Thematic analysis is often the go-to method in most qualitative research. It provides an easily interpretable and concise description of the emergent themes and patterns within a dataset, usually as the foundational phase of interpretation. Perhaps the most widely used steps for conducting thematic analysis come from an article by Braun and Clarke (2006). They provide a six-step process for identifying, analysing, and reporting qualitative data using thematic analysis. This blog article will succinctly outline these simple, but effective steps for conducting a thorough and rigorous thematic analysis. It will also indicate how thematic analysis can be applied to large and daunting datasets in a flexible manner, yet one which is still theoretically and methodologically sound.
Braun and Clarke’s Six Simple Steps
The six steps prescribed by Braun and Clarke (2006) to carry out a thematic analysis are guidelines and should not be used as prescriptive, linear, and inflexible rules when analysing data. They should rather be used in relation to the research question and the available data.
The six steps are as follows:
Familiarising yourself with your data
- This step requires the researcher to be fully immersed and actively engaged in the data by firstly transcribing the interactions and then reading (and re-reading) the transcripts and/or listening to the recordings. Initial ideas should be noted down. It is important that the researcher has a comprehensive understanding of the content of the interaction and has familiarised him-/herself with all aspects of the data. This step provides the foundation for the subsequent analysis.
Generating initial codes
- Once familiar with the data, the researcher must then start identifying preliminary codes, which are the features of the data that appear interesting and meaningful. These codes are more numerous and specific than themes, but provide an indication of the context of the conversation.
Searching for themes
- The third step in the process is the start of the interpretive analysis of the collated codes. Relevant data extracts are sorted (combined or split) according to overarching themes. The researcher’s thought process should allude to the relationship between codes, subthemes, and themes.
- A deeper review of identified themes follows where the researcher needs to question whether to combine, refine, separate, or discard initial themes. Data within themes should cohere together meaningfully, while there should be clear and identifiable distinctions between themes. This is usually done over two phases, where the themes need to be checked in relation to the coded extracts (phase 1), and then for the overall data set (phase 2). A thematic ‘map’ can be generated from this step.
Defining and naming themes
- This step involves ‘refining and defining’ the themes and potential subthemes within the data. Ongoing analysis is required to further enhance the identified themes. The researcher needs to provide theme names and clear working definitions that capture the essence of each theme in a concise and punchy manner. At this point, a unified story of the data needs to emerge from the themes.
Producing the report
- Finally, the researcher needs to transform his/her analysis into an interpretable piece of writing by using vivid and compelling extract examples that relate to the themes, research question, and literature. The report must relay the results of the analysis in a way that convinces the reader of the merit and validity of the analysis. It must go beyond a mere description of the themes and portray an analysis supported with empirical evidence that addresses the research question.
Thematic analysis is the first qualitative method of analysis that researchers should learn, as it provides core skills that will be useful for conducting many other forms of qualitative analysis. Through its theoretical freedom, thematic analysis provides a flexible and useful research tool, which can potentially provide a rich and detailed, yet complex account of data.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101.