In Conversation with Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke

In Conversation with Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke

Welcome to another exciting episode of the “In Conversation with Sage Authors” series where we bring you an exclusive interview with none other than Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke, the dynamic duo behind the sensational bestseller, “Thematic Analysis: A Practical Guide“. Join us as we delve into their backgrounds and explore the inspirations that drove them to write this remarkable piece of literature. Furthermore, we will candidly discuss the challenges they faced during the writing process, and how this book has positively impacted its readers.

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

We became qualitative methodologists through our training in psychology, which as a discipline is very empirically-oriented and students are required to think about methods and research perhaps more than in many other disciplines. But we were unusual in that we were drawn to, and had specialised training in, both qualitative methodologies and approaches, and specifically critical psychology approaches. Unusual because psychology was, and to an extent still is, dominated by quantitative methods; critical psychology challenges the norms, values, and methods of mainstream psychology and is associated with approaches like discourse analysis.

We met when doing our PhDs at Loughborough University Department of Social Sciences, in the UK. Victoria is British, and had training prior to that in the UK, at Brunel University; Ginny is a New Zealander and had done a Master’s and Bachelor’s at The University of Auckland (UoA). At Loughborough, we started in the same cohort and our supervisor teams overlapped, but what had drawn us both to Loughborough, and what was unique about it, was that it was one of the few centres of critical and discursive psychology in the world. We’ve described this elsewhere as being in the “beating heart” of the approach (Jankowski et al., 2017, p. 46). It was also a centre for feminist research on gender and sexuality – the important Sage journal Feminism & Psychology started and was based there – and we were lucky to get editorial assistant experience working on the journal; Ginny later went on to co-edit the journal with her UoA colleague Nicola Gavey.

All this context is really to say that we worked in really particular, small, and relatively niche areas of our disciplines, what felt like the margins – or the cutting edge! But from a methodological writing perspective, that background mandated that we think really deeply and complexly about the theory of, and the practice of, doing research. We didn’t realise, until we got much more experienced as academics teaching and supervising, how rare this was. And in keeping with being reflexive, and reflecting on how we as situated, partial and flawed humans sculpt the knowledge we produce, it’s been useful to consider both how our backgrounds shape our we think, and what the privileges afforded us through our education mean, when it comes to teaching and writing for others who don’t have that.

What inspired you to write this Thematic Analysis book?

The very simple answer is that we wrote a methodology paper in 2006 about doing thematic analysis (TA) (Using thematic analysis in psychology) that did the academic equivalent of going viral! The approach to TA that we developed has become widely used and cited in numerous academic disciplines and across the globe. We realised we both enjoyed methodological writing, and we had a way of writing that others found engaging and accessible. We wrote a broader qualitative methodological book – Successful Qualitative Research (Braun & Clarke, 2013), which confirmed that our ‘methodology voice’ worked well in book form – it sold well, got great reviews, and won a US publication award. We continued to write about TA, and our thinking evolved. We also did a lot of talks, webinars, and teaching-TA workshops, and developed a website – This book was a way to synthesise and develop all this thinking and experience, into a hopefully handy tool.

What sets this book apart from others in the same field?

As well as our book Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2022), Sage have published several books on TA approaches – Applied Thematic Analysis by Greg Guest and colleagues (2012), Boyatzis’s (1998) Transforming Qualitative Information, and Template Analysis for Business and Management Students by Nigel King and Joanna Brookes (2017). These books all outline different approaches to TA, and this highlights something that is really important for researchers interested in TA to take on board – there isn’t one standardised TA approach (despite that, we often see references to ‘the standardised approach to TA’). The other book on TA that aligns with our ‘reflexive’ approach is Gareth Terry and Nikki Hayfield’s (2021) excellent and pithy Essentials of Thematic Analysis – published by the American Psychological Association.

