Thematic analysis of qualitative data

Qualitas Research

Thematic analysis

In this article we will consider:

  • What is thematic analysis?
  • Approaches to thematic analysis
  • Coding qualitative data
  • Refining codes and developing themes
  • Identifying and depicting the relations between themes

What is thematic analysis?

Thematic analysis is a widely-used method for analyzing qualitative data. As indicated by its name, when we analyze data using thematic analysis, we seek to identify common themes in qualitative data. In doing so, we identify the range of different perceptions, opinions and beliefs on a topic. We will typically end up with several central concepts which will become the key themes of the research. Themes are identified through an iterative process of coding and categorizing segments of data to identify relations between them.

Thematic analysis is a method for identifying, analyzing, organizing, describing, and reporting themes found within qualitative data.

research support with qualitative analysis

Approaches to thematic analysis

There are different ways of approaching thematic analysis. One main distinction is between an inductive or deductive approach. In our work, we use either approach, and frequently both, depending on the individual project.

In inductive analysis, we break the data into small segments, each representing a distinct idea (called “deconstruction:”). We then figure out which of these segments seem to cluster together around common ideas.

In deductive analysis, we start with some idea about what the groupings will likely be – typically from previous research related to ours, or an existing theory. We then ascertain how well the data fits into those pre-determined categories. We noted above that we often use both approaches in the same study. If you find that a lot of your data doesn’t fit into the pre-defined categories, you can, inductively, create some new categories.

Coding qualitative data

Coding is a process of categorizing segments of the text and identifying relations between these codes. Coding breaks down the data into smaller units. This process helps you organize the data so you can analyze the data in a structured way. We use the software program NVivo to code qualitative data. Here’s a screenshot of part of the early phase of coding for one of our research projects:

NVivo for analyzing qualitative data

Refining codes and developing themes

In order to develop coherent themes, we must review and refine the codes. We may have identified hundreds of codes and these must be we can tell a story from them.

We group related codes into categories and give each category a label. During this process we will typically review and refine the codes numerous times, moving codes from one category to anther, and re-labelling categories. Later on, we group these categories together, so we end up with the main categories and their sub-categories. The broadest categories are your research themes.

Finally, we explore the relations between these themes. One way we do this is by constructing a thematic map. This is a visual representation of how the categories relate to each other. Qualitative research will often have several themes, with a number of categories and a large number of codes. Just to illustrate, here is a very simple example of a thematic map for one theme. In this study,qualitative data were collected from interviews with healthcare professionals.

Thematic map

Thematic map

Summary

In this article we covered:

  • What is thematic analysis?
  • Approaches to thematic analysis
  • Coding qualitative data
  • Refining codes and developing themes
  • Identifying and depicting the relations between themes

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