The Guide to Thematic Analysis

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Want to know all about thematic analysis? Read this guide to get a foundational understanding of thematic analysis and its contribution to qualitative research.
Jörg Hecker
Neringa Kalpokas
Director, Training & Partnership Development
  1. What is Thematic Analysis?
  2. Advantages of Thematic Analysis
  3. Disadvantages of Thematic Analysis
  4. Thematic Analysis Examples
  5. How to Do Thematic Analysis
  6. Thematic Coding
  7. Collaborative Thematic Analysis
  8. Thematic Analysis Software
  9. Thematic Analysis in Mixed Methods Approach
  10. Abductive Thematic Analysis
  11. Deductive Thematic Analysis
  12. Inductive Thematic Analysis
  13. Reflexive Thematic Analysis
  14. Thematic Analysis in Observations
  15. Thematic Analysis in Surveys
  16. Thematic Analysis for Interviews
  17. Thematic Analysis for Focus Groups
  18. Thematic Analysis for Case Studies
  19. Thematic Analysis of Secondary Data
  20. Thematic Analysis Literature Review
  21. Thematic Analysis vs. Phenomenology
  22. Thematic vs. Content Analysis
  23. Thematic Analysis vs. Grounded Theory
  24. Thematic Analysis vs. Narrative Analysis
  25. Thematic Analysis vs. Discourse Analysis
  26. Thematic Analysis vs. Framework Analysis
    1. Introduction
    2. What is the difference between framework and thematic analysis?
    3. Benefits of a framework method
    4. How do I incorporate thematic analysis into framework analysis?
  27. Thematic Analysis in Social Work
  28. Thematic Analysis in Psychology
  29. Thematic Analysis in Educational Research
  30. Thematic Analysis in UX Research
  31. How to Present Thematic Analysis Results
  32. Increasing Rigor in Thematic Analysis
  33. Peer Review in Thematic Analysis

Thematic Analysis vs. Framework Analysis

This article examines the distinctions and interconnections between thematic analysis and framework analysis, two prevalent qualitative analysis methods. While both approaches serve to analyze qualitative data, they differ in structure, flexibility, and application. Thematic analysis, known for its versatility, allows qualitative researchers to identify, analyze, and report patterns within textual data. Framework analysis, conversely, offers a more systematic approach, enabling structured data management and a clear audit trail. Understanding these methodologies' unique characteristics and how they can be integrated is crucial for researchers aiming to employ a comprehensive analytical approach. This piece provides a clear, concise comparison and guidance on incorporating thematic analysis within the approach of framework analysis, offering practical insights for researchers in this field.

Analyzing qualitative data often requires synthesizing multiple approaches like framework analysis and thematic analysis.

What is the difference between framework and thematic analysis?

Thematic analysis and framework analysis are two prominent methods used in qualitative research, each with distinctive features and applications. Understanding their differences is key for researchers to select the most appropriate method for their study. Here, we delineate the primary distinctions between these two analytical approaches:

  • Foundation and emphasis: Thematic analysis is inherently flexible, emphasizing the extraction of themes or patterns reflective of the data's underlying meanings. It accommodates a wide array of epistemological stances, allowing researchers to adapt their approach based on the data and research context. In contrast, framework analysis is rooted in a systematic, orderly methodology that aims to provide comprehensive data management and analysis, particularly beneficial in contexts like policy research and qualitative health research where structured and definitive outcomes are essential.
  • Analytical process: In thematic analysis, the analytical journey is nonlinear, characterized by repeated engagements with the data, allowing themes to emerge and evolve organically. This iterative process encourages a deep immersion in the data, fostering a nuanced understanding of its complexities. Framework analysis, however, mandates a linear, step-by-step procedure that prioritizes a meticulous and disciplined approach to data categorization and synthesis, ensuring a clear, logical progression of analysis.
  • Flexibility and creativity: Thematic analysis stands out for its adaptability, offering researchers the latitude to mold their analytical strategies to the data's characteristics and their research questions. This flexibility is pivotal in exploratory research or when novel insights are sought. On the other hand, framework analysis is more prescriptive, demanding consistency with an established analytical framework which, while potentially constraining, ensures a standardized and transparent analysis conducive to reproducibility and comparability.
  • Data structuring: Thematic analysis allows for a fluid data organization, where themes can be refined and reconfigured throughout the analysis, fostering a dynamic engagement with the data. Conversely, framework analysis organizes data into predefined categories within a matrix, aiding in the systematic exploration of the dataset and enabling a direct, focused comparison across different data segments or cases.
  • Application context: The broad applicability of thematic analysis makes it a versatile tool, capable of catering to diverse inquiries across a range of disciplines engaged in qualitative research practice. Framework analysis is distinctly advantageous in contexts demanding structured and succinct outputs, such as evaluative studies or policy analysis, where the findings must inform specific, often actionable, conclusions.
  • Outcome and reporting: Thematic analysis typically culminates in a detailed, layered narrative that captures the depth and multiplicity of participant experiences and perspectives, offering a rich, interpretative portrayal of the study context. In contrast, framework analysis yields a more targeted, easily navigable output, presenting data in an organized, tabular form that is particularly effective for communicating findings to audiences seeking clear, actionable insights.

