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Extending your literature review with NVivo 12 Plus

05 April 2018 - BY Silvana di Gregorio

Back in 2000, I wrote about how you could you use NVivo for your literature review (di Gregorio, 2000). The software has changed significantly since then with a different interface and terminology and the possibility to import from a range of bibliographic software but the basics were all in place. For those who still need to learn the basics about using NVivo for literature reviews, I suggest you first have a look at the following links. The first one focuses on the software, the second is more conceptual, and a third is an e-book to get you started. However, NVivo 12 Plus has added some new possibilities for analyzing your literature review. You can now use the social network feature to explore relationships between your articles, authors, and books. You may want to map out which researchers write together and analyse the clusters of researchers working in a particular field. Or you may want to code when an author cites, critiques, supports or expands on ideas from other articles.

Getting Started

You need to start by creating a case for each author and coding all the author’s work to their case node. [You can see below that I have two articles for most of the authors in the list and for Flamm, I have three articles.

You will also need to create a case for each article and code that article in that case node. (see below)

Figure 1: List of case nodes for articles; List of case nodes for authors
NOTE: If you are new to cases in NVivo check the help file –

You can create some relationship types that you want to explore between authors and between articles (see below). However, you do not need to create all (or any) of them beforehand. You can create new relationships as you code (see further below).


Figure 2: List of types of relationships when coding literature
Note: If you are new to relationship types and nodes in NVivo, check the following help file -

You use relationship nodes to code for – yes, you have it – relationships between your articles. To do this, open an article and start reading. When the author is making an interesting comment about another article, code it (using the quick coding tool bar) with the case of the article that you are reading at the left end of the relationship, the relationship type in the middle, and the case of the article they are referring to at the other end. If the case or relationship has not already been created, just type in the name of the new item in the relevant box and it will be created (see below).

Example: n12symbol1.png Hall, Tom (2009) n12symbol2.png qualifies evidence from n12symbol1-(1).png Urry, John (2007)

Figure 3: Coding text from an article for a relationship using the quick coding tool bar

Exploring relationships between articles

You can see and explore in the network sociogram the relationships you have created among articles by clicking on the Explore tab > Network Sociogram and selecting the case folders for your articles:  

Figure 4: Selecting articles to explore in the network sociogram

As you can see from the network sociogram below, there are four relationships between Hall (2009) and Urry (2007) and when I double click on the line, the pop up box opens up to show me what those four relationships are. If I select one, the article with the referenced text will open up in the Detail View.

Figure 5: Network sociogram: detail showing how Hall, Tom (2009) refers to Urry, John (2007)

Exploring the influence of a particular author

In a similar way, I can explore relationships among authors to see who writes with whom. I can also set up relationships to see which articles an author contributed to. See below:

Figure 6: List of relationships between a) authors and articles and b) between authors

Once that is done, I can explore a particular author, using an egocentric sociogram, and see what they wrote and who has referenced their articles.

I just right click over the case node of an author and select, Visualize > Egocentric Sociogram (see below).

Figure 7: Creating an Egocentric Sociogram for the author case node – Urry, John

And a sociogram opens up. The author I selected (John Urry) is represented by a star icon. I can then start to explore what he has written, with whom he has written and how their work has been used by others. The sociogram below shows relationships two steps away from John Urry. It is possible to extend the sociogram to three steps away.

Figure 8: Egocentric sociogram for Urry, John showing a) who he writes with b) literature he has written and c) how that literature has been referred by other articles.

Exploring communities of practice

I can also explore what clusters of researchers write with each other by using the network sociogram with authors.

Figure 9: Network Sociogram showing clusters of authors who write together

Network and egocentric sociograms can be used to visualise relationships within your literature and help identify which works and authors have been key influencers in your field. I have given you a few ideas about how they can be applied to a literature review. Have a play and see what you find.