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challenges to qualitative research

Researchers use thematic analysis as a means to gain insight and knowledge from data gathered. The method enables researchers to develop a deeper appreciation for the group or situation they are researching. By using thematic analysis to distill data, researchers determine broad patterns that will allow them to conduct more granular research and analysis. It is highly inductive: themes emerge from the data that is gathered and are not imposed or predetermined by the researcher. Using their findings, researchers can apply a statistical analysis to validate themes. In practice, depending on the context of the research study, thematic analysis could include a bit of grounded theory, positivism, interpretivism and phenomenology.


1) Collect data – Data is gathered from sources that can include:

  • field diaries
  • observational data
  • pictures/video*
  • historical data
  • questionnaire statements
  • transcripts
  • audio recording*

*Data from conversations on video and audiotape are transcribed.

2) Coding data – Researchers code the data by hand or through a software program. Typically, the researcher will be coding every two or three lines of text with handles that identify key words, concepts, images and reflections. Coding is an explicit and iterative process in which the researcher will alter and modify the analysis as reflected by the data and as ideas emerge. Coding skills improve with experience. According to Boyatzis, a “good code” is one that captures the qualitative richness of the phenomenon. A code should be clear and concise, clearly stating what it is, its boundaries and how to know it when it occurs. Codes become the foundation for the themes that are going to be used by the researcher.

A good thematic code should address five main elements.

For example:
What am I going to call it?
          Authentic leadership
How am I going to define it?
                 Leaders who are true to themselves.

How am I going to recognize it in the data?

When respondents explicitly say they are authentic leaders who are deeply aware of how they think and behave and are perceived by others as being aware of their own and others’ values/moral perspectives and of high moral character.

What do I want to exclude?
Attributions of authentic leadership to external forces or socialization agents does not qualify.

What is an example?

Boards should choose authentic leaders for character, not charisma; for their values and ability to motivate employees to create genuine value for customers.