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Supporting thinking on sample sizes for thematic analyses: a quantitative tool

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Thematic analysis is frequently used to analyse qualitative data in psychology, healthcare, social research and beyond. An important stage in planning a study is determining how large a sample size may be required, however current guidelines for thematic analysis are varied, ranging from around 2 to over 400 and it is unclear how to choose a value from the space in between. Some guidance can also not be applied prospectively. This paper introduces a tool to help users think about what would be a useful sample size for their particular context when investigating patterns across participants. The calculation depends on (a) the expected population theme prevalence of the least prevalent theme, derived either from prior knowledge or based on the prevalence of the rarest themes considered worth uncovering, e.g. 1 in 10, 1 in 100; (b) the number of desired instances of the theme; and (c) the power of the study. An adequately powered study will have a high likelihood of finding sufficient themes of the desired prevalence. This calculation can then be used alongside other considerations. We illustrate how to use the method to calculate sample size before starting a study and achieved power given a sample size, providing tables of answers and code for use in the free software, R. Sample sizes are comparable to those found in the literature, for example to have 80% power to detect two instances of a theme with 10% prevalence, 29 participants are required. Increasing power, increasing the number of instances or decreasing prevalence increases the sample size needed. We do not propose this as a ritualistic requirement for study design, but rather as a pragmatic supporting tool to help plan studies using thematic analysis.




Fugard, A. J. B., & Potts, H. W. W. (2015). Supporting thinking on sample sizes for thematic analyses: a quantitative tool. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(6), 669–684.

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