How to use the new IPA terminology

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!

Confused? PGPR are here to help

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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.

Let the new IPA terminology light your pathway through analysis

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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.

The new IPA terminology is nearly as much fun as meeting new friends whilst travelling. Honest!

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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.

Doing IPA can feel like tackling a maze. The new terminology can help you find your way.

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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.

How to write every day

If you’re working on the final stages of your thesis, there’s probably a lot of writing going on in your world right now. It’s also likely that you’re juggling that with a job, cooking dinners, spending time with your family and trying to get out of the house once a day for fresh air. Therefore, despite your best intentions, writing might not be happening as often as you’d like.

Here are some tips for carving out some time every day to get those brilliant findings and interpretations committed to the page.

1. Plan ahead

As much as possible, try to plan your weeks so that writing time is scheduled. Of course, life is unpredictable and sometimes we can’t stick to our plans, but if you at least know what you’re aiming for, you’re more likely to get there. If your schedule looks jam-packed, try to think creatively. Can you get up earlier a couple of days a week? Work in the evening while everyone else is watching TV? Get the kids to make the dinner one night so you can spend that time working? (Age of child dependent, of course!)

Having a plan in place helps you in the long run!

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2. Tell your housemates/partner/family that you have to shut the door

If you’re a housemate, a mother, a father or a spouse, you might feel that you need to drop everything the moment you’re needed by the people you love. Genuine emergencies aside, this is not the case. Can you set a time for working when you tell everyone that you’re not to be disturbed? Even if it’s only for half an hour a day, those half-hours will start stacking up, and so will your word count.

Setting clear boundaries with your loved ones is essential when working on a big project!

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3. Turn off social media

There’s no point telling your family that the door is shut if you’re going to spend all your time behind that closed door frantically checking Twitter and replying to your favourite WhatsApp group chats. Put your phone on silent, don’t open your emails and try to resist the urge to start Googling things as you write – it’s all too easy to fall into an internet rabbit hole that way. You can always look up how to spell phenomenological later; for now, just fudge it and get those words down.

4. Recognise and reward the wins

Writing a thesis is really hard, even when there isn’t a global pandemic. You are doing an amazing job and you deserve to be rewarded. Sadly, most of the time, everyone else is too wrapped up in their own challenges to recognise how awesome you multi-tasking postgrad students are, which means you might need to reward yourself. And that’s just dandy, cos no one knows what you like better than you do! If you pass a milestone, no matter how small, book yourself a day off, buy your favourite cake, settle down with a novel and convince your other half to rub your feet. You’ve earned it.

Celebrating those wins along the way will help you eventually cross the finish line!

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5. Don’t expect the impossible 

It can be really tempting to start setting yourself huge targets: I’m going to write 2,000 words every single day without breaking a sweat. Sound familiar? The problem with these unrealistic targets is that if you can’t stick to them, you might start feeling discouraged, which makes it harder to come to your desk feeling positive and energised the next day. Plus, if you know you don’t have time for your 2,000 words that day, you might think well, there’s no point starting – I’ll begin tomorrow instead. You can see how this thinking can quickly lead to a week with no words written at all. Some of you might find it easier to set a time limit for each day instead or to think in terms of sections per week.

Do you have any tips for writing every day? Do let us know if so. And of course, once you’ve finished writing, you can always book us to proof-read your work so that you can be confident it’s as polished as it can be.

If you’d like to book PGPR to help you with your writing, just get in touch via the form below.

Client FAQs

As well as proof-reading, will you edit my work?

We will ensure that your work reads well and is in good English. Depending on the level of service you have paid for, we will also offer feedback on structure, methodology and analysis. However, we won’t change the meaning of your work or re-write any sections for you.

We’ll make sure your paper reads well and is in good English!

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How quickly will you return my work?

We will aim to get your work back to you as quickly as possible. We can usually proof-read 5,000 words per day, meaning a 15,000-word piece takes three days after we start.

Johanna often has a waiting list, so you might have to wait longer if you are specifically requesting to work with her.

We can work to your schedule; if you have some sections finished earlier than others, we can start work on those while you complete the rest of your thesis. Please note that we don’t book work in with a member of the team until we have a copy of that work.

Why can’t I book a slot before my piece is ready?

Postgrad work is unpredictable. It might take longer to recruit your participants than you had hoped. Your supervisor might go off sick. You might really need a break. For this reason, we no longer book clients in until their pieces are ready to go. This saves you having to feel stressed about a deadline that is no longer realistic and saves us reserving time for work which doesn’t materialise. We have a large enough team of experts that we can still offer quick turnaround times.

You’re already working to multiple deadlines, you don’t need to with us!

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What format should I send my work in?

Send your work to us in Word: either .doc or .docx. This is essential because we use Word’s track changes function to proof-read your work.

Why will you send me back two copies?

Many proof-reading services will only send you back one clean copy. You may feel that this approach would mean less work for you. However, since this is your project and is so crucial for you, we feel it’s important to offer you the chance to collaborate. Ultimately, it’s your choice whether to accept the changes we suggest. Including a copy with the track changes on it gives you the option to accept or reject those changes. The clean version means that if you are happy to trust our judgment, you can work with this version rather than going through the changes we’ve suggested.

What is included in the service?

We will proof-read your work and, depending on the level of service you are paying for, suggest feedback as well. See how it works for more detail about this. We are also happy to answer short questions via email and may, in certain circumstances, agree to brief video chats to talk through the work.

If you have booked a video consultation, we will spend an hour beforehand reading the work you have sent us, and then an hour talking it through with you online. If you need more time, that can be arranged with the team on a case by case basis.

PGPR is not a supervision service, so we cannot offer ongoing extended conversations about your work or emotional support for the ups and downs of postgrad life.

What if I need to cancel or change my VIDEO CONSULTATION timeslot?

If you need to cancel or change your video consultation, you need to give us 24 hours’ notice. Otherwise, your payment is non-refundable.

How can I pay?

You can pay via BACS transfer or Stripe. Please note that we do not accept PayPal.

If we are working on a larger piece, we will ask for a deposit of 50% before we commence work. We will send a second invoice for the balance once the work is done.

We are confident you will be happy with our work!

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What if I’m not satisfied?

For larger pieces, we will work on and return a small section to begin with. This gives you a chance to check that you are happy before we go any further. Working together in this way means you can let us know if there’s anything you would prefer us to do differently. However, we are so confident that you will be pleased with our work that we will not charge you for any completed sections if you are unhappy.

If you want to book PGPR to undertake some work for you, just fill in the form below.