CHIME News

Publication: Debate continues in relation to sample sizes for thematic analyses - ‘Shine bright like a diamond’? A reply to Braun and Clarke

13 July 2016

Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke, authors of a well-known textbook on qualitative research, recently questioned the approach published in 2015 by Dr Andy Fugard (UCL Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology) and Dr Henry Potts (UCL Institute of Health Informatics). Now published is Fugard and Potts’ reply to Braun and Clarke, which further explores the theory behind their method.

In February 2015, Fugard and Potts published a quantitative method to support researchers in thinking on the sample size required in some qualitative studies (Fugard, A. J. B. & Potts, H. W. W. (2015). Supporting thinking on sample sizes for thematic analyses: A quantitative tool in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology).

The paper has attracted considerable interest and has become the third most downloaded article in the journal’s history. However, debate has raged over the validity and applicability of the method.

In a recent commentary, Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke, authors of a well-known textbook on qualitative research, questioned the approach. July 2016 saw publication of Fugard and Potts’ response to Braun and Clarke, which further explores the theory behind their method.

The title, Shine bright like a diamond (a line from a song by Rihanna), references a debate around thematic analysis. Are themes something that are found unproblematically in qualitative data? That is, are they like diamonds plucked from the sand? Or are themes something constructed by the researcher from the varied accounts in their data? Fugard and Potts accept Braun and Clarke’s argument that the process of thematic analysis is better described by the latter, but go on to argue that this does not invalidate their method, which is based on a probabilistic model of how often accounts might occur in an interview or other data collection method.

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