How to name themