The practice of thematic analysis is widely used in qualitative analysis but sometimes not acknowledged or confused with other approaches. Here at Lumivero, we break down the ambiguities of thematic analysis as an approach and hope this interpretation can breathe new life into it as new and emerging forms of content become more integral to the already established research tool.
Is NVivo a thematic analysis software?
NVivo offers a powerful solution for conducting thematic analysis due to its robust features and easy-to-use interface. The software is designed to enable researchers to quickly and accurately analyze large amounts of data and uncover underlying themes.
What is thematic analysis?
Thematic analysis is not a methodology but a tool which can be used across different methods (Boyatzis 1998) and was first labeled as an approach in the 1970s (Merton, 1975). It is used to find common themes in content such as:
- Text sources such as documents, interview transcripts, open-ended survey responses or articles
- Social media posts
- Web content
- Images and videos
This practice is dynamic. It can be done manually (by hand), in Excel, or with thematic analysis software or Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) software tool. It traverses traditional qualitative research and quantitative data, allowing researchers to ask more questions of their content and conduct thematic analysis from large data sets like interviews.
In Methods: Teaching Thematic Analysis, Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke describe viewing thematic analysis as “theoretically flexible because the search for, and examination of, patterning across language does not require adherence to any particular theory of language, or explanatory meaning framework for human beings, experiences or practices" -- allowing for thematic analysis to be applied within a wide variety of theoretical frameworks.
Thematic analysis as a tool is especially versatile as it can be helpful for those new or experienced in research and for its ability to be used in a range of research categories and theoretical perspectives.
In the Thematic Analysis Using NVivo 14 webinar, Ben Meehan Ph.D. discussed Braun and Clarke’s six steps of thematic analysis.
- Data familiarization and writing familiarization notes
- Systematic data coding
- Generating initial themes from coded and collated data
- Developing and reviewing themes
- Refining, defining, and naming themes
- Writing the report
To learn more about using NVivo 14 for thematic analysis, watch our on-demand webinar Thematic Analysis Using NVivo.
When do you use thematic analysis?
Put simply, you may be looking for the right way to explain or express patterns in your content. Consider this example: you are analyzing representations of women on social media. You want to collect data from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as rich datasets so you can access the online conversations and content about your research, organization or topic of interest, but also the valuable data behind the comments, like demographics and locations.
The challenge with importing, managing and analyzing different content types is how do you find the similarities or differences in the media before you? What do you do with it then?
To better understand when to use thematic analysis and for general best practices for thematic analysis, check out the on-demand webinar by Braun and Clarke Introduction to Thematic Analysis.
What are the benefits of thematic analysis?
Thematic analysis helps you find connections in your content and understanding the underlying themes to help inform decisions.
Braun and Clarke encourage thematic analysis as the starting method to teach students new to qualitative research. “[Thematic analysis] is accessible, flexible, and involves analytic processes common to most forms of qualitative research. Students can progress from [thematic analysis] to grounded theory, IPA and discourse analysis, or progress from producing largely descriptive [thematic analysis] to producing rich and complex, conceptually informed [thematic analysis].”
Thematic analysis encourages researchers to use queries to ask complex questions and identify new meaning in your data. Test ideas, explore patterns and see connections between themes, topics, people and places in your project. Look for emerging themes, find words and discover concepts using text search and word frequency queries.
Thematic analysis can be used as a technique on its own or it can be used as a first step in a variety of methodological approaches to analyzing qualitative data including:
Once you do this, you can search for content based on how it's coded using coding queries. Check for consistency and compare how different users have coded material using coding comparison queries. Cross-tabulate coded content and explore differences in opinions, experiences and behavior across different groups using matrix coding queries.
How do I visualize my data?
By visualizing your insights, you can explore even further. Get a sense of the larger trends happening and dive in deeper. Discover a new perspective. Identify new and interesting themes. Share results with others.
Visualizations can also provide an easy way to communicate findings with broader audiences.
Why should you do a thematic analysis?
- Test the themes and structure of your content. Make sure your content can stand the test of time.
- Keep up to date with videos, images and the new forms of content generation.
Easily understand how content plays a role in influencing decisions or behaviours.
How do I get started analyzing content and visualizing my insights?
Gain an advantage with NVivo – powerful software for qualitative data and content analysis that helps you make insight-driven decisions.
NVivo has a wide range of visualizations. Below are a few which are particularly useful to thematic analysis:
- Mind maps: the brainstorming tool to visualize your thoughts and ideas. Start with a central topic or main idea, then map out ideas that relate to the central topic with connectors and shapes. Reflect on what you think about a topic quickly and spontaneously while ideas are flowing. Mind maps can be useful for the creative kind of lateral thinkers. It’s abstract from the data so it can help you think about the big picture and what you’re interested in for your data analysis.
- Project maps: Produce a thematic map and reflect on the relationships among your themes. This map is data-focused and lets you use your coding framework to start looking at it in a hierarchical way.
- Comparison diagrams: compare sources to see if they share similar themes. By comparing codes, you can see where their common interests are or how unique they are to one another.
- Word clouds: quickly discover the most frequently occurring words and phrases.
- Concept maps: map out your ideas or to explore and present the connections in your data. Use shapes and connectors to visualize the evolution of your ideas and theories. A concept map focuses on the data to help analyze the broader concepts such as outside influences. This type of mapping is at a more analytical level.
Going further with NVivo Thematic Analysis
NVivo 14 provides additional advantages for thematic analysis for interview and document analysis with these powerful features:
- Cluster analysis: discover patterns in your data by grouping files, codes, or cases that share words, attribute values or coding. Cluster analysis produces diagrams that graphically represent the similarity or dissimilarity of the items you’re comparing by using color and positioning.
- Crosstab query: quickly check the spread of coding across cases and demographic variables with crosstab query. For example, you can use crosstab query to see how often interview respondents refer to a particular topic or issue or compare what different demographic groups have said about a theme.
- Coding matrices: see coding intersections between two lists of items with matrix coding queries. This feature lets you ask a wide range of questions about patterns in your coded data to bring forth data insights.
- Framework matrices: condense large volumes of interview material into more manageable quantities to help you get familiar with your data by using this feature. Framework matrices use a grid that consists of rows for cases and columns for codes with each cell representing the intersection of a case and theme. With the framework matrix feature, it’s easier to see everything regarding a theme, view how different themes relate to each other, and compare the experiences of different individuals by comparing rows.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published in March 2017, and was updated in February 2022 and October 2023 for accuracy.
For more information about thematic analysis see these resources:
For more information about thematic analysis see these resources:
Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.
Merton, R.K. (1975). Thematic analysis in science: Notes on Holton’s concept. Science as Culture, 188(4186), 335–338.