Writing a Results Section for Thematic Analysis in a Qualitative Research Report

By Martin Dempster, Donncha Hanna

When you conduct a thematic analysis in psychology, you transcribe your interview and use excerpts from the transcript to support the qualitative data you report on. However, you may be wondering what your results section may look like when you use a thematic analysis.

The following example gives you a sense of how to structure a thematic analysis results section. This example is from a study examining participants’ experiences of harassment at work. Two themes are focused on for the purposes of this example.

Interviews were held with 5 female participants. All names were changed to protect participant confidentiality. The themes were identified as ‘Powerlessness’ and ‘Ineffective management, effective self’.

Powerlessness

This theme encapsulates each of the participants’ struggle to deal with the exasperation they have experienced at work: a combination of feelings encompassing disappointment, offence, vulnerability and enragement resulted in frustration.

In the beginning of the interview, it was not easy for Anne and Liz to explicitly express their experiences. Later on, perhaps when they became more comfortable with the interview process, they were more capable of talking openly about their experiences. Anne experienced emotions of being embarrassed and enraged:

Mad, angry and my dignity, it seems, being manipulated. I felt inferiority and so humiliated when . . .

For Anne, being emotionally affected prevented her letting go of her hatred against the perpetrator. The situation made her hold a grudge against him when she mentioned:

When I saw him I felt that I cant forgive him for what he has been saying about me.

Liz explained that she has a sense of guilt because she unwillingly let the perpetrator have physical contact with her. The feelings of being fearful and isolated, expressed by Liz in the following excerpt, show that she does not like being treated disrespectfully:

Infuriated . . . I felt really mad but I dont know what to do . . . I dont want to be treated like this.

This made Liz consider leaving her job:

If we are normal we feel stress, and sometimes I feel like I want to quit.

In addition, Betty fears that nothing will change in this regard:

Long term it will continue . . . wherever we go we will feel the same situation will happen again. We will have a phobia of it happening again . . .

Ineffective management, effective self

This theme captured participants’ intense feelings of discontentedness about the management’s response to dealing with harassment or bullying. Although participants believed that they conducted themselves professionally at work, they also expressed concern about the management’s lack of professionalism. For example, Liz states:

. . . so if you cannot complete or accomplish any task just let it be, just do whatever you can, but I feel glad my friends and colleagues from this area always give me support. They know I love my job so they put a lot of trust in me.

But also highlights that:

. . . our boss would never back-up and support us, even if we are doing our task right.

Doris also stated that bullying was not effectively dealt with by management:

What I can see in this organisation is there is no such thing in place to deal with bullying. Management do not care about their employees.

Catherine had similar thoughts. Being a victim of inappropriate workplace behaviour can be a traumatic experience and leave victims feeling miserable and depressed:

What happened to me was . . . I was the victim of bullying. I felt so sad, disappointed and distracted; I couldnt focus on my work.

The essential point is that employees had difficulties – for example, feeling hopeless – because when they came across problems there was no appropriate system to deal with them. Several participants expect that there should be an official body to protect and support employees, including Anne, who commented:

We dont have a specific unit to enable us to complain here. So we do need one unit just to handle this issue.

The results section of any qualitative report should be much longer than this example and provide more detail, including more justification for why you chose your themes, but this example provides an idea of the approach you need to take. Note particularly how we evidence the assertions made about participants using direct quotes. These are especially important to include in a qualitative report where you depend on participants’ experiences to support your findings instead of quantifiable data.