Phase 3: searching for themes

Phase 3 begins when all data have beeninitially coded and collated, and you have along list of the different codes that you haveidentified across the data set. This phase,which re-focuses the analysis at the broaderlevel of themes, rather than codes, involvessorting the different codes into potentialthemes, and collating all the relevant codeddata extracts within the identified themes.Essentially, you are starting to analyse yourcodes and consider how different codesmay combine to form an overarching theme.It may be helpful at this phase to use visualrepresentations to help you sort the differentcodes into themes. You might use tables,or mind-maps, or write the name each code(and a brief description) on a separate pieceof paper and play around with organizingthem into theme-piles. A thematic map ofthis early stage can be seen in Figure 2 (theexamples in Figures 2/4 come from theanalysis presented in Braun and Wilkinson,2003 of womens talk about the vagina).This is when you start thinking about therelationship between codes, betweenthemes, and between different levels ofthemes (eg, main overarching themes andUsing thematic analysis in psychology 89sub-themes within them). Some initialcodes may go on to form main themes,whereas others may form sub-themes, andothers still may be discarded. At this stage,you may also have a set of codes that do notseem to belong anywhere, and it is perfectlyacceptable to create a theme called miscellaneousto house the codes / possiblytemporarily / that do not seem to fit intoyour main themes.You end this phase with a collection ofcandidate themes, and sub-themes, and allextracts of data that have been coded inrelation to them. At this point, you will startto have a sense of the significance ofindividual themes. However, do not abandonanything at this stage, as withoutlooking at all the extracts in detail (thenext phase) it is uncertain whether thethemes hold as they are, or whether someFigure 2 Initial thematic map, showing five main themes (final analysis presented in Braun andWilkinson, 2003)Figure 3 Developed thematic map, showing three main themes (final analysis presented in Braun andWilkinson, 2003)90 V Braun and V Clarkeneed to be combined, refined and separated,or discarded.Phase 4: reviewing themesPhase 4 begins when you have devised a setof candidate themes, and it involves therefinement of those themes. During thisphase, it will become evident that somecandidate themes are not really themes (eg,if there are not enough data to support them,or the data are too diverse), while othersmight collapse into each other (eg, twoapparently separate themes might formone theme). Other themes might needto be broken down into separate themes.Pattons (1990) for dual criteria judgingcategories / internal homogeneity and externalheterogeneity / are worth consideringhere. Data within themes should coheretogether meaningfully, while there shouldbe clear and identifiable distinctions betweenthemes.This phase involves two levels of reviewingand refining your themes. Level oneinvolves reviewing at the level of the codeddata extracts. This means you need to readall the collated extracts for each theme, andconsider whether they appear to form acoherent pattern. If your candidate themesdo appear to form a coherent pattern, youthen move on to the second level of thisphase. If your candidate themes do not fit,you will need to consider whether thetheme itself is problematic, or whethersome of the data extracts within it simplydo not fit there / in which case, you wouldrework your theme, creating a new theme,finding a home for those extracts that do notcurrently work in an already-existingtheme, or discarding them from the analysis.Once you are satisfied that your candidatethemes adequately capture thecontours of the coded data / once youhave a candidate thematic map / youare ready to move on to level two of thisphase. The outcome of this refinementprocess can be seen in the thematic mappresented in Figure 3.Level two involves a similar process, butin relation to the entire data set. At thislevel, you consider the validity of individualthemes in relation to the data set, butalso whether your candidate thematic mapaccurately reflects the meanings evident inthe data set as a whole. To some extent,what counts as accurate representationdepends on your theoretical and analyticapproach. However, in this phase you rereadyour entire data set for two purposes.The first is, as discussed, to ascertainwhether the themes work in relation tothe data set. The second is to code anyadditional data within themes that has beenmissed in earlier coding stages. The need forre-coding from the data set is to be expectedas coding is an ongoing organic process.If the thematic map works, then youmoves on to the next phase. However, ifthe map does not fit the data set, you needto return to further reviewing and refiningof your coding until you have devised aFigure 4 Final thematic map, showing final two main themes (see Braun and Wilkinson, 2003).Using thematic analysis in psychology 