Inductive Content (Thematic) Analysis

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What you need to know…

Here is the learning outcome (i.e. exam question) for this topic:

Explain how researchers use inductive content analysis (thematic analysis) on interview transcripts.

What is a thematic analysis?

As the name suggests it’s an analysis of themes. In the context of interviews in qualitative research it means the analysis of the data that is gathered from the interview process by reading through the transcripts repeatedly and identifying common themes. Conclusions are then drawn based on the themes that have emerged from the data.

How is a thematic analysis conducted?

Step One: Read and Re-Read…the transcripts of data from the interviews to familiarize yourself with the answers

Step Two: Identify Raw Themes

These are often individual statements or isolated ideas that are yet to be connected to other ideas within the transcript.

Step Three: Coding

Once the raw themes are identified, similarities and recurring themes across participants are identified.

Step 3a: Establish superordinate and subordinate themes.

      • Individual responses are subordinate to the categories they belong to (superordinate).

Sometimes it’s important for the researcher to clarify the meaning behind individual statements to establish whether or not they fit in to certain categories or not. This could happen by the researcher going back and asking additional questions to the participant.

It is really important in final published research to describe the process of how the grouping of themes was conducted in order to increase the trustworthiness/credibility of the research.

Reasons why a thematic analysis is conducted: it is necessary to make sense of the data and in order to draw conclusions. Common themes (or a lack thereof) also need to be identified.

How would I use this in an exam?

If this question was in an exam it would be hoped that some of the themes emerging from the research (super and/or subordinate) would be stated in the stimulus. You could incorporate these in your description of the process of the thematic analysis and with your explanation of how/why it’s conducted.


Note: A lot of these terms have multiple definitions based on context. Where possible, I have defined these terms in the context of thematic analysis in qualitative research.

Inductive: drawing conclusions from what you observe. In this context, it means drawing conclusions regarding individual’s experiences of phenomena based on data collected during interviews.

Thematic analysis: the breaking down of the data to uncover the recurring themes within the research so conclusions can be drawn.

Transcripts: the written data from the interviews.

Coding: Identifying and writing down individual units of information from the transcripts (e.g. single phrases).

Raw theme: an initial point or idea that is stated in the data.

Superordinate theme: a larger category of themes.

Subordinate theme: a narrower example of a theme that fits within a broader superordinate theme.

Reflexivity: the process by which researchers are reflecting on their own thoughts, opinions and practices throughout the research process in order to minimize the effects of these on the research process. It is the importance that researchers are aware that because the data is qualitative in nature, they have the potential to bias the results at many points within the research. Being aware of this will hopefully reduce the impact of researcher bias on the research.

Researcher Triangulation: in the interview context, this means that more than one researcher will conduct the thematic analysis in order to increase the validity of the results.

Data saturation: the point where no new information is found within the data being analysed.

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