Whether you are new to Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) or have been using it for a while, you may have noticed some differences in the language associated with this qualitative approach to research.
This might seem confusing at first but don’t worry; help is at hand!
The guidance and steps suggested to conduct your analysis remain the same. So do the underlying principles. All that’s changed is some of the terminology.
Terms like emergent theme or superordinate theme, which you will see in most IPA papers published pre-2022 and in the first edition of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method and Research by Jonathan Smith, Paul Flowers and Michael Larkin (2009), have been updated, as explained in the table below.
|Old term||New term|
|Emergent Theme||Experiential Statement|
|Superordinate Theme||Personal Experiential Theme (PET)|
|Master Theme||Group Experiential Theme (GET)|
Emergent Themes are now known as experiential statements, superordinate themes are now called personal experiential themes, and master themes are now referred to as group experiential themes.
This change in terminology can actually make things clearer as you work through your analysis. Experiential statements are just that, statements about the experiences captured in your data in terms of their meaning for the participant.
In the new book Essentials of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith & Nizza, 2021), the authors provide an example analysis of a participant’s holiday experience.
The example transcript includes the lines “so I really had to put in the effort and judge people quite quickly as well. So, yeah, I just had to put stuff out there quite a lot”. One of the experiential statements to arise from this analysis is ‘Selectively and purposively bonding with strangers’ (p. 41).
This statement is both concise and rich. It captures the participant’s description of forging relationships with other travellers and their sense of this being a deliberate, active process. A statement such as ‘Meeting new people’ or ‘Social aspects of travel’, although still reflective of the data, would not provide the same experiential detail.
Thinking in terms of experiential statements – rather than emergent themes – can help you orient yourself during the earlier analytic stages. An experiential statement involves summarising the meaning in a short portion of the text – perhaps just a few lines. At this stage, being too concerned with the bigger picture of ‘themes’ can distract you from looking carefully at each section of the transcript in a close, fine-grained fashion.
Personal experiential themes or PETs, are themes developed through an analysis of a single case, meaning they are personal to that individual.
Group experiential themes or GETs are developed by looking across individual cases for patterns of convergence and divergence. They are themes which represent the group.
As you can see, the revised terminology makes finding your way through the analysis easier.
This new terminology, and guidance for each stage of the analysis, are included in the two new books mentioned. These are the 2nd edition of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method and Research by Jonathan Smith, Paul Flowers, and Michael Larkin (2022), and the new APA Essentials Book Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis by Jonathan Smith and Isabella Nizza (2021).
The new terminology is also used in the recent paper I wrote with Jonathan Smith: ‘Making sense of an artwork: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of participants’ accounts of viewing a well-known painting’ (Starr & Smith, 2022).
This blog was written by Rachel Starr, one of PGPR’s IPA experts. To book a video consultation with Rachel, contact us via the box below.