NVivo can be a helpful tool to assist with literature reviews, as it allows you to organise, summarise and search the literature you have found on your particular topic. When conducting a literature review, if you have already used referencing software (e.g. EndNote) to store your references, then you can import them to NVivo using the instructions provided in the Importing from EndNote section of this module (or similar if using different referencing software). Alternatively, if you have not uploaded them to referencing software then you can import them from a saved location on your computer using the instructions provided in the Importing materials saved on your computer section of this module.

Once you have added your literature to an NVivo project, you can create codes as detailed in the Codes & coding page of this module. In particular, you may wish to consider creating some or all of the following codes (don’t forget to use sub codes as necessary; for example, you could create Qualitative research and Mixed method research codes under a code for Methodology):

  • History
  • Definitions
  • Empirical studies
  • Methodology
  • Data collection
  • Limitations
  • Statistics
  • Good quotes
  • Gaps or contradictions

You can also search your project materials in various ways, as detailed in the Searching page of this module. In addition, you may also like to make use of some of NVivo’s other functionality to make notes on your materials, and to create a working document, as detailed in the following sections. In order to follow some of the examples provided, you can either use the project you created in the Setting up a project page, or make use of the Environmental Change Down East sample project (as detailed in NVivo sample projects).


Annotations can be used for a range of purposes, including to highlight a word or phrase that needs further definition, or to clarify or comment on a particular aspect of an argument.

To add an annotation to the Analyzing Estuarine Shoreline Change file, for example, open the PDF and highlight the text you wish to annotate. Then either right click and choose ‘New Annotation’ from the menu that appears, or click on the down arrow for the ‘Annotations’ icon above the article (the first icon, which looks like a speech bubble) and choose ‘Add Annotation’. Either way, you can then type or your annotation.

To show or hide the list of annotations at any time, select or deselect the ‘Annotations’ check box on the menu at the top of the screen, or click on the down arrow for the ‘Annotations’ icon above the article and select or deselect ‘View Annotations’. If you wish to delete an annotation, make sure the annotations are displayed and then select the item number for the relevant annotation, right click and choose ‘Delete’. Note that you can view the list of documents you have annotated by clicking on Annotations in the Navigation View (in the ‘Notes’ group), and can double click on any of these to view the annotation(s).


Memos are documents in your project that you can use to paraphrase what you have read, as well as to store your own personal insights, observations, interpretation and notes. Each memo is generally linked to an item in your project, although you can also create memos which are not linked if wished.

If you have imported from referencing software such as EndNote, the default is for a memo to be created for each reference containing the abstract, keywords and notes. You can check if this is the case for a particular reference by right clicking on it, either in the List View at the middle or in the Details View at the right of screen, and choosing ‘Memo Link’ (or ‘Links’ and then ‘Memo Link’) from the menu. If a memo already exists you will have the option to open or delete the memo; if it doesn’t, you will have the option to link to a new or existing memo. Either way, you can add your own content to a memo by opening it and selecting the ‘Edit’ box above it (once you have finished, click the ‘Edit’ box again to turn the edit mode off). You can also view a list of memos in your project by selecting Memos (or a sub-folder of Memos, e.g. Literature in the sample project) in the Navigation View (in the ‘Notes’ group), and can double click to open any of these.

You might find that you prefer to code directly from the references in your project, or that you wish to paraphrase and add observations to memos for the items and to code from these instead (or you could do a combination of both).

Creating a literature review document

Finally, if you would like to keep everything together in your NVivo project then you may like to create a working document for your topic. To create this in a new folder called Literature Review, for example, first create this folder as a sub-folder of the existing Literature folder. Open this new folder and right click in the List View, then choose ‘New File’ and ‘New Document…’. Name the document and click ‘OK’, and a blank document will open in the Details View.

The basic Microsoft Word functions for use in your working document will be available in the menu in the ‘Edit’ tab at the top of the screen, and you can turn on or turn off the edit mode by clicking on the ‘Edit’ box as per memos. You can use this document to keep track of your literature search strategies, the databases you use and so on. You can save this document to your computer at a later date if wished by right clicking on it either in the List View or in the Details View, choosing ‘Export’ and ‘Export Document…’ (or just ‘Export Document…’), browsing to choose where you would like to save it and then selecting ‘OK’.