Content analysis or thematic analysis

Similarities, differences and applications in qualitative research


  • Niklas Humble Mid Sweden University
  • Peter Mozelius



Content analysis, Thematic analysis, Qualitative analysis, Qualitative research, Coding


Research has a long tradition of quantitative research which still dominates many university courses on research methods. Qualitative research is a younger phenomenon that was established in research after the second world war. An emerging research field that needed new analysis methods tailored for qualitative data. Two of the most frequently used approaches in qualitative data analysis are content analysis and thematic analysis. In several aspects content analysis and thematic analysis both share a common approach to analytically examine qualitative data, and the fact that they have been used interchangeably has made it difficult for the more unexperienced researchers to distinguish and choose between them. The aim of this study is to examine doctoral students’ perceptions of qualitative analysis with content analysis and thematic analysis. The study had a qualitative approach with data collected from two webinars on qualitative data analysis, where a total of 76 doctoral students participated. Data consists of participant reflections in a Padlet on content analysis and thematic analysis at the two webinars. Webinar participants have given their consent to use their reflections in the Padlet for research. Content analysis with an abductive coding approach was used to analyse the collected data and formulate categories that answer the study’s aim and research question. Results show both perceived similarities and differences between content analysis and thematic analysis. Both are perceived to have a similar process in the coding of data, although content analysis has a wider selection of coding approaches and thematic analysis support deeper immersion. Content analysis is also perceived as more practical and straightforward, while thematic analysis is perceived as more intuitive and faster to learn. Both content analysis and thematic analysis are perceived to have individual opportunities and challenges that make them appropriate for different types of research. Findings presented in this study can be used by researchers at any level to explore similarities and differences between content analysis and thematic analysis, and where to apply them in research.