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Template Analysis

Template Analysis is a form of thematic coding developed by Nigel King and others.

It refers to a particular way of thematically analysing qualitative data. The data involved are usually interview transcripts, but may be any kind of textual data. The approach involves the development of a coding "template", which summarises themes identified by the researcher(s) as important in a data set, and organises them in a meaningful and useful manner. Hierarchical coding is emphasised; that is to say, broad themes encompass successively narrower, more specific ones. Analysis often, though not always, starts with some a priori codes, which identify themes strongly expected to be relevant to the analysis. However, these codes may be modified or dispensed with altogether if they do not prove to be useful or appropriate to the actual data examined

See e.g.

Book icon King, N (2004) Using templates in the thematic analysis of text, in C.Cassell and G.Symon (Eds.) Essential Guide to Qualitative Methods in Organizational Research. London: Sage.

Generating codes

Researchers undertaking qualitative analysis using coding fall into three camps. Those who start with pre-given, a priori codes and then use them to code the text, those who believe codes should be grounded in the text and develop codes by reading the text, and those who do both. Grounded theory strongly recommends the second. Template analysis supports the third. For further discussion see: How and what to code.


Bracketing (also called epoché or the phenomenological reduction) refers to the suspension of judgment about the natural world that precedes phenomenological analysis. The idea, at its most fundamental, is to suspend one's various beliefs in the reality of the natural world in order to study its essential structures. The aim is to achieve a direct and primitive contact with the world as we experience it rather than as we conceptualize it.

Typically this involves stripping away various layers of symbolic meaning that envelop a phenomenon. Examples of these symbolic layers are the researcher's own views and experiences of a phenomenon that might stand in the way of their understanding of their participant's views and experience of that same phenomenon. Thus we must suspend, set aside our biases, everyday understandings, theories, beliefs, habitual modes of thought, and judgments in order to understand the phenomenon as it shows itself.

See also:

Book icon Moustakas, C (1994) Phenomenological Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Journal symbol LeVasseur, Jeanne J. (2003) 'The Problem of Bracketing in Phenomenology' Qualitative Health Research, Vol. 13, No. 3, 408-420
DOI: 10.1177/1049732302250337

Code generation and initial coding

Authors of this page:Dawn Clarke and Graham R. Gibbs

Affiliation: University of Huddersfield

Date written: 8th Sept. 2008




Learning outcomes

  1. Code ideas come from: the data themselves, pre-existing theory, your own research questions.
  2. Your own background might bias your ideas for codes.
  3. Use not just descriptive codes but also those that are analytical, theoretical or interpretative.


Frances used template analysis as a method for her data analysis. She used this approach because she felt that it would enable her to access data to understand how whiplash injury affected the participants in their day-to-day lives. How she achieved this, the problems she encountered and the decisions she had to make as she developed the template will become evident in the following discussion.

The first task for Frances was to develop coding categories and apply those to the transcripts.


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained how she did this with her supervisor:

He took a transcript and I took a transcript and we knew the interview schedule and I just used the interview schedule as an attempt of ‘oh what is it about?’... yes... ‘serious accidents’ so I just kind of used that to structure if you like.  A very kind of loose structure because there’s lots of codes and things that come up to it there and I suppose that one of the problems is how do you decide was is going to be a code and what isn’t going to be a code.  What are you going to use and what aren’t you going to use. So we both did a small section of the coding and then we came back together. So he took it and I took mine and we met up again and we discussed what I’d done.


The initial generation of codes in analysis is frequently a problem for those starting out on projects. A common answer is to use the topics in the interview schedule as codes and this is what Frances did (First interview schedule). At the same time, as is recommended by template analysis, she added ideas for codes that she arrived at whilst reading the transcripts.

Frances and her supervisor took the same interview transcripts and applied their own codes to them. They then came back together to see if they had used the same codes and if they had used them in the same manner. They then analysed the differences between the two. This kind of collaboration is not unusual in qualitative research and it can be a useful approach to seek the opinions of supervisors, research directors, co-researchers or even good (and sympathetic!) friends.

However, in Frances' phenomenological study it had a further importance. It was the start of Frances trying to take the experiences of the researcher, her own particular view of the phenomenon, out of the process. In phenomenological terms, she was 'bracketing her experiences' to produce results that were more closely representative of the participants' experience.


Loudspeaker iconFrances described the differences that were apparent initially:

One of the big differences was the use of language, that was a real big difference which is less obvious now but it was a real big difference in terms of the use of language and I would describe it this way and my supervisor would have described it ……… [Can you give an example of what you mean?] Well I suppose it would be like the language in terms of the treatment, …… I suppose symptoms would be - if you look at symptomatology that would be an area, it might be an effect, but it would be for me a medical symptom, it would be in that sense of pain, restrictions, all sorts of things really and I think I had, to start with, there was quite a focus on the pain and I think that focus came from the fact that I was riddled with pain, you know at the time, so that I kind of familiarized myself with the language of the medical [practitioners]……


This joint exercise helped Frances to understand how her own experience was influencing her research. According to Frances her supervisor had used a different language or vocabulary which she described as 'more social scientific'. However, what was apparent was that he was being more analytical and less descriptive than Frances.


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained she was being too descriptive:

One of the main comments [from her supervisor] was that it [her coding] was very descriptive, I mean that is very true if you look at it, although I thought it was really really good and I was quite disappointed to be told it’s not analytical enough. This was quite difficult because [I thought] ‘well what do you mean’ if you gave that to a Medic it’d be ‘yes that’s really good’. So in some sense I [thought] ‘what does he [the supervisor] mean be more analytical.


When a supervisor challenges a piece of work it is often difficult for students to accept and understand what is required. However, it is part of the process of learning to do research. What Frances' supervisor wanted her to do was to use theories to underpin her analysis rather than just being descriptive.


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained her struggle:

I still do struggle with concepts, theories, what’s your theory? Why can’t you just use a language that’s kind of …. I mean I always think of it being like in some ways, well in a real way, and this how I understand it, and I’ve made sense of it to enable me to kind of manage if it’s not analytical enough is that there’s two languages going on here, there’s my language and the language of academia if you like. I use academic language as an example, which you do talk very differently, different places have different uses of language and my natural, my first tongue is to speak medically, my second tongue is to speak in a language that is seen as being the realms of academia.


Frances was once again struggling with the influences of her professional experiences and understanding vis-à-vis learning to be a researcher. Her professional background that had been useful to help her decide what she wanted to research was now becoming a potential barrier because she was relying on medical language to explain the participants' experience. This would have produced results from a medical perspective which was not the aim of her research. Therefore, the role of her supervisor became an essential part of the process.


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The resources on this site by Graham R Gibbs, Dawn Clarke, Celia Taylor, Christina Silver and Ann Lewins are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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