The practice of thematic analysis is widely used in qualitative analysis but sometimes not acknowledged or confused with other approaches. Here at QSR International 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.
What is thematic analysis?
Thematic analysis is not a methodology but a tool which can be used across different methods (Boyatzis 1998). 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 through a 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.
When might you choose to do 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 analysing 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?
What are the benefits of sifting through content?
Thematic analysis helps you find connections in your content and understanding the underlying themes to help inform decisions. 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 analysing 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 behaviour 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 and 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.
- Project maps: Produce a thematic map and reflect on the relationships among your themes.
- Comparison diagrams: compare sources to see if they share similar themes.
- Word clouds: quickly discover the most frequently occurring words and phrases.
Editors note: This blog was originally published in March 2017, and was updated in February 2022 for accuracy.
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.