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When you are working with NVivo, sooner or later you will start thinking about your code structure or category system. Codes (or nodes in NVivo terminology) are great tools to capture quotes and pieces of your data that fall into a certain category. Coding your data will help you to focus on your material, gather all material about a topic in one place and it facilitates the interpretation of your data (e.g. by using queries and visualizations).
But after your initial round of coding, you might be wondering how to create a “good” code structure for your specific project. And what would that mean after all?
Now, in terms of methodology a “good” coding structure should contain the categories/codes that are relevant and appropriate to your study, based on your research question(s), material and research approach. Be aware that the way you approach your data (inductive, deductive, with a certain method) will inform the way your code structure will look like. For the same set of data, you could have a different category/code system based on whether you are looking at it through “discourse analysis” or “grounded theory” lenses.
When building our code structure, we usually go over several rounds of coding, until we can fixate the coding structure. A good starting point would do be to pick a few of your files (a pilot-sample) and start your analysis there, create codes, organize your code system and note down your rules that apply for coding in the node properties description field. Working with qualitative data can be overwhelming at times and you might find yourself “over-coding” your data. In that case, try to distinguish between what is only interesting and what is really relevant.
If the list view is not inspiring you to create new nodes, you can also use the Mind-Map to organize and create new codes/nodes. Also, you don´t have to create hierarchical nodes if you don´t think that’s fitting. Some people also enjoy working with relationship nodes, because they are more complex than regular nodes and allow you to show the connection between two concepts or cases.
While there might not be a one-size-fits-all answer to how to build a “good” coding structure from a methodological standpoint, there are certainly some tricks that you can use to build an efficient coding structure when working with NVivo. Find an overview of how to build an efficient node hierarchy, how to use a codebook to manage nodes, and where to start in the NVivo Online Help Manual. Here´s a preview of what is suggested there:
“Here are some strategies for building an efficient node structure:
• Keep node names short and pertinent.
• Make sure a node only appears once in the whole hierarchy.
• Try not to combine concepts in a node. For example, instead of coding some text at skeptical attitudes about government policy, code it at both of these nodes:
- skeptical attitudes
- government policy
Remember that you can use queries to gather your coded content in all sorts of combinations—for example, find all content coded at the node skeptical attitudes AND at the node government policy.
• Try not to force nodes into a hierarchy—if a node is not related to any other concept then leave it at the top level.
• Try not to nest more than 3 levels deep if you can help it.
• Make a node to gather 'great quotes'.
• Prune your nodes regularly. Merge, reorganize, rename.”