Writing up your study


How you go about writing up a study based on TA will of course be constrained by the requirements of different kinds of publication. For journal articles, as well as word length limits, you must take account of any constraints in terms of format, and you are always well-advised to look at the style of qualitative papers the journal has published in the past. Although many more journals take qualitative papers now than in the past, some expect them to conform much more to the standard quantitative style and structure than others. You generally have more freedom with book chapters, and can negotiate with editors over what they need from your contribution. For theses and dissertations, you should consult supervisors and course documentation for guidance; again looking at previous examples of similar projects is a good idea.

Within the constraints imposed on you, there are three broad approaches to presenting your analysis which you could adopt:

  1. Individual case-studies, followed by a discussion of differences and similarities between cases.
    Gives the reader a good grasp of the perspectives of individual participants.
    Ensures that the discussion of themes does not become too abstracted from participants’ accounts of their experience.
    Tends to take up a considerable amount of space, so difficult to use where word limits are tight.
    The reader can get bogged down in all the individual detail and find it hard to see the wider picture.
  2. An account structured around the main themes identified, drawing illustrative examples from each transcript (or other text) as required.
    Good way to produce a clear and succinct overview of the most salient findings from the thematic analysis.
    Useful when word limits are tight.
    Can encourage over-generalisation.
    Can lose sight of the individual experiences from which the themes are drawn.
  3. A thematic presentation of the findings, with a small number of full case-studies to illustrate key themes.
    A useful synthesis of the previous two approaches.
    Can be hard to decide on criteria on which to base selection of cases.

Whatever approach you take to presenting findings, a key element is the use of direct quotes from participants. These should generally include some shorter quotes (up to a couple of sentences) to clarify particular points, and longer quotes that give the reader a flavour of the original accounts. Using pseudonyms rather than code numbers to identify the participant can give a more personal feel. Try to use pseudonyms appropriate to the age and social background of the participant - an 85 year old working class yorkshirewoman is, after all, unlikely to be called "Kylie"!

It is important to see writing up as a continuation of the interpretative process, as accounting for your analysis to your readers can deepen your own understanding of your data. You may find that even at this stage you need to further refine theme definitions or your template structure.