Benefits of a framework method

The framework method, a systematic approach to qualitative data analysis, offers numerous benefits that enhance the rigor and clarity of research findings. This method is particularly valued in contexts requiring structured outcomes and clear evidence bases, such as policy analysis, multi-disciplinary health research, and educational research. Here, we outline the key advantages of employing a framework method in qualitative analysis:

  1. Systematic structure: The framework method imposes a clear, systematic structure on the data analysis process, which enhances consistency and reduces the risk of data misinterpretation. By following a defined sequence of steps—from familiarization with the data through to charting and interpretation—researchers can ensure a thorough and methodical analysis.
  2. Enhanced transparency: This methodological approach promotes transparency in the analytical process, making it easier for others to understand, evaluate, and build on the study. By explicitly detailing how data were coded, categorized, and interpreted, the framework method strengthens the credibility and accountability of research findings.
  3. Comparative analysis: The use of a matrix format in the framework method facilitates the direct comparison of data across different research participants or cases. This structure is particularly advantageous when identifying patterns, contrasts, and relationships within the data, thereby enhancing the depth and breadth of analytical insights.
  4. Efficient data management: Handling large volumes of information from qualitative data collection can be challenging. The framework method, with its structured data matrix, allows for efficient organization and synthesis of complex information, making it easier for researchers to manage, navigate, and analyze their data.
  5. Facilitates team collaboration: The standardized structure of the framework method supports effective collaboration among research team members. It ensures that all analysts work with a common understanding and approach to the data, thereby enhancing consistency and reducing the likelihood of divergent interpretations.
  6. Actionable outcomes: By providing a clear, structured format for presenting findings, the framework method helps researchers produce actionable insights that are readily accessible to stakeholders and decision-makers. This clarity is essential in applied research fields, where findings must inform practice, policy, or further research.

How do I incorporate thematic analysis into framework analysis?

Merging thematic analysis with framework analysis can enrich your research methodology, allowing you to leverage the strengths of both approaches. Here's how you can integrate thematic analysis into the structured process of framework analysis to enhance your qualitative research:

  1. Establish your research framework: Begin by defining the theoretical framework or conceptual model that will guide your analysis. This framework should be broad enough to incorporate emerging themes and should align with your research objectives and questions.
  2. Data familiarization: Initially, engage with your data as you would in a thematic analysis process. Read through your data multiple times to gain a deep understanding and start noting potential themes and patterns without being constrained by your predefined framework.
  3. Generate initial codes: Code your data to identify significant or interesting points. These initial codes should be generated inductively, stemming directly from the data, similar to thematic analysis coding procedures.
  4. Develop a thematic framework: Use the insights and codes derived from your initial analysis to adapt or expand your framework. This might involve integrating new themes that have emerged, subdividing existing categories, or reorganizing the framework to better capture the nuances of your data.
  5. Applying the thematic framework: Once your thematic framework is refined, apply it systematically across your dataset. This involves indexing your data, assigning portions of text to the appropriate thematic categories within your framework.
  6. Charting data into the framework: Transform your indexed data into a series of charts or matrices, each corresponding to a different theme or subtheme. This step aligns with the framework analysis approach but is enriched by the in-depth thematic exploration you've conducted.
  7. Mapping and interpretation: Analyze your charted data to identify patterns, relationships, and overarching storylines. This should be an iterative process, where findings from framework analysis might prompt a return to the thematic analysis phase to explore nuances or new themes further.
  8. Synthesizing findings: Finally, synthesize your findings, integrating the thematic depth with the structured comprehensiveness of the framework analysis. This synthesis should address your research questions, offering insights that are both richly thematic and systematically structured.