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Using NVivo: An Unofficial and Unauthorized Primer

Shalin Hai-Jew, Author

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Ingesting "External" Source Contents (Think "Proxy")

One of the “insights” of NVivo's design is that much information is available in multi-medial and digital formats. In an age of user-generated contents distributed through social media platforms, raw informal contents are also considered valuable for research insights.  In a sense, these contents are a form of "gray literature."  With the advent and popularization of generative AI, those contents may be useful in informing a part of research and learning and knowing. 

The developers of this software also realized that a lot of information is not yet in digital format or may even not be digitizable.  The intuition of the “External” contents in NVivo is that this is a folder (under Sources) that enables the inclusion of source information from data sources that are not directly importable into the .nvp (NVivo project) file. Here, "external" (non-digital) information may be represented by "proxies" (stand-ins).   

Proxies (or "Digital Surrogates" or "Substitutes") for External Contents

The contents in the “External” contents folder serve as “proxies” for un-digitized books or “8 mm home movies.” 

A Note on Digital Preservation

There are various machines that may be used to help turn analog objects into digital ones.  A/D conversion is a common way to not only preserve analog objects from the slow fires of time, but the conversion to digital enables the application of computational analytics to the digital contents.  Books (and any other paper-based text) may be scanned in an optical character recognition / OCR or machine readable or "searchable" way. Eight mm. home movies may be digitized in a computer-readable and editable way through various services or consoles / technologies. Vinyl records may be transcoded to digital format using turntables (at the Media Development Center in Hale Library).  Another option is to use an original machine to play the media and to capture sound ambiently using an audio recording setup (even if this method introduces potential ambient noise from the environment).  Such conversion to digital format may not be a preferred option if the original media is fragile or one-of-a-kind.  PowerPoint slideshows (.ppt, pptx) cannot be directly ingested into an NVivo project, but these may be re-coded as PDF files and ingested that way. Also, external videos (such as from YouTube) may be linked to from within NVivo, and this works fine as long as the platform on which the videos are hosted is a stable one, and the original video is not removed from the system. 

The idea is to provide an objective and sufficiently comprehensive summary of the external contents. This way, once the summary information is included, the textual data may then be coded…so that external data may be tapped for the research.

Contents for the External sources folder may then be created from within NVivo…or such contents (text files, audio files, videos, and others) may be created outside the NVivo project and imported.  (The representation by QSR International is of contents created within NVivo as born-digital contents.)  

About optical character recognition (OCR)-based text-originated files 

OCR-readable (searchable) files are preferred to digital images of texts because the text search, text frequency, matrix query, and some other query-based features of NVivo...and autocoding (theme and subtheme extraction, sentiment analysis, and others) requires the computer to be able to "read" the text; otherwise, only the coding (text-based) related to a non-OCR-readable file may be including in such searches.

This is not to say that multimedia and media-rich files are not desirable.  Rather, this suggests that there should be rich textual descriptions of all contents to maximize the use of analysis-based NVivo features. 

(Note:  .pdf or portable document format files may be images instead of computer-readable these have to be processed with OCR before ingestion into NVivo.) 

About File Deletion

If a file is deleted, related coding in nodes and relational ties, and such, also disappear.  A destructive "hard delete" is not recommended; however, there is not a clear way to "mute" files or their coding either, if that is desirable.  (It is possible to move files that you do not want to be queried outside of a folder structure into another area...where it will not be included in data queries.  There are almost always workarounds to achieve the effects you want.) 

Another approach is to break your research questions into smaller NVivo projects, so there is not cross-influences from the various sources and codes.  It takes finesse to set up the queries and files in ways that work more smoothly. 

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