The Guide to Thematic Analysis

% complete
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
    1. Introduction
    2. What is the difference between thematic and narrative analysis?
    3. Conducting a thematic analysis on narratives
  25. Thematic Analysis vs. Discourse Analysis
  26. Thematic Analysis vs. 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. Narrative Analysis

Understanding the nuances of qualitative analysis is crucial for researchers who aim to extract meaningful insights from narrative data. Thematic analysis and narrative analysis are two distinct methodologies in qualitative research that serve different research purposes. While thematic analysis focuses on identifying and interpreting patterns within data, narrative analysis provides a framework for understanding individual experiences and stories. This article aims to clarify the distinctions between these methods and guide researchers on how to effectively apply thematic analysis to narrative materials. By emphasizing a clear, practical approach, we aim to assist researchers in choosing the appropriate analysis technique for their data and research objectives, ensuring that their findings are robust and insightful.

Data analysis of narratives can benefit from a thematic approach.

What is the difference between thematic and narrative analysis?

Understanding the distinctions between thematic analysis, narrative analysis, and other analytical approaches is pivotal for researchers deciding on the most appropriate method for their qualitative study. While both methodologies are employed to interpret data from textual materials, they focus on different aspects of the data and serve varied research objectives. Below, we look into the specifics of each approach to highlight their unique features and applications.

Thematic analysis

Thematic analysis is a versatile method for identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns (themes) within data. It is not tied to any specific philosophical framework, making it applicable across a range of qualitative research approaches. The process involves six key stages: familiarization with the data, generating initial codes, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, and producing the report. This method is particularly effective when the research objective is to elucidate the broader patterns across a data set, allowing for a deep dive into the shared experiences or perceptions of research participants. It emphasizes the occurrence of and connections between concepts, rather than the context or form of data presentation. Researchers can use thematic analysis to aggregate data from various narratives, highlighting overarching insights that transcend individual stories.

Narrative analysis

Narrative analysis places a premium on understanding stories or accounts, focusing on how individuals construct and interpret their experiences. This approach is inherently interpretative, aiming to comprehend how a narrative is structured and the meanings it conveys, often within a particular cultural, social, or personal context. Narrative analysis examines the elements of storytelling, including plot, characters, and narrative arc, to understand how individuals make sense of their experiences and identities. It is particularly suited to research questions that are concerned with subjective experiences and the ways people use stories to organize and communicate their experiences. While thematic analysis might dissect a narrative to extract themes, narrative analysis retains the story's integrity, exploring its composition, sequence, and the interplay of different narrative elements. This approach provides a nuanced understanding of how narratives function as a medium for individual and collective meaning-making.

Conducting a thematic analysis on narratives

Conducting a thematic analysis on narratives involves a systematic process of reading, coding, and interpreting data to identify recurring themes that provide insight into the underlying meaning of the narratives. This method allows researchers to organize and describe their dataset in rich detail and interpret various aspects of the research topic.

The first step in conducting a thematic analysis on narratives is to familiarize yourself with the data. This means thoroughly reading the narrative materials, perhaps multiple times, to gain a deep understanding of the content. It is crucial to immerse yourself in the data to appreciate the context and complexities of the narratives.

Next, generating initial codes from the narratives is a foundational step. This involves annotating the text with labels that summarize key points or ideas. These codes should be as close to the data as possible. At this stage, it's beneficial to be descriptive rather than interpretative, ensuring that the codes are rooted in the narratives themselves.

After coding, the next step is to search for themes. This involves collating all the codes and relevant data extracts and organizing them into potential themes. Themes are broader patterns of meaning that emerge from the coded data and represent something significant about the narratives in relation to the research question. It is essential to review these themes in the context of the coded extracts and the entire data set to ensure they form a coherent pattern.

The next phase is reviewing and refining the themes. This step may involve merging, subdividing, or discarding themes that do not have a clear narrative basis or do not contribute to the understanding of the data. The aim is to end up with a set of distinct, coherent, and meaningful themes.

Defining and naming themes is the subsequent step, which requires a detailed analysis of each theme and the overall narrative. Researchers should aim to define what each theme captures about the data and consider how it helps to answer the research question. This step often involves a detailed write-up that elaborates on each theme, supported by data extracts that provide examples of how the theme is manifested in the narratives.

The final step in conducting thematic analysis on narratives is to contextualize the themes within the broader research findings, integrating them into existing literature and theoretical frameworks. This involves interpreting the significance of the themes, considering how they contribute to understanding the research topic, and discussing their implications for theory, policy, or practice.

Throughout the thematic analysis process, it is crucial to maintain a reflexive stance, continually questioning your assumptions and interpretations and considering how they may be influenced by your own preconceptions and perspectives. This ensures the rigor and credibility of the analysis, providing valuable insights into the narratives being studied.

A thematic research design can aid a researcher in gaining insights about how people write and speak. Photo by Mikołaj.