Saturday, 17 March 2012

Four NVivo 9 tips to save you from trouble, and one from worry.

Written to save NVivo 9 users some trouble and worries.

I've been working with NVivo 9 for almost a year now and here are four important tips on what to do (and avoid). Plus a fifth on what not to worry about:

1. Work on your files locally, not via a network.
Although I was told this at an NVivo workshop last year, I proceeded to ignore it as working off a project file from the local area network folder seemed not to present any problems; it was responsive and saved me the time of backing up from my local drive. That was all good-and-well until I lost a whole day's work, because the file became corrupt! What caused this, I do not know: I suspect an automated Time Machine backup ran and NVivo subsequently froze. After restarting it, the file would not open  and viewing the file's information showed it had shifted from being 180 MB big to 0 KB; not a good sign :(. I now only work locally and backup to the LAN at the end of each workday. Although this means adding an extra few minutes to my schedule, I can be confident of not losing nine hours!

2. If you work via a network, you can also expect big problems if you shut down your computer without closing NVivo properly.
Just in case the thought of losing your entire day's work won't persuade you, how about not being able to work on your file for the rest of the day?! When adding external speakers, I switched my Mac off by mistake. DOH! I was then unable to open the file off the network as I kept getting a message that it was "already in use". I then tried everything I could to circumvent this problem, to no avail (I was blocked from copying the file to another location as it's "in-use"; logging out of the LAN software; re-mapping the drive... even the old restart everything fail-safe failed.) So, the moral of the story is not to work off the network; if your computer's power shuts down unexpectedly, you may find it impossible to work on the same project file that day...

3. Set all automated tasks to run outside your NVivo sessions.
As an NVivo user on Mac, I must run NVivo 9 on Windows 7 above Parallels over MacOSX. And if the computer processing resources available to any one of these fails, NVivo sputters and does not work optimally. To limit this danger, I take these preventative measures:
  1. I ensure that all the computers' backups and software updates (PC and Mac) either run outside my work hours or must be manually activated.
  2. I do not run more than three software packages simultaneously.
  3. I run NVivo in full screen (not Coherence) mode in Parallels almost all the time, so there's no temptation to run several Mac and PC applications simultaneously.
Not only does this ensure optimal performance of NVivo on my local setup, it also prevents interference with NVivo's ability to save project files, which is a very good thing!

4. Save a new version of your file each day.
It's a good practice to change your filename for each day. In my case, I simply change the daily date I type in the filename; i.e. "17 Mar 2012 ICT Access and Use UCT". I then backup the file to the relevant project month folder on the network. This ensures that I have the a backup record and can easily show the progress on the work I'm paid by the hour to do. It is also useful when working with other people on the same project file; for example, being a fallback just in case certain attributes are not imported.

5. Don't be afraid to import many, large video files as internal source.
If you want full coding functionality, you should always import files as internal sources, not as externals. Originally, I thought that importing a file as internal source automatically meant that the video was saved into the NVivo file itself. So, I thought I must limit myself to only importing the most interesting videos as internal source. However, through experimentation, I soon learnt that one could use the 62-bit version to import files much larger than NVivo 9's guidelines stated AND many of them (see the screengrab below), without the project file's size growing substantially.
Screengrab of ICT Access and Use video interview imports (17 March 2012)
The NVivo file above is just 170 MB in size; you don't have to take my word for it, see below.


As long as the location of the source video remains the same, there are no issues. Now, since the maximum file size of an NVivo project is reportedly 2 GB, I can add many, many more video interviews as internal source. So, with a nod to QSR International's Australian pedigree, it's a happy case of "No worries, mate!"

So, those are the most important tips I have learnt and if you have other ones to share, feel free to submit them via the comments box below, thanks.

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