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Thematic Analysis

If a researcher had a 50-page transcript, it would be difficult to identify patterns and trends in the data. Grouping this large amount of information into categories can help the researcher analyse the dataset; this technique is called thematic analysis. 

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Thematic Analysis

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If a researcher had a 50-page transcript, it would be difficult to identify patterns and trends in the data. Grouping this large amount of information into categories can help the researcher analyse the dataset; this technique is called thematic analysis.

  • We will start by exploring thematic analysis in qualitative research and the steps involved in inductive thematic analysis.
  • Then, we will take a look at a thematic analysis example.
  • After this, we will explore Content Analysis vs thematic analysis to understand the differences between the two techniques.
  • Finally, we will cover the advantages of thematic analysis and the disadvantages too.

Thematic Analysis in Qualitative Research

Researchers collect two types of data known as quantitative and qualitative. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and they differ in how they are collected and analysed.

Quantitative Data is relatively easy to analyse objectively, as we can use statistical analysis to understand what the results are telling us and whether they are significant. In comparison, qualitative data is harder to analyse objectively and relies more on subjective analysis.

Thematic analysis is the method used to analyse and produce qualitative data. The process involves reading a qualitative dataset form, such as a transcript. The researcher then identifies critical themes that are evident in the data. These are reported using extracts of the data as evidence.

Thematic analysis can be used in psychology research when the researcher wants to explain the phenomenon investigated in-depth.

Thematic analysis is arguably one of the most frequently used forms of analysis where qualitative research is concerned and excels at finding patterns in data to identify an overall theme.

Inductive Thematic Analysis

The thematic analysis process generally involves six stages that researchers should follow. Before starting a thematic analysis, the researchers must identify a research question, operationalise a hypothesis, and conduct the research. The data used for thematic analysis needs to be in qualitative form.

1. Read through the data – the researcher becomes familiar with it by re-reading it multiple times. While reading the data, researchers take notes of their thoughts concerning the data.

2. Decide preliminary codes – systematically organising the data is the starting process. The researcher must categorise the data codes based on key themes that the researcher has identified.

The codes that researchers use are related to the research question/hypothesis.

During this stage, multiple researchers look through the data to compare the codes identified to check if these are consistent and if the coding system is reliable.

We distinguish two different types of thematic analysis: theoretical and inductive thematic analysis.

  • Theoretical thematic analysis coding – data is coded if determined to be relevant to the research question.
  • Inductive thematic analysis – researchers carry out a line-by-line and create codes based on the data contents. The data is analysed based on what it initially presents rather than relying on pre-existing themes searched for by the researcher. Usually, psychology research uses inductive thematic analysis techniques.

3. Identify themes in the data – the identified themes are based on patterns researchers identified in the data.

During this stage, the researchers identify if there are themes in the coded data. The identified themes provide a broader context for the coded data.

4. Checking themes – themes are modified during this stage. The themes are checked to see if they support the data.

If the themes do not support the data, they can take away the context of the data.

The context and depth of information provided is the main advantage of qualitative data, so the researcher should avoid including irrelevant themes.

5. Themes are defined – the themes are finalised, the sub-themes are defined, and the researcher justifies how the themes and sub-themes are related. These are often illustrated in the form of thematic maps.

6. The results are written up – this is the final stage, where the researcher explains the results they found.

During this stage, the researcher needs to justify the codes and themes found to show that bias did not influence them (which reduces the validity of the research).

The researcher will write the codes and themes found in the report and provide data extracts as support.

Thematic analysis, people making marks on research data on table, VaiaFig. 1 - Thematic analysis is used to analyse qualitative data.

Thematic Analysis Example

A hypothetical study identified the following potential codes:

  • Anger (shouting).

  • Happiness (smiling).

  • Despair (phrases such as bad things keep happening to me).

  • Hostility (refusing to talk, holding back).

  • Loneliness (phrases such as I spend all my time alone).

  • Sadness (crying).

The potential themes the researchers may use are positive and negative emotions (this groups the coded data together and provides a broader context/explanation for the codes identified).

Using the example above that identified the themes as positive and negative emotions, the potential sub-themes identified could be negative thoughts (e.g. bad things keep happening to me) and negative actions (e.g. crying).

When writing the report, the researcher would identify all the themes and provide extracts from the data to support that such themes exist.

Content Analysis vs Thematic Analysis

Thematic and Content Analysis differ because the thematic analysis is used purely for qualitative research and gives a detailed account of key themes and categories.

However, content analysis uses coding units to quantify the themes within a qualitative data set.

