This is the second in a series of posts about using NVivo for your literature review. In this post, I will discuss ways NVivo can help simplify and manage reading lists. It might sound frivolous but think about all the different places you might have jotted down books or references you want to read…. well, NVivo is actually an excellent way of keeping all that information together!

When it comes to doing a literature review, there are a number of stages we go through and a wide variety of resources we use. The first is finding relevant references. Here are some potential resources to do this:


  • Browsing the shelves
  • Journal databases
  • Library databases
  • Library liaison officers for your subject area (I know they have them at universities in Australia, not sure about overseas)


  • Google scholar
  • Online search engines


  • Readings suggested by other people

I used to have this information stored in a number of different places, including:

  • Research journal (a journal where I would write anything PhD related throughout my doctorate).
  • Email: There was an option where the  library site would email me the list that came up in my searches.
  • Print outs: I would also sometimes print these things out and keep them in a separate folder, highlighting the important ones, and crossing some off my list as I went along.

Now, however, NVivo can be used to store this kind of information, which means it is all together in one place! I suggest creating two folders in the “sources – internals” section of NVivo. One called “reading list” which has a list of all the items you want to read. This way, everything you want to read is together in one place. The other folder is called “references”, where you will store the actual articles/books/literature you are going to use for the literature review. You can see these folders on the left hand side of the image provided below.

Literature List

Online search

If doing an online search of any kind (either online library searches of website searches), simple use the web capture feature that NVivo 10 has called “NCapture” to capture the list, and then bring it into NVivo. When on the page you want to import, you simply click on the little NCapture icon which looks like this Ncapture and it will capture everything on that page. You then open up your project in NVivo, and select the option to import that information into NVivo.

The image you see above is a search I did for the term “NVivo” on a library website. I first captured the image on the website, then imported it into NVivo (External data → From Other Sources → From NCapture).

Other sources

You might also get references by word of mouth, browsing shelves (a favourite of mine when deep in the throws of research; It is amazing what gems you can find)! To bring these into NVivo, I suggest that you create a document, and simply type them in. the document works exactly like Word does (in fact, you could even bring in a word document), the bonus of bringing it into NVivo is that you can code it!

Code your reading list!

That’s right…. I suggest you CODE your reading list as you bring each item in. It generally takes no more than a couple of minutes to do (depending on how long the lists are of course)! Create a node called “reading list” so that you know it is for that purpose, and then underneath that, create three nodes:

  • Finished reading
  • Must read
  • Maybe/only if time

Nodes - reading listIt also helps if you create nodes on each of the topic areas you are reading. In the picture below, you can see I have created nodes called “NVivo”, “Methodology” and “Theoretical Perspectives”.

Then, you simply code the relevant sources into the relevant slot. For example, if there is text that I think is a “must read” that relates to theoretical perspectives, I code it to must read AND theoretical perspectives.

This way, when you are looking for what to read next on a particular topic (lets say methodology), you simply do a search in NVivo for everything you have coded into “Must read” and “methodology” and start with those. When you have finished reading that reference, simply uncode it from “must read” and code it into the “finished reading” node.

This can really help simply the storage of all the different “bits” that seem to be part of a literature review. It certainly helped me stay focussed on the essential readings, and can also save time, because it means you don’t have to keep running the same searches over again in case you misplaced the information!

These are some of the things I have done, and found helpful when using NVivo for a literature review. I will keep posting ideas, and will also write a post about how to code and note take using NVivo, specifically for a literature review.

I now also run a full day and half-day masterclass on Using NVivo for a Literature Review. If you or your university are interested in hosting a workshop, please feel free to contact me.

12 thoughts on “NVivo for your Literature Review: Managing reading lists

  1. Hi,
    Perhaps you could correct the sentence “When you have finished reading that references, simply uncode it from “must read” and code it into the “read” node.” accordingly to the picture and change it to “When you have finished reading that references, simply uncode it from “must read” and code it into the “finished reading” node”.

    Congratulations for your job. It is really useful


  2. I’ve used #Nvivo for a literature review exercise before (coding my notes and reviewing), but never thought about using it as a long term organisational tool for this. However, I’ve been thinking that I need to get my reading more organised for the future, and these are some really interesting ideas. Thanks!


  3. Great post! Thanks! I m just starting (trying to start) my literature review. I have all the papers I used in my PhD courses, and now I want to be well-organized. I am struggling to decide which tools (software) to use. I’ll definitely use EndNote, and I didn’t know if it will be ok to annotate and put keywords directly on this software…Now that I know that Nvivo can be so useful!!! I think I will try! 🙂 ….Now there is Nvivo 10 available….I think it will be worthy to pay for it…hein? Thanks again!


  4. Hi! I am interested in my university (university of South Carolina) hosting a workshop or webinar. Can you give me more information on how to make that happen?


  5. This is really helpful practical advice – obvious/simple ideas are usually the best – thankyou – I am not a confident social media person but am now going to look for the follow up post you mention on coding and note-taking in Nvivo for lit review as that is what I am trying to get sorted at present. Thanks again.


  6. Anuja, thanks for this post. You’ve made some awesome suggestions. I was wondering why would I use NCapture instead of just PDF-ing a web-page (for example) and importing the PDF? Hope that makes sense.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s