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Thinking outside of the box with memos and other motivational tactics in NVivo

03 April 2017 - BY Kristi Jackson

NVivo Platinum Trainer Kristi Jackson outlines how using memos and other tactics can push qualitative research projects forward.

Usually, we NVivo trainers discuss the use of NVivo Memos in the same way that many qualitative research traditions discuss journaling. Memos are nearly limitless spaces for mental meanderings, the tracking of hypotheses, and the “ah-ha!” moments. 

On more than one occasion, I’ve encouraged a doctoral student at one of my NVivo CLIC Retreats to create a memo called “Chapter Four”, where they can start playing with ideas for their dissertation. This is the way most researchers use NVivo Memos, just as if they were working on paper.

However, when I was working on my dissertation, I learned that it was easier to return to my database if I had a memo called, “Next four hours”, where I kept a list of things to do next. I jotted down several ideas – just before exiting the database – about options for my next session in the project. 

This allowed me to sidestep negative thoughts about not knowing where to begin or worrying that I wouldn’t make progress when it was time to dig in again. I didn’t always follow my instructions – because priorities change – but, it always gave me a place to start.

Here are my other favorite creative uses to stay motivated:

Create a “Distractions” Memo

This is where you record the cool possibilities for this or future research that are too far from your original research questions, tasks, and feasible deadlines. This way you honor them by writing them down, but move back to your core activities.  You can get back to them later.

Keep a list of questions for your advisor, supervisor and/or teammates

By using “See Also Links” (to data such as passages you want to discuss with your team to clarify the coding structure) you can save time by jumping right to the item in a team meeting, resolving them, and moving on.

Capture ideas for queries you might want to run later

For instance, you might suspect that the older participants are also predominantly men, so in addition to running a comparison of males and females, you want to run a comparison of older females, younger females, older males and younger males. Keep a memo specifically designed to track these ideas for potential queries so you don’t forget them.

Develop a methodological narrative about the study 

Track choices and changes regarding research design or structure. This may include the reasons that participants opt out of the study, ethical issues or responses, and unexpected analytical turns that alter the structure of the analysis. For example, you need to compare responses of immigrants who arrived both before after certain laws or executive orders were passed, because this historical event might be influencing the discussion of their experiences.

Lessons learned about implementing the research 

A wise thing for any researcher is to track the lessons – no matter how large or small - for the next project or study. These can include the framing of research questions, ideas about gaining rapport in the field, preparing transcripts, or the way you created a far too complicated coding structure in your recent project.

Memos are a wonderful place where you can write, track and think for all sorts of reasons. Think outside the box! For more ideas, sign up for the Tracking your Methodological and Analytical Journey with NVivo webinar  with me.