Content analysis is used to identify words, themes, and concepts in qualitative data and transform them into Quantitative Data; this method uses a similar protocol to thematic analysis.

An act or theme in a transcript is given a ‘coding unit’, which is clearly defined beforehand.

The researcher may identify physical violence, e.g. pushing, kicking, hitting etc., as physical bullying.

The content analysis then analyses the data and counts how many instances of these different coding units occur, allowing for quantitative statistical analysis of the qualitative data.

In thematic analysis, a researcher codes themes in the text to then apply them and organise them into related themes, grouping them to identify key themes and categories and present them accordingly.

The type of analysis used depends on the type of data the researcher is looking for.

Suppose the researcher is carrying out a case study. In that case, they will use thematic analysis to obtain enriched data that will help them learn more about the patterns or trends concerning the phenomenon.

However, a content analysis may be used to find the relationship between specific themes/behaviours occurrences and a phenomenon.

Advantages of Thematic Analysis

The advantages of thematic analysis are:

  • The process highlights patterns and behaviours that may affect or outcome of a situation with evidence. This in-depth information can increase understanding of why certain occurrences happen.

  • The researchers may identify unexpected themes, providing guidelines for future research.

  • This approach is flexible so that the analysis can be accommodated to the data as themes or codes do not have to be pre-defined.

In quantitative analysis methods, the analysis type that can be used is restricted based on if the data meet the criteria, which is not the case in thematic analysis.

  • Using thematic analysis also provides a lot of detail that quantitative research can miss.

Disadvantages of Thematic Analysis

The disadvantages of thematic analysis are:

  • The researcher analyses the data, so themes identified and results may be due to investigator bias, reducing the validity of findings.

  • Thematic analysis can be a time-consuming process.

  • Many psychologists regard this analysis technique as unscientific due to its subjective nature.

  • Establishing if the data support or negate a hypothesis is difficult.

Thematic Analysis - Key Takeaways

  • Thematic analysis is an analysis method used to analyse qualitative data. The data is analysed based on identifying themes in the data and grouping them into key themes and categories.
  • Thematic analysis is used in psychology research when the researcher wants to explain a phenomenon investigated in-depth.
  • There are six stages to carrying out a thematic analysis. These are reading through the data, deciding preliminary codes, identifying themes in the data, verifying the themes, defining the themes, and finally, writing the results.
  • The advantages of thematic analysis are that it provides in-depth information – it is a flexible data analysis method, and unexpected results can easily be identified. The disadvantages of this analysis method are that it can be time-consuming and bias can easily influence the analysis procedure.
  • A thematic analysis differs from content analysis in that content analysis transforms qualitative data into quantitative data using coding units and statistical analysis. Whereas in thematic analysis, the data remains qualitative.

Frequently Asked Questions about Thematic Analysis

Thematic analysis is an analysis method used to analyse qualitative data. The data is analysed based on identifying themes in the data and grouping them into key themes and categories.

There are six stages to carrying out a thematic analysis:

  1. Read through the data.
  2. Decide preliminary codes.
  3. Identify themes in the data. 
  4. Check themes identified.
  5. Define themes.
  6. Writing up results. 

The codes in a thematic analysis are terms that meaningfully group data based on key themes identified by the researcher.  

There are two different types of thematic analysis: 

  • Theoretical thematic analysis coding – data is coded if relevant to the research question.
  • Inductive thematic analysis – researchers carry out a line-by-line and create codes based on the data contents. 

Thematic analysis is used in psychology research when the researcher wants to explain a phenomenon investigated in-depth.

Final Thematic Analysis Quiz

Thematic Analysis Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

Why would researchers use thematic analysis instead of content analysis? 

Show answer

Answer

So that they can obtain enriched data that will help them learn more about the patterns or trends concerning the phenomenon.

Show question

Question

What type of data is required for thematic analysis?

Show answer

Answer

Quantitative.

Show question

Question

Do content and thematic analysis produce the same form of data?

Show answer

Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

What are the stages of thematic analysis?

Show answer

Answer

Reading through the data, deciding preliminary codes, identifying themes in the data, verifying the themes, defining the themes, and finally, writing the results.

Show question

Question

What are the advantages of thematic analysis? 

Show answer

Answer

  • It provides in-depth information.
  • It is a flexible data analysis method.
  • Unexpected results can easily be identified.

Show question

Question

What are the disadvantages of thematic analysis? 

