6.3 Thematic analysis

Thematic analysis is probabaly the form of analysis you will encounter most in practitioner research, although it isn't always explicitly labelled.

It is used to identify themes or patterns emerging form the data and, unlike grounded theory, can be used in relation to any theoretical position. It therfore provides a relatively simple framework for practitioner researchers to approach and analyse their data.

Identifying themes

The first step in thematic analysis is to identify the themes. Whereas grounded theory (see below) makes quite explicit the stages of coding, this is not the case in thematic analysis and so this depends to a large degree on the individual researcher.

A theme is defined as capturing "something important about the data in relation to the research question, and represents some level of patterned response or meaning within the data set" (Braun and Clarke, 2006, p. 82).

Disadvantages of thematic analysis

Given what Braun and Clarke state, it may be tempting to start with the research questions as a way of organizing and coding the data. The difficulty with this approach is that it may lead to 'finding' data which only relate to the research question. As such, although the themes which emerge may well relate to the research question, and indeed they should if you have designed your different research methods effectively, they should not be driven by the research questions. 

Guidance on doing thematic analysis

An excellent description of thematic analysis is provided by Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke in their article, Using thematic analysis in Psychology in the journal Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2006, 33, 77-101. The focus of the research, on sexual pleasure, makes quite a change to the usual educational contexts you'll encounter as a practitioner researcher!
The article is availiable online as a pre-publication eprint:

A basic introduction to thematic analysis can be found in the Psychology module, DZX222, which is also a good source of information on other qualtative approaches to analysis.  The section on thematic analysi can be found at: http://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=170071&section=3.13

Examples of research which has used thematic analysis

Maunder et al's (2010) study, 'Transition in Higher Education: Exploring the experiences of first and second year psychology undergraduate students', is an accessible accout of how thematic analysis was used to explore how students experience the process of transition in higher education.  The article, which is a work in progress, is pubslihed in The Psychology of Education Review, Vol. 34 (1), Spring 2010, pages 50-54.

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 Mar 2014, 16:40