A thematic analysis is a way of categorizing data from qualitative research -- a type of research that seeks to study a population’s views, behaviors or qualities in a natural setting to answer a research question. Qualitative data are gathered from observation, interviews and case studies. The information is analyzed for similar themes and recorded in a report that states and interprets the research findings.

Review Data and Take Notes

Once research is complete, review all gathered data. To thoroughly analyze and write about the findings, a researcher must familiarize himself with the data. Depending on the specific methods used, qualitative research may produce a significant amount of scripted information to read or recordings to listen to and transcribe. It takes a great deal of time to sort through and take notes on that data, but it must be well organized to properly analyze.

Create Codes

A thematic analysis can be approached in several different ways, and most include coding. When taking notes while reviewing, the researcher must look for main ideas, especially ones that repeat themselves throughout the data. These ideas are labeled, or coded, with a single word or phrase. For example, if the researcher conducted observations and all of the participants demonstrated a particular behavior, that behavior should be coded every time it appears. Imagine that a study was conducted to identify the reasons why people choose certain animals as pets. One participant might answer that a dog can help protect her family. This response could be coded as dogs for protection. A different behavior or quality should have a different code. Ideas or behaviors do not have to appear in all participants to be coded.

Identify and Name Themes

Reviewing and coding data consume a lot of time, but they simplify the next step in a thematic analysis. Once all information is coded, the researcher should review the codes for patterns, or themes. Themes should be renamed appropriately from their original code. For instance, if a response was coded as dogs for protection, that code could be professionally renamed with the theme of safety or security. The identified themes should specifically answer the initial research question. A researcher may choose which themes are central to the research and which may be unnecessary.

Interpret and Record Results

A thematic analysis is a researcher’s written attempt at showing how the various themes of a data set work together. It gives the details of the research process, including a description of the participants and methodology, and it explains and interprets the research findings. It should begin by summarizing the data, give an account of what was found through the research, and end with an interpretation. To interpret the findings, it should analyze each theme that reliably answers the research question posed at the beginning of the project, describing how each displays a true account of the data. It should note any parts of the research question that were not answered with the findings and end by offering ideas for further research, based on what was discovered.