Qualitative analysis may be a highly effective analytical approach when done correctly. Thematic analysis is one of the most frequently used qualitative analysis approaches.
One advantage of this analysis is that it is a versatile technique that can be utilized for both exploratory research (where you don’t know what patterns to look for) and more deductive studies (where you see what you’re searching for).
This article will break it down and show you how to do the thematic analysis correctly.
What is thematic analysis?
Thematic analysis is a method for analyzing qualitative data that involves reading through a set of data and looking for patterns in the meaning of the data to find themes. It is an active process of reflexivity in which the researcher’s subjective experience is at the center of making sense of the data.
Thematic analysis is typical in qualitative research. It emphasizes identifying, analyzing, and interpreting qualitative data patterns.
With this analysis, you can look at qualitative data in a certain way. It is usually used to describe a group of texts, like an interview or a set of transcripts. The researcher looks closely at the data to find common themes: repeated ideas, topics, or ways of putting things.
Thematic Analysis Advantages and Disadvantages
A technical or pragmatic view of research design focuses on researchers conducting qualitative analyzes using the method most appropriate to the research question. However, there is seldom a single ideal or suitable method, so other criteria are often used to select methods of analysis: the researcher’s theoretical commitments and familiarity with particular techniques.
The thematic analysis provides a flexible method of data analysis and allows researchers with diverse methodological backgrounds to participate in this type of analysis.
For positivists, ‘reliability’ is a concern because of the many possible interpretations of the data and the potential for researcher subjectivity to ‘bias’ or distort the analysis. For those committed to the values of qualitative research, researcher subjectivity is seen as a resource (rather than a threat to credibility), so concerns about reliability do not remain.
There is no correct or precise interpretation of the data. The interpretations are inevitably subjective and reflect the position of the researcher. Quality is achieved through a systematic and rigorous approach and the researcher’s continual reflection on how they shape the developing analysis.
Thematic analysis has several advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the researchers to decide if this analysis method is suitable for their research design.
- The flexibility of theoretical and research design allows researchers multiple theories that can be applied to this process in various epistemologies.
- Very suitable for large data sets.
- The coding and codebook reliability approaches are designed for use with research teams.
- Interpretation of themes supported by data.
- Applicable to research questions that go beyond the experience of an individual.
- It allows the inductive development of codes and themes from data.
- Thematic analysis can miss nuanced data if the researcher is not careful and uses thematic analysis in a theoretical vacuum.
- The flexibility can make it difficult for novice researchers to decide which aspects of the data to focus on.
- Limited interpretive power if the analysis is not based on a theoretical framework.
- It is challenging to maintain a sense of data continuity across individual accounts due to the focus on identifying themes across all data elements.
- Unlike discourse analysis and narrative analysis, it does not allow researchers to make technical claims about language use.
Thematic Analysis Steps
Let’s jump right into the process of thematic analysis. Remember that what we’ll talk about here is a general process, and the steps you need to take will depend on your approach and the research design.
The first stage in thematic analysis is examining your data for broad themes. This is where you transcribe audio data to text.
At this stage, you’ll need to decide what to code, what to employ, and which codes best represent your content. Now consider your topic’s emphasis and goals.
Keep a reflexivity diary. You’ll explain how you coded the data, why, and the results here. You may reflect on the coding process and examine if your codes and themes support your results. Using a reflective notebook from the start can help you in the later phases of your analysis.
A reflexivity journal increases dependability by allowing systematic, consistent data analysis. If using a reflexivity journal, specify your starting codes to see what your data reflects. Later on, the coded data may be analyzed more extensively or may find separate codes.
2. Look for themes in the codes.
At this stage, search for coding patterns or themes. From codes to themes is not a smooth or straightforward process. You may need to assign alternative codes or themes to learn more about the data.
As you analyze the data, you may uncover subthemes and subdivisions of themes that concentrate on a significant or relevant component. At this point, your reflexivity diary entries should indicate how codes were understood and integrated to produce themes.
3. Review themes
Now that you know your codes, themes, and subthemes. Evaluate your topics. At this stage, you’ll verify that everything you’ve classified as a theme matches the data and whether it exists in the data. If any themes are missing, you can continue to the next step, knowing you’ve coded all your themes properly and thoroughly.
If your topics are too broad and there’s too much material under each one, you may want to separate them so you can be more particular with your research.
In your reflexivity journal, please explain how you comprehended the themes, how they’re backed by evidence, and how they connect with your codes. You should also evaluate your research questions to ensure the facts and topics you’ve uncovered are relevant.
4. Finalize Themes
Your analysis will take shape now after reviewing and refining your themes, labeling, and finishing them. Just because you’ve moved on doesn’t mean you can’t edit or rethink your topics. Finalizing your themes requires explaining them in-depth, unlike the previous phase. Whether you have trouble, check your data and code to see if they reflect the themes and whenever you need to split them into multiple pieces.
Make sure your theme name appropriately describes its features.
Ensure your themes match your research questions at this point. When refining, you’re reaching the end of your analysis. You must remember that your final report (covered in the following phase) must meet your research’s goals and objectives.
In your reflexivity journal, explain how you choose your topics. Mention how the theme will affect your research results and what it implies for your research questions and emphasis.
By the conclusion of this stage, you’ll have finished your topics and be able to write a report.
5. Report writing
At this stage, you are nearly done! Now that you’ve examined your data write a report. A thematic analysis report includes:
- A starting
- An approach
- The results
When drafting your report, provide enough details for a client to assess your findings. In other words, the viewer wants to know how you analyzed the data and why. “What”, “how”, “why”, “who”, and “when” are helpful here.
So, what did you find? What did you do? How did you choose this method? Who are your research’s focus and participants? When were your studies, data collection, and data production? Your reflexivity notebook will help you name, explain, and support your topics.
While writing up your results, you must identify every single one. The reader needs to be able to verify your findings. Make sure to relate your results to your research questions when reporting them. You don’t want your client to wonder about your results, so make sure they’re related to your subject and queries.
Because it is easy to apply, thematic analysis suits beginner researchers unfamiliar with more complicated qualitative research. It permits the researcher to choose a theoretical framework with freedom.
The versatility of thematic analysis enables you to describe your data in a rich, intricate, and sophisticated way. This technique may be utilized with whatever theory the researcher chooses, unlike other methods of analysis that are firmly bound to specific approaches. These steps can be followed to master proper thematic analysis for research.
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