Thematicanalysis is a rarely acknowledged, yet most popularly used method inqualitative research (Boyatzis, 1998; Roulston, 2001; Braun & Clarke,2006). However, being both dynamic and complex in its analytical process,thematic analysis should be considered as the foundational method forqualitative analysis (Holloway and Todres, 2003). The research analysts havefurther argued that thematic analysis should be the first analysis techniquefor every qualitative researcher to learn, as it forms the plinth for trainingof basic skills on qualitative analytical method that could be utilised inconduction of other forms of qualitative research.As pointedout by Braun and Clarke (2006) in their research paper on thematic analysis,the qualitative research can be categorised into two groups. The first groupconsists of the analytical approaches that are related to some theoreticalframework, for example grounded theory approach, discourse analysis, narrativeanalysis, etc.
Whereas the second category is free from constraint oftheoretical framework, and is much more independent and experiential in itsapproach to analysis. Thematic analysis belongs to this second group ofanalytic approach. Thus, being independent of theoretical framework, thematic analysisis a divergent, compatible and much more flexible research tool as compared tothe other qualitative techniques.
Thematic analysis, therefore, help create arich, detailed, as well a complex account of data set.Owing toits flexibility, thematic analysis, however, can never be criticised beingdevoid of scientific temperament. The method of thematic analysis consist ofvery specific and clear guidelines for its conduction, and these proceduralguidelines no doubt give the method a scientific vigour. Braun and Clarke(2006), while propounding the six-step process of analysis in thematictechnique, have not only focused on the procedural concepts like “what”, “why”,”when” and “how” of the method concerned but have also specified that theanalyst should have clarity and immense technical expertise to carry out theanalysis through thematic method. This touch of procedural simplicity mingledwith complex technical background gives thematic analysis a detailed yet richflavour in comparison to other qualitative analysis methods, and henceforthmakes it the most popular and widely used method for qualitative data analysis.
Thematicanalysis, because of its simple yet rich data analysis process, can beconducted within both kinds of research paradigms- Realist/ Essentialistparadigm and Constructionist paradigm. However, the focus to carry on analysiswould be different for different paradigms. The analysis pattern for the firstparadigm of Realist/ Essentialist approach should be more subjective in natureas this approach focuses straightforwardly on individual interest, motivation,life meaning and experiences while analysing a data set (Potter and Wetherell,1987; Widdicombe and Wooffitt, 1995).
In contrast, the Constructionist paradigmbelieves that meaning and experiences are social phenomenon and not completelyan individual perspective (Burr, 1995). Therefore, while analysing data withinconstructionist framework thematic analysis leans more toward thesocio-cultural phenomenon and structural context, rather than the subjectivefactors, from the account provided by the individual data.However, itis noteworthy that thematic analysis often involves a number of decisions thatare not always explicitly mentioned by the researchers. For example, the studyby Taylor and Ussher (2001) on discourse analysis provides a good example ofexplicit thematic analysis research process, whereas, the study by Braun andWilkinson (2003) on women psychology does not mention much about the explicitdecisions involved while conducting the study. One of the example of a ‘badthematic analysis’ is where the analyst simply put the questions asked, in theinterview to the participants, as themes. In this example, no obviousmethodological procedure is implemented, or to say no thematic analysis isactually done.
To minimise occurrence of this kind of error as specified in theexample, it is worth noting and evident that to conduct thematic analysis andto carry on with qualitative research, mention of the decisions taken and answeringthe probable questions on methods adopted for data collection and analysis isessential for maintaining scientific vigour of the study. In thiscontext, this chapter on thematic analysis purports to discuss the followingpoints in detail, with the intention to impart better understanding andimplementation of knowledge of the method, for the benefit of the youngqualitative data analysts:1. Concept ofthematic analysis, and its two major types, viz. Inductive and Deductive.2.
Concept of’themes’ and its two major types, viz., Sematic and Latent.3. Guideline for thesix-step process of conducting thematic analysis as advocated by Braun andClarke (2006), through early study example (Nicholas and McDowall, 2012).4. Probablechallenges of thematic analysis and how to make thematic analysis good.5.
The probablepitfalls to avoid when conducting thematic analysis for a particular data set,through discussing the pros and cons of the method.The applications, implications and recommendationsfor thematic analysis within qualitative research forte.