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Getting the most out of academic conferences using NVivo and Evernote

02 October 2018 - BY Silvana di Gregorio

Conferences can be intimidating places especially if you are a first-time attender. If there are a lot of parallel sessions, it can be hard to get a sense of what topics are covered never mind deciding which ones you want to attend. Conferences are great for identifying trends and key people in your area but it can be a missed opportunity if you do not plan how to capture all that information and have a way to follow up key leads later. However, NVivo in combination with Evernote can give you the tools to get the most out of conferences.

Before the conference

The conference program of abstracts can be a daunting document to go through and find the sessions that you would like to attend. However, nowadays, for most conferences, the program of abstracts can be downloaded as a digital file before the conference. You can import the program in NVivo and search for the topic areas which interest you. I had never attended the Association of Internet Researchers conference before, so I did a word cloud of the abstract program in order to get a quick sense of the topics covered.

Figure 1: Word Cloud of AOIR 2017 conference abstracts

The great thing about word clouds in NVivo is that they are not a static graphic.  You can double click on a word and see that word in context. So I had a quick look at privacy, Facebook, networked, and algorithms – as those were areas that interested me.

From the word cloud you can also run a text search query on particular words, so you can spread the coding for more context and save as a node. To run a text search – just right click on a word in the word cloud. Alternatively if there are words/ phrases that you do not see in the word cloud, you can use the text search to search for any topics that you are interested in.
In the screenshot below, you can see the topics that I was interested in and coded either from the word cloud or using the text search. Note I have also a node ‘to attend’ for the sessions that I definitely wanted to see.

Figure 2: Topic nodes created from Word Cloud or Text Search

Besides the document with the abstracts, there was a separate timetable document – so I made sure that was included in the search so I would have the information about the location and time of the sessions.
If you have NVivo Plus, as I do, you can do a final sweep through the abstracts using autocoding by theme to check whether there are any topics of interest to you that you might have missed.

Figure 3: Topic nodes created from autocoding by theme the conference abstracts document

Finally, you can write a memo indicating the sessions that you will be attending – using ‘see-also’ links to the abstract so you can refresh your memory about the session. It is not unusual in a conference to have parallel sessions – so you may want to indicate the order of the paper you are interested in a session in case you then want to swap sessions to hear another paper.

Figure 4: Memo on conference sessions to attend with ‘see-also’ links to abstracts

During the conference

When I attend a session I use Evernote on either my phone, tablet or laptop to take notes and photographs.

Figure 5: Notes on sessions using Evernote

Figure 5 shows the topic areas that I attended in the first column. Within each topic area are my notes about the individual sessions. Often I can’t take my notes fast enough, so I use my phone to take photos of the slides and then fill in the details for key talks after the session. I usually type my notes in Evernote on my laptop and take the photos on my phone – which also has Evernote on it.
You can do the same with OneNote and afterwards, you can import your notes from OneNote or Evernote directly into NVivo.

After the conference

You can use your NVivo conference project as an archive for you to review the sessions that you attended. Figure 6 illustrates how the imported notes look in NVivo. The folders outlined in red were the topics imported from Evernote.

Figure 6: Notes in NVivo imported from Evernote

If your conference has a Twitter hashtag, you can use NCapture to capture the Tweets and then import them into NVivo for reference and/or analysis as well. Autocoding conference tweets for hashtags can be very helpful as you can access comments from other conference participants about sessions that you both attended but more usefully those sessions that you were not able to attend. Often the hashtags has links to access more information.

Figure 7: Conference Twitter stream auto-coded for hashtags – focus on #ethics

You can also code your notes/abstracts for relationship nodes – such as ‘works at’, ‘presented with’ to look at relationships among presenters at a conference and which universities have a core number of presenters at the conference. These relationships can then be visualized in a Project Map (see Figure 8).

Figure 8: NVivo Project Map showing relationships among researchers and universities

Finally, you can create a memo about the speakers who you would like to contact and follow up.


Using NVivo and Evernote together ensures that you get the most out of your conference attendance. Evernote provides a way to capture your notes during the conference which can then be imported into NVivo. NVivo has tools that support you both before the conference – helping you to search the conference abstracts to find the sessions that you want to attend and after the conference to review and follow up on the topics that interest you.