Show answer

Answer

  • The researcher analyses the data, so themes identified and results may be due to investigator bias, reducing the validity of findings.
  • Thematic analysis can be a time-consuming process.
  • Many psychologists regard this analysis technique as unscientific due to its subjective nature. 
  • Establishing if the data support or negate a hypothesis is difficult.


Show question

Question

Of the following, which are examples of themes? 

Show answer

Answer

Positive emotions.

Show question

Question

Of the following, which are examples of sub-themes? 

Show answer

Answer

Negative emotions.

Show question

Question

What is coded data in thematic analysis?

Show answer

Answer

The codes in a thematic analysis are methods that meaningfully group data based on key themes identified by the researcher.

Show question

Question

Which type of thematic analysis matches the following definition ‘data is coded if determined to be relevant to the research question’?

Show answer

Answer

Theoretical thematic analysis.

Show question

Question

Which type of thematic analysis matches the following definition: ‘line-by-line coding is carried out, and codes are created based on the data contents’?

Show answer

Answer

Theoretical thematic analysis.

Show question

Question

What determines the themes identified?

Show answer

Answer

The themes identified are based on patterns the researchers identified in the data.

Show question

Question

During which step does the data begin to be organised systematically?

Show answer

Answer

When the preliminary codes are decided in the second stage.

Show question

Question

Which are examples of qualitative datasets?

Show answer

Answer

Transcripts.

Show question

Question

Which of the following provides a broader context of the data?

Show answer

Answer

Themes.

Show question

Question

What type of data does thematic analysis analyse?

Show answer

Answer

Qualitative.

Show question

Question

How many stages of thematic analysis are there? 

Show answer

Answer

6.

Show question

Question

What is inductive thematic analysis? 

Show answer

Answer

Researchers carry out a line-by-line and create codes based on the data contents. The data is analysed based on what it initially presents rather than on pre-existing themes searched by the researcher.

Show question

Question

What is theoretical thematic analysis? 

Show answer

Answer

Data is coded if determined to be relevant to the research question.

Show question

Question

Can statistical analysis be carried out on data that has undergone thematic analysis?

Show answer

Answer

No.

Show question

Question

A researcher identified two themes: positive emotions and negative emotions. From this example identify sub-themes that fit into the positive emotions category:


  • Anger (shouting)
  • Happiness (smiling)
  • Despair (phrases such as bad things keep happening to me)
  • Hostility (refusing to talk, holding back)
  • Loneliness (phrases such as I spend all my time alone)
  • Sadness (crying)

Show answer

Answer

Happiness (smiling).

Show question

Question

A researcher identified two themes: positive emotions and negative emotions. From this example identify sub-themes that fit into the negative emotions category:


  • Anger (shouting)
  • Happiness (smiling)
  • Despair (phrases such as bad things keep happening to me)
  • Hostility (refusing to talk, holding back)
  • Loneliness (phrases such as I spend all my time alone)
  • Sadness (crying)

Show answer

Answer

  • Anger (shouting).
  • Despair (phrases such as bad things keep happening to me).
  • Hostility (refusing to talk, holding back).
  • Loneliness (phrases such as I spend all my time alone).
  • Sadness (crying).

Show question

Question

The researchers may identify unexpected themes, providing...

Show answer

Answer

guidelines for future research. 

Show question

Question

The disadvantages of this analysis method are that it can be            , and          can easily influence the analysis procedure.

Show answer

Answer

time-consuming, bias.

Show question

Question

Can thematic analysis be considered a flexible data analysis method?

Show answer

Answer

Yes.

Show question

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

What type of data is required for thematic analysis?

Do content and thematic analysis produce the same form of data?

Of the following, which are examples of themes? 

Next

Flashcards in Thematic Analysis25

Start learning

Why would researchers use thematic analysis instead of content analysis? 

So that they can obtain enriched data that will help them learn more about the patterns or trends concerning the phenomenon.

What type of data is required for thematic analysis?

Quantitative.

Do content and thematic analysis produce the same form of data?

Yes.

What are the stages of thematic analysis?

Reading through the data, deciding preliminary codes, identifying themes in the data, verifying the themes, defining the themes, and finally, writing the results.

What are the advantages of thematic analysis? 

  • It provides in-depth information.
  • It is a flexible data analysis method.
  • Unexpected results can easily be identified.

What are the disadvantages of thematic analysis? 

  • The researcher analyses the data, so themes identified and results may be due to investigator bias, reducing the validity of findings.
  • Thematic analysis can be a time-consuming process.
  • Many psychologists regard this analysis technique as unscientific due to its subjective nature. 
  • Establishing if the data support or negate a hypothesis is difficult.


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