In Chapter 8 of our book – titled One big happy family? – we explore how our approach is different from and similar to other TA approaches. We also discuss the typology we’ve developed to help researchers understand some of the important differences between TA approaches with regard to both the underlying philosophy and research values, and analytic procedures including conceptualisation of things like codes or coding and themes – obviously key components of a thematic analysis! So what readers will get from our book, that they won’t get from others, is a detailed account of our particular approach to TA, which we now call reflexive TA, to distinguish it from other approaches. The name reflexive TA highlights the active role of the researcher in, and the inevitable subjectivity of, data analysis; researcher subjectivity is something to be embraced and harnessed, rather than concerned about and ‘managed’. We also provide readers with a map to help them navigate the wider landscape of TA. We’d encourage readers to check out the extensive open-access companion website that accompanies our book – it includes bonus content, including a whole additional chapter on teaching and supervising TA, and various materials to support learning and teaching TA.

What challenges did you face while writing your book and how did you overcome them?

Both of us have long-term health conditions, which affect our capacities. This isn’t a challenge that can be overcome, but something that has to be considered. We always take longer to do things, because we cannot push ourselves. And we try hard to resist the inherent ableism of academia, which imagines the ideal academic as something like the energizer bunny – constantly able to go-go-go. Over the time of writing, we also got more engaged with disability scholarship and politics – we both identify as disabled – in Ginny’s case, it’s an invisible disability, and in Victoria’s case both visible and invisible. But as our thinking shifted and changed, we started to reflect more deeply about language and how we framed and phrased our arguments, who our imagined reader was, and what implicit ideas we inadvertently conveyed. We wanted to write a text that wasn’t full of ableist language, so we read, talked, thought, and edited some of the language we’d used around, for example, our central metaphor for the reflexive TA process as going on an adventure in the form of international travel. We didn’t assume a reader who could walk; we also didn’t assume a reader who could handwrite (scribbling notes and coding labels on hard copies of data).

This process of unearthing and challenging our ableist assumptions also meant thinking about and trying to write in a way that made the book more accessible for neurodivergent readers. For example, recognising that some of the sorts of ‘joking’ language we might be inclined to use might make the text harder for some readers. We tried to write about TA in an accessible and inclusive way – and we’ve received some positive feedback – but no doubt there are other things to consider and ways that we can further develop the accessibility of our writing and our imagining of the reader. For instance, someone emailed us about the use of a descriptive term we’d used, that neither of us remembered, highlighting that it was problematic. Such feedback is great because all of this should be seen as a learning experience – for us as writers as well as readers!

Can you share any stories about how your book has made a positive impact on the readers, students, or instructors?

We were absolutely delighted to win the 2022 British Psychological Society Book Award in the Textbook category for Thematic Analysis – this tells us that other psychologists and instructors think the book is valuable. Our editors at Sage have told us about the positive feedback that they’ve received from both instructors and students about the accessibility of the book in terms of making something that can be challenging to grasp and practice – qualitative data analysis – feel clear and achievable. We’ve heard that people appreciate our slightly more informal style of academic writing, our occasional forays into humour, and our personal approach – we put our positioning, and our mistakes, into our texts, as we think these are valuable, pedagogically, and people seem to like that.

We also hear direct from readers on Twitter – you can follow us @ginnybraun and @drvicclarke – sharing their excitement to read the book, or that they’re finding it helpful when working on their dissertation or thesis research, or an assignment. It’s so delightful and rewarding to hear that readers have found the book a “lifesaver” or that it “got them through” their dissertation. We also get positive responses from established academics, suggested we managed to reach the wide audience we hoped to read (which is a challenge in writing a book of this nature)! We hope the book gives readers something of what our PhD experience at Loughborough gave us – passion and enthusiasm for research methods, and a commitment to do qualitative research thoughtfully and reflexively! Last but not least, we had also just organized a webinar to explore and discuss the good practices in reporting thematic analysis (TA) – particularly for the reflexive TA approach we have developed.


Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Sage.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2022). Thematic analysis: A practical guide. Sage.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. Sage.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Guest, G., MacQueen, K. M., & Namey, E. E. (2012). Applied thematic analysis. Sage.

Jankowski, G., Braun, V., & Clarke, C. (2017). Reflecting on qualitative research, feminist methodologies and feminist psychology: In conversation with Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke. Psychology of Women Section Review, 19(1), 43-55.

King, N., & Brooks, J. (2017). Template analysis for business and management students. Sage.

Terry, G., & Hayfield, N. (2021). Essentials of Thematic Analysis. American Psychological Association.

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