Do you ever really finish an NVivo project?

Recently I’ve been forcefully reminded why I love using NVivo to analyse and write about my research.

For the first time, I was asked to give a conference keynote related to my most recently published research project on the history of parenting.

When I’m asked to give papers based on my first book on marital conflict in the long eighteenth century, I visit my 15 year old PhD box files and patiently re-read every typed and hand-written case filed there. These are increasingly so underlined, highlighted and annotated that it is like reading a palimpsest of my research life to date.

I then re-transcribe examples to reconfigure the material in my head making notes as I go. It’s time-consuming and depends on remembering where I physically stored stuff.

In contrast, gathering data, thinking and writing the keynote on perceptions of pregnancy was simple and pleasurable. Why? Because I was using NVivo!

Discovering old gems

I began using NVivo in 2009 on a book on the history of parenting from 1760 to 1830, which was published in 2012. Since then, I’ve largely ignored this project while I began my next one in Nivo.

That is, until I began my keynote.

I’d vaguely recalled I’d read some letters talking about pregnancy and checked out my nodes. I rediscovered I’d coded at a child-node I’d named ‘news on parenting and birth’ under the parent-node ‘Talking about children,’ which hadn’t made it into my book.

Clicking on it delivered 24 separate pieces of evidence.

Within thirty minutes or so, I was already analysing the descriptions of pregnancy by asking questions and recording my responses to the extracts in a memo. This produced my keynote’s themes: anxiety, apprehension, and discomfort.

Building on the evidence

I realised immediately that my sources mostly dated from 1810 to 1830 and I needed some examples from the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Chatting about this with a recent Brookes’ Phd graduate he generously gave me his transcriptions from one family’s correspondence about pregnancy in 1775.

Thanks to NVivo I simply imported them, coded them at the same node and rapidly added another 17 important pieces of evidence.

I exported the child-node and memo into Word and began organising this into my paper. I was due a blog post, so decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Aesthetic and useful

I used NVivo’s Word Cloud on the extracts to visualise the word frequency of accounts of pregnancy.

Truthfully, I did this to get a good picture to put on my blog post, so I was surprised at how valuable it is as a tool of analysis. I immediately saw that many of the words related to the passage of time.

Placing these findings alongside the words relating to anxiety and fear developed my argument because I theorised that the families’ discussions about pregnancy were related to addressing the condition’s uncertainties.

Looking at the Word Cloud and the coded extracts I began to see that what I was doing was analysing the emotional language of pregnancy. Thus I decided to use an emotions history framework.

Searching for inspiration

In the final stages of the paper I began to ask whether the emotional words I kept seeing were serving a purpose. A couple of weeks before I began the keynote, I’d quickly searched the parenting NVivo project to inspire a blog post about gender. Actually, it was a letter describing miscarriage that jumped out at me and the resulting post I wrote is one of the most visited I’ve had.

There are two points worth making.

First, I now realise that NVivo doesn’t only tackle big research projects; it also facilitates this kind of short, speedy writing for public engagement.

Secondly, the post generated interesting discussion on the husband’s jokey, sexist response to his wife’s miscarriage. Returning to these comments (which I’ll code in NVivo too when I write the keynote for publication) helped me formulate a further aspect of my argument.

Applying the theory that language is a ‘linguistic medicine’ I noticed that the emotional vocabulary of pregnancy was not only used as consolation but also as humour to help couples cope with pregnancy’s uncertainties.

Pulling it all together - quickly

It took me less than a week to write the keynote and three blog posts related to it (and read the secondary scholarship). There is no way that I could do this so quickly without using the coding, visualising, and writing spaces in the software.

It all confirms my view that though setting up a project on NVivo takes time, analysis and writing can be far more rapid than traditional methods.

Crucially, it also helps me think in new ways about my existing material.

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