Doing literature review section on virtual embodiment with NVivo

Recently I’ve been developing a section of my PhD literature review that examines the concept of embodiment in virtual environments. Not too much about the topic here, but about the process itself.

I usually keep my journal articles and other stuff in Mendeley. It’s similar to EndNote (a bit better even IMHO), basically a simple software that lets you keep a tagged library of source materials that you can annotate and highlight. Also a nice feature is getting the right kind reference out of the software (if you are lucky) instead of having to write it yourself.

Still, with some processes such as trying to understand a concept by reading many source materials, I find Mendeley becomes too slow and a bit rigid. Yes you can highlight things and annotate directly to articles, but they don’t actually go anywhere as a list, nor can you compare the highlighted parts to other documents in the same folder, category or theme.

Then I remembered someone mentioned me using NVivo for “quick literature reviews” so I thought I’ll take 40 or so articles, drop them there and see what happens. At this stage, I really have give big thanks to Pat Bazeley who originally got me started with the software in the first place, way before my PhD journey! 🙂

NVivo seems to work quite nicely actually. I can see several benefits for doing the lit review like this, such as coding various articles and then writing them out in your own article, e.g. themed in an orderly fashion (instead of just one article a time or something). You can also link NVivo memos (which on the other hand could use some development) between different documents or highlights (codes) to ponder things further. Then basically combine that to a literature review draft.

So, at least this seems swell for now, and the Mac version seems to be quite fast too. I have used NVivo in one previous qualitative study with a PC and for some reason it seemed to crash quite often. The Mac version seems to be quite stable (knock on wood). One thing I’d like to test out in some point in the future is how it works with other non-written sources such as videos. I’m thinking of a study about comparing fictive and academic accounts about certain phenomena, and NVivo could be handy in that.

I also found an article by Randolph (2009), that kinda says lit reviews are generally crap but no one wants to admit it. Often they do not have a justified structure, nor are the chosen articles and rising themes examined critically enough. I feel when you really code the articles and keep a continuous memoing, it adds more of that always-requested rigour to the process. And I guess it will make it easier to write the whole thing anyway – instead of just glancing the articles and perhaps highlighting some parts.

More to read:

Randolph, J. J. (2009). A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review. Retreived from

Pat Bazeley’s website has nice resources for coding with NVivo:


2 thoughts on “Doing literature review section on virtual embodiment with NVivo

  1. Marko, I need to book some time per week to get through the posts. Currently, I am using Zotero, mostly happy with the tools, food in sharing lists. Never used nvivo for reference and literature handling, but heard a lot about it. Maybe have to go do CITS to get it installed and have a go myself. Thanks for reminding me.

    • Sure thing! Zotero is kinda OK too for reference list and stuff, but I don’t think it goes too much beyond that to actually maintaining a list of codes or highlights in research articles. So yeah, definitely try something like NVivo, and I’m sure there are other Open Source ones too for experimenting – would be great to have the best functionalities from everything, wouldn’t it? 😉

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