91satisfactory thematic map. In so doing, it ispossible that you will identify potentialnew themes, and you will need to startcoding for these as well, if they are ofinterest and relevent. However, a wordof warning: as coding data and generatingthemes could go on ad infinitum, it isimportant not to get over-enthusiastic withendless re-coding. It is impossible to provideclear guidelines on when to stop, butwhen your refinements are not adding anythingsubstantial, stop! If the process ofrecoding is only fine-tuning and makingmore nuanced a coding frame that alreadyworks / ie, it fits the data well / recognizethis and stop. Consider it as similar toediting written work / you could endlesslyedit your sentences and paragraphs, butafter a few editing turns, any further workis usually unnecessary refinement / similarto rearranging the hundreds and thousandson an already nicely decorated cake.At the end of this phase, you should havea fairly good idea of what your differentthemes are, how they fit together, and theoverall story they tell about the data.Phase 5: defining and naming themesPhase 5 begins when you have a satisfactorythematic map of your data / see Figure 4 forthe final refinements of Virginias thematicmap. At this point, you then define andfurther refine the themes you will presentfor your analysis, and analyse the datawithin them. By define and refine, wemean identifying the essence of whateach theme is about (as well as the themesoverall), and determining what aspect of thedata each theme captures. It is importantnot to try and get a theme to do too much, orto be too diverse and complex. You do thisby going back to collated data extracts foreach theme, and organizing them into acoherent and internally consistent account,with accompanying narrative. It is vital thatyou do not just paraphrase the content ofthe data extracts presented, but identifywhat is of interest about them and why.For each individual theme, you need toconduct and write a detailed analysis. Aswell as identifying the story that eachtheme tells, it is important to considerhow it fits into the broader overall storythat you are telling about your data, inrelation to the research question or questions,to ensure there is not too muchoverlap between themes. So it is necessaryto consider the themes themselves, andeach theme in relation to the others. Aspart of the refinement, you will need toidentify whether or not a theme containsany sub-themes. Sub-themes are essentiallythemes-within-a-theme. They can be usefulfor giving structure to a particularly largeand complex theme, and also for demonstratingthe hierarchy of meaning within thedata. For instance, in one of Virginiasanalyses of womens talk about the vagina,she identified two overarching themes inwomens talk: the vagina as liability, and thevagina as asset (Braun and Wilkinson,2003). Within each theme, three sub-themeswere identified: for liability the sub-themeswere nastiness and dirtiness, anxietiesand vulnerability; for asset the sub-themeswere satisfaction, power and pleasure.However, these eventual final themes andsub-themes resulted from a process of refinementof initial themes and sub-themes,as shown in Figures 2/4.It is important that by the end of this phaseyou can clearly define what your themes areand what they are not. One test for this is tosee whether you can describe the scope andcontent of each theme in a couple of sentences.If not, further refinement of thattheme may be needed. Although you willalready have given your themes workingtitles, this is also the point to start thinking92 V Braun and V Clarkeabout the names you will give them in thefinal analysis. Names need to be concise,punchy, and immediately give the reader asense of what the theme is about.Phase 6: producing the reportPhase 6 begins when you have a set of fullyworked-out themes, and involves the finalanalysis and write-up of the report. Thetask of the write-up of a thematic analysis,whether it is for publication or for aresearch assignment or dissertation, is totell the complicated story of your data in away which convinces the reader of the meritand validity of your analysis. It is importantthat the analysis (the write-up of it, includingdata extracts) provides a concise, coherent,logical, non-repetitive and interestingaccount of the story the data tell / withinand across themes. Your write-up mustprovide sufficient evidence of the themeswithin the data / ie, enough data extracts todemonstrate the prevalence of the theme.Choose particularly vivid examples, or extractswhich capture the essence of thepoint you are demonstrating, without unnecessarycomplexity. The extract should beeasily identifiable as an example of theissue. However, your write-up needs to domore than just provide data. Extracts needto be embedded within an analytic narrativethat compellingly illustrates the story youare telling about your data, and your analyticnarrative needs to go beyond descriptionof the data, and make an argument inrelation to your research question.

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