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Reference management program integration? PDF markup in NVIVO and citations with Zotero? or Mendeley?

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Is there any chance that NVIVO could work in cooperation with reference management programs like Zotero or Mendeley? What if it were possible to keep PDFs as external files, but do markup on them (as fully formatted PDFs, not as images) in NVIVO? If there were a way that the NVIVO tag structure could be shared with a reference management program, that would be fantastic. Then it would be possible to do textual analysis (would NVIVO act as the front end? or would the reference management program?) of PDFs, mark them up using the same coding structure as you use for your fieldnotes, find the overlaps and similarities, etc. When writing papers, you would use the front end to do queries on your reference documents as well as on your fieldnotes, and use a common annotation system to make connections between these materials. I know that NVIVO is based on grounded theory, and that Strauss and Corbin are adamant that "the literature" not be treated the same way as fieldnotes (because this encourages you to view your fieldnotes through the heuristic of existing literature), but I find that I do this nonetheless, and I'd like to be able to have a dialogue between fieldnotes and "the literature."


If it were possible to use NVIVO to read, code and analyze documents (and it is emphatically not, at this point, possible, given the limitations on using PDFs within NVIVO), and if NVIVO were able to coordinate with one/some of the reference management programs available, we'd be steps ahead. Perhaps the citation information (journal, date, etc.) could reside in Zotero/Mendeley, and codes/tags/annotations could be done through NVIVO. Within NVIVO there would be a way to click for "insert citation in Word/Open Office document" which would then take you to the reference manager's interface for citation insertion. Within the reference management program, it would be possible to click on a button for "view PDF in NVIVO" which would bring up the document, including all highlighting, annotation, coding, etc. NVIVO currently has the best interface for clicking on a node and bringing up all the associated instances of coding, in preview form, so NVIVO would be the best place from which to begin a query like that, but it would perhaps be useful for the citation management program to have an interface for beginning a query in NVIVO. Perhaps NVIVO would need to have some sort of add-in that would allow it to operate from within the reference management program (they are mostly open-source, these days).


A note: All of this would require that NVIVO figure out how to work well with PDFs. The ideal solution would be to create a sort of cross between external and internal source, and use PDFs as that sort of external-internal. The PDFs would be kept as PDF files in an external collection (thus accessible by the operating system and by other programs), and would remain 'live' documents (they could be written to with Acrobat and other PDF utilities). When the PDF is opened from within NVIVO, however, the PDF opens in NVIVO and all coding, highlighting and annotation is visible (or not, depending on whether codes are set to be viewed or not, etc.). The PDF is now available for additional markup or annotation, nodes can be assigned, etc. There would also be an option for all of this markup to actually be written to the PDF document itself, so that it could be viewed by others (keywords could appear as #keyword, for instance, highlighting as PDF highlighting, etc).

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  • 2 months later...

I am about to start dissertation at Warwick WBS, Warwick provides NVIVO8 to its students, however due to the (in my view) poor handling of PDFs I am considering using Atlas.ti instead (even if I have to fund it myself) . If the PDF support of Atlas.ti (e.g. ability to handle PDFs with columns) would be incorporated in NVIVO (version 9 ?) this would be a great add on.

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Hello Bert,


I am pleased to state that NVivo 9 will support columns within PDF documents. It is important to note that Atlas.ti 6 currently only supports PDFs of version 1.4 (Acrobat 5) or earlier, whilst NVivo 8 currently supports PDFs of version 1.7 (Acrobat 9) or earlier.




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