer Tutor specializing in NVivo Software and Qualitative Software at Walden University’s Academic Skills Center. Jessica is currently pursuing a PhD in Health Care Administration. Jessica practices half of her nursing career as an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) and Unite-Based Educator for Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s