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Skills Team Workshops: Using NVivo with EndNote for Literature Reviews

Using NVivo with EndNote

for Literature Reviews

Whether you are a qualitative or quantitative researcher, EndNote and NVivo can help with the process of writing a literature review. EndNote users can export existing libraries (with attached pdfs) into NVivo so that all the bibliographic data is included. You can then use NVivo to search all of your papers in one go for a particular word (or related words), code passages of text so that you can analyse them together, graphically explore the most used terms and much more..

Staff and students at the University of Hull can download both NVivo and EndNote by visiting the Support Portal and using the search box.

This workshop covers: 

  • Importing references and PDFs into EndNote and exporting them into NVivo
  • Coding passages of text under particular themes so that they can be analysed together
  • Searching all PDFs for words and related words
  • Looking at word frequencies to spot possible trends
  • Graphically analysing bibliography data to show patterns


When you bring your PDFs in via EndNote, in most cases it will create a linked memo containing the abstract (if this was included in the EndNote record). You can see if this has happened by looking for the  icon alongside the PDF name.

The memos can be found in the Notes section of the folder pane down the left of the NVivo screen:

screenshot of the notes section

These memos can be useful for initial scoping exercises. For example you can create a folder for 'Scoping nodes' and just read and code the memos to get a feel for what is out there. These nodes can be quite broad at this stage. You can then decide which papers require more specific reading for more precise coding (when you are in a memo you can right-click and choose Links>Memo Link>Open Linked Item to open the associated PDF).

Whole text coding

Depending on your project, it may be useful to apply codes to the whole PDF. For example, the country the research took place in, the type of industry, the level of education etc. This can then be used when running coding queries i.e. look for thematic code x in papers also coded at whole text code y. It is a good idea to put these codes in their own folder.

Whole text codes cannot be applied by dragging and dropping. The easiest way to apply them is to right-click on the PDF name in list view and choose Code. You can create new codes or add to existing codes in the box that pops up.

Search folders

The bibliographic data imported from EndNote can be used to categorise your PDFs into folders. For example, you could have them in separate folders for each year or each group of 5 years, or you could categorise them by the journal they are in.

The Search folders video will show you how this feature works.


Sets can also be used to put groups of articles in. For example you could have sets for articles yet to be coded and a set for those that have been coded. The Sets video will show how to use this feature.

Using EndNote to collect literature

You can collect literature on mass from a database for export into EndNote. This blog post from a member of the Skills Team shows you how:

Collecting the literature blog post


If you are working off-campus, make sure you set up the correct information in your EndNote Preferences to use the Find Full Text feature.

Find Full Text off-campus via EZproxy

If you are working off-campus, you can use EZproxy to improve the success of the Find Full Text feature in EndNote.

To add these settings to EndNote, choose Edit (EndNote on macOS), Preferences and select Find Full Text. Then enter the following details:

Open URL Path:

Authenticate with URL:

Even so, you will probably not find all of the PDFs you need that way. You will therefore have to download and individually attach each PDF either by:

  • Dragging the PDF directly onto the appropriate record (from your downloads folder or the downloads bar at the bottom of your window).
  • Selecting a record in EndNote and clicking Attach PDF in the PDF tab above your detail pane on the right, navigate to the file and select it.

Exporting from EndNote and importing to NVivo

These videos will run through the export and import process for transferring bibliographic data from EndNote to NVivo.

Exporting from EndNote

Importing into NVivo

This blog post will show you how to export the files from EndNote and import them into NVivo:

Also see: Exporting from EndNote to NVivo blog post

Coding your text

The simplest way to use NVivo to help with literature reviewing is to assign passages of text to particular codes (that you create) so that you can then view everything with that code in one place when you are writing it up. 

The videos below you how to do this for interview data but the principle is exactly the same for the literature.

Querying your PDFs and your coding

Some other useful features of NVivo that are useful when reviewing literature are the Text Search, Word Frequency and Coding queries.

Text Searching

The Text Search query allows you to search all of your imported PDFs for particular words or phrases. These can then then be saved as nodes and you can see them all in one place as for the coding done in the videos above. You can also see Word Trees that look at what words come before or after the words found - and then run further searches for regularly occurring phrases.

Word Frequencies

NVivo can run a query that looks at which words appear most often in your PDFs (or groups of PDFs). This may help you spot trends that you had not noticed when reading. You can also run text-search queries on the results of your word frequency query to see where the words appear.

Coding Queries

These can be used once you have done coding as described in the videos above. It will allow you to see where coding overlaps. 

Again, the videos below show you how to do this for interview data but the principle is exactly the same for your literature. Just make sure you select your literature folder as the place to search (or it will also look at linked memos which contain the abstracts - see the Memos box on this page).

Considerations for using NVivo with literature

All the bibliography data from the EndNote records is stored by NVivo and you can use it create some potentially useful charts.

The below videos cover additional considerations when working with bibliographic data.

Working with literature in NVivo

Querying the literature