How to define and assign pertinent themes?


Adapted from Paillé and Muchielli , 2011.

The definition of the themes depends on the framework of the research and the expected level of generality or inference.

Indeed, the analysis will be carried out in a specific framework, i.e. the aim of the research, and with a certain orientation and some presuppositions. These are directly linked to the data collection and the position of the analyst.

The definition of the themes will depend on the data collection:

Once a researcher is ready to launch the Thematization, (s)he has already done many steps: (s)he has defined the problem(s), focused the study, defined objectives, prepared the data collection, written the interview guide, has interacted with participants and perhaps reoriented or redefined new avenues for the research. Many sources have thus already oriented the work and should be highlighted and explained once again before the start of the analysis. For example, Thematization will not be the same if you search for “representations” than if you search for “strategies”, if you analyze psychological responses or social environment, etc.

The definition of the themes will depend on the position of the researcher

Each analyst has some theoretical background, due to his/her training, previous researches, theoretical knowledge, etc. These elements will influence the way they will read, analyze and therefore chose themes to be applied to the corpus. On one hand, (s)he will have a certain level of sensibility that will increase throughout readings, experience of research and reasoning. This level will also improve during the analysis of the corpus itself. On the other hand, s(he) will improve his/her theoretical capacities with new concepts, models, etc.


To process to the analysis, it is important to clearly delimited the theme and label it with a precise formulation. It is easier to begin with a low level of inference, i.e. to be as close as possible of the text or the interview but not to reproduce the verbatim. Interpretation, theorization or making the essence of an experience emerging are not the objectives of a thematic analysis. It is a list and a synthesis of the relevant themes appearing in a corpus.

The risk to end with different themes according to different analyst is not excluded at all and even natural and foreseeable. However it will be limited if everyone adopt the same position with the same goal, i.e. Thematization, and nothing else.

The inference will be done following the next reasoning: because the presence of this or this element or indication in the extract, it is possible to assign it the theme “X”. It is not because a theme appears only once that it is not important.