Using Thematic Analysis for Insightful Research Findings

Around 2.82 million scientific papers have been published in 2022, and that number is expected to grow in the coming years. Perhaps you’re also contributing to the ever-growing body of knowledge. But have you conducted a research interview and felt overwhelmed by the various responses? (1)

Qualitative data, interviews, focus groups, and open-ended surveys offer a wealth of information, but how do you turn it into insightful findings? That’s where thematic analysis steps in to help you.

Thematic analysis equips you with a valuable tool for qualitative data analysis. It helps you sift through vast amounts of text, revealing hidden patterns and recurring motifs. In turn, it grants you deeper insight into your research topic.

What is Thematic Analysis?

Thematic analysis isn’t a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach. Unlike other methods, thematic analysis is flexible. You can adjust it to fit your research question, no matter the data you collect. This makes it a popular choice for researchers across various disciplines.

It’s also important to distinguish thematic analysis from other qualitative analysis methods. Content analysis, for example, focuses on counting and categorizing certain words or phrases. Thematic analysis goes beyond counting; it’s about identifying the overarching themes that tell the story within your data.

Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke have proposed a helpful typology of thematic analysis, ranging from a type with a more inductive approach (where themes emerge from the data) to one that’s more theoretically-driven. They’ve also introduced reflexive thematic analysis principles, which, according to a study, some researchers don’t apply appropriately in their works. (2)

Remember, thematic analysis is an iterative process. You’ll move back and forth between different steps, constantly refining your understanding of the data. You can read more and learn about using thematic analysis across different fields through various resources available online, explaining the different types and how to apply them.

Benefits of Using Thematic Analysis: A Win-Win for Researchers and Readers

Collected a bunch of interview data? Thematic analysis helps you turn it from overwhelming to insightful. But how does it help your research specifically?

First, thematic analysis helps you see the bigger picture. Instead of getting stuck on single answers, you find recurring themes that reveal deeper meaning in your research. This allows you to develop a more nuanced and insightful interpretation of your findings.

Second, thematic analysis makes your research way more relatable. When you uncover the stories and real-life experiences in your data, you can connect with your readers on a deeper level. Making your research understandable to your audience is crucial. A study revealed that 56% of university students can comprehend scientific texts at a basic (literal) level, while only 22% can do the same at a critical and organizational level. (3)

Themes act as bridges between the specific details of your research and the broader implications for your field, making your research not only informative but also engaging.

Conducting Thematic Analysis: A Step-by-Step Guide

Ready to unlock the hidden themes in your data? Then, explore the practical steps of using thematic analysis in your research.

Step 1: Data Familiarization

Spend quality time immersing yourself in your data. Read and reread transcripts, listen to recordings, and get a good feel for the overall content. This initial step helps you become intimately familiar with the data and prepares you for the next stage: coding.

Step 2: Initial Coding

The coding process involves assigning initial codes, labels, or tags to segments of your data. These codes can be descriptive, like capturing the surface meaning, or thematic, like identifying potential themes. For example, if you encounter certain words or phrases in your research interview data, such as ‘unsure’ or ‘I don’t know,’ you could group these under the code ‘Uncertainty.’

There are different coding techniques you can use. One is vivo coding or action-based codes. Another is descriptive coding, or summarizing excerpts using only one word. The key is to be consistent and develop a system that works best for you.

Step 3: Searching for Themes

Once you’ve coded your data, it’s time to search for themes. This is where the magic happens! Start by looking for patterns and connections within your codes.

Are there recurring ideas, experiences, or perspectives? Group similar codes together and see if they start to form larger clusters.

Step 4: Reviewing Themes

The initial grouping might be flawed. Don’t worry! The thematic analysis approach is an iterative process.

As you review your themes, refine them to ensure they’re coherent, distinct, and adequately capture the data they represent.

Step 5: Defining and Naming Themes

Now that you have your themes identified, it’s time to define and name them. Develop clear and concise labels for each theme, using strong verbs and specific details.

Back up your theme labels with data excerpts that illustrate their meaning. This helps solidify your themes and provides evidence for your analysis.

Step 6: Writing Up the Thematic Analysis

The final step? Integrating your thematic analysis findings into your research report. Weave your themes into the narrative, explaining how they support your research question and contribute to your overall conclusions. Use quotes and data excerpts to illustrate your points and enhance the credibility of your analysis.

Ensuring Rigor and Trustworthiness

Rock-solid research is the name of the game, and thematic analysis is no exception. But to really make sure your analysis is trustworthy, you must consider these strategies:

  • Maintaining a clear audit trail (documenting your coding process and decisions)
  • Practicing reflexivity (acknowledging your own biases)
  • Conducting member checking (seeking feedback from participants on your interpretations)

Don’t hesitate to review more journals if you’re writing your first scientific research paper and using thematic analysis. Getting reputable references could help you make your research more trustworthy.

Examples of Using Thematic Analysis

Thematic analysis has the power to transform qualitative data into compelling stories. Check out these two examples:

  • Researchers used thematic analysis to understand the experiences of unemployed individuals in Ireland, uncovering themes including the reaction to the recession and financial worries. (reference: Delaney et al., 2011).
  • In a study on curriculum enactments, thematic analysis was used to examine how mathematical concepts are developed in classroom settings (reference: Borys et al., 2014).

These are some examples of how thematic analysis can generate insightful and impactful research findings across disciplines.


Thematic analysis is a useful method for anyone working with qualitative research. The advantages alone benefit both the researcher and the reader. Relatability gets your point or message across to more people.

Follow these steps and analyze your data with care. You might unlock hidden potential and make your scientific research a real contribution to your field.

References/Read More

  1. ScienceAdviser: Scientists are publishing too many papers—and that’s bad for science,” Source:
  2. “A worked example of Braun and Clarke’s approach to reflexive thematic analysis,” Source:
  3. “Levels of Reading Comprehension in Higher Education: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Source:

Written by Austin Crane

Austin is the principle web director for Untamed Science and Stone Age Man. He is also the web-director of the series for the High School biology, Middle Grades Science and Elementary Science content. When Austin isn't making amazing content for the web, he's out on his mountain bike or in a canoe.

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