Thematic analysis is a widely cited method for analyzing qualitative data. As a team of graduate students, we sought to explore methods of data analysis that were grounded in qualitative philosophies and aligned with our orientation as applied health researchers. We identified reflexive thematic analysis, developed by Braun and Clarke, as an interpretive method firmly situated within a qualitative paradigm that would also have broad applicability within a range of qualitative health research designs. In this approach to analysis, the subjectivity of the researcher is recognized and viewed not as problematic but instead valued as integral to the analysis process. We therefore elected to explore reflexive thematic analysis, advance and apply our analytic skills in applied qualitative health research, and provide direction and technique for researchers interested in this method of analysis. In this paper, we describe how a multidisciplinary graduate student group of applied health researchers utilized Braun and Clarke’s approach to reflexive thematic analysis. Specifically, we explore and describe our team’s process of data analysis used to analyze focus group data from a study exploring postnatal care referral behavior by traditional birth attendants in Nigeria. This paper illustrates our experience in applying the six phases of reflexive thematic analysis as described by Braun and Clarke: (1) familiarizing oneself with the data, (2) generating codes, (3) constructing themes, (4) reviewing potential themes, (5) defining and naming themes, and (6) producing the report. We highlight our experiences through each phase, outline strategies to support analytic quality, and share practical activities to guide the use of reflexive thematic analysis within an applied health research context and when working within research teams.


applied qualitative health research, reflexive thematic analysis, subjectivity

Author Bio(s)

Karen A. Campbell, RN, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Scholar at Western University, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, and an Ontario Women’s Health Scholar funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Her research focuses on intersections of women’s health with physical and social geography. Please direct correspondence to campbk7@mcmaster.ca.

Elizabeth Orr, RN, MSc, is a PhD student in the School of Nursing at McMaster University and Lecturer in the Department of Nursing at Brock University, Ontario, Canada. Her current research is focused on understanding the complex processes of hospital-to-home transitions, specifically the transition from NICU to home among vulnerable populations.

Pamela Durepos is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of New Brunswick. Her program of research focuses on a palliative approach and family caregiving for people with dementia at end-of-life. Pamela uses mixed method designs to understand diverse experiences and operationalize complex concepts relevant to nursing.

Linda Nguyen, BHSc, MSc, is a PhD Candidate in the School of Rehabilitation Science and CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University. Her doctoral studies are focused on understanding the experiences of siblings of youth with a disability during the transition to adulthood, using patient-oriented and qualitative research approaches.

Lin Li, RN, BScN, BFA is a PhD student in the School of Nursing at McMaster University and registered nurse at McMaster Children’s Hospital. Her research interests include qualitative health research, health services for children and youth with medical complexity, youth transition to adulthood, and family partnership in research.

Carly Whitmore, RN MScN, is a PhD student and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar in the School of Nursing at McMaster University. Carly has experience in the design and conduct of mixed methods research and pragmatic trials. Her research focuses on supporting community-dwelling older adults and interventions to improve mental health.

Paige Gehrke, RN, BScN is currently a MScN student at McMaster University. Her research interests are situated in the field of critical care, organizational policy, and leadership. Her thesis research will explore ICU nurses’ responses to moral distress to understanding their desired organizational interventions to reduce or manage moral distress.

Leslie Graham, RN, is faculty in the Ontario Tech University-Durham College Nursing Program. Being a passionate educator, her interests focus on simulation as pedagogy. As result of work in the field, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the INACLS Spirit of Leadership Award and the President’s Award.

Susan Jack, RN, PhD, is Professor, School of Nursing and Associate Member, Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact at McMaster University. Her program of research focuses on community-based approaches to the prevention of family violence, including child maltreatment and intimate partner violence.

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