Getting More from Qualitative Research using NVivo

In writing this post, I shall try not to sound like I am giving a sales pitch.

I really like the idea of qualitative research. It’s the part of psychology which I would say I live for. Actually getting out and working with a real individual, whose thoughts and feelings I explore. Qualitative research has had its quirks, such as Franz Joseph Gall’s ‘phrenology’, measuring ‘bumps’ on the skull to determine mental ability, however it has also been instrumental in developing categories for the more scientifically regarded quantitative research (Howitt & Cramer, 2008).

At the end of last semester, in commenting I came across a qualitative study (Harper & Makatouni, 2002), that I chose to use for evidence to support one of my discussion points. The research in question covered members of the public’s attitudes towards organic food and animal welfare. Research was gathered was through focus groups, each of between six and eight people, who were primarily involved in buying food for families with young children.

The focus groups were recorded, and transcribed verbatim. They we’re then fed in to a computer package called NVivo, for analysis. I should like you to think of NVivo, as the SPSS of qualitative research. Naturally, NVivo isn’t magic, but it streamlines and improves accuracy in the handling of qualitative data as it rises to the challenge of presenting it systematically.

It is able to examine texts, and seek out patterns within a manuscript; that is words or similar phrases that are often repeated. It creates a computerized working environment where researchers can effectively examine, organize, categorize and understand data and get more from it. It can produce coded output which can then be used in programs such as SPSS. It can allow researchers to “uncover subtle trends” (NVivo, 2012).

The results of the above mentioned study came in different forms. For a simple analysis, three distinct groups could be identified. To relate closer to the data, related quotes could be drawn from the transcript, which bring a personal link between the reader and the participant, opening other researchers to novel thought and deeper insight in to the study.

There are two types of systems in this world, those that have failed, and those that will. No system is immune to inaccuracy, and so despite the improvements and advantages such a program presents, it doesn’t remove the need for common sense. Some are concerned that it may ‘guide’ researchers, not just assist them. Also, when using a computer program, you are relying on code that someone else has written to do what you need it to do. It removes control of analysis processes away from researchers (Welsh, 2002).

Despite that, NVivo is reputed to be based off well grounded theories of analysis, such as the grounded theory approach. With the proper understanding, we can pass some of the administrative work over to a computer, and benefit from its precision in boosting the benefits of qualitative data.


Harper, G. C., & Makatouni, A., (2002) Consumer perception of organic food production and farm animal welfare. British Food Journal, 3/4/5, 287-299.

Howitt, D. & Cramer, D., (2008), Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology Second Edition. Harlow, England: Pearson Education

Welsh, E. (2002). Dealing with Data: Using NVivo in the Qualitative Data Analysis Process. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3 (2). Retrieved from

Other references as hyper-linked.

2 thoughts on “Getting More from Qualitative Research using NVivo

  1. The flow and integration of references/evidence for your argument and viewpoint in this entry was excellent. The other side to the argument was given a significant amount of attention too which showed understanding of the subject. Perhaps the comparison of this form of data collection to other forms of data collection may have been helpful too. More detail as to the accuracy of the program in how it picks up and analyses trends would be needed to properly evaluate the program’s usefulness compared to other systems of data collection. I for one agree with the idea that qualitative research is the foundation of all investigations in psychology and is the base from which quantitative research grows.

  2. I’ll admit, when I first started reading this and saw the sales pitch comment I was expecting to be reading about a program similar to either Microsoft Excel or SPSS, but after reading this it looks like it’s a lot more useful than either of those 2 programs for researchers. I mean, quantitive data is, for all intents and purposes really easy to work with, qualititive data is much more complex and from the looks of this this program is able to handle and sort the data reasonably well. Definitely a useful tool for any researcher, especially those in psychology where quantitive data isn’t always an option.
    It was an interesting read and I found out about something I’d never heard of before, and the comment about trying not to do a sales pitch made me laugh a bit, not sure why, but it gave me some idea of what to expect which was a pretty good way of introducing the blog topic in a short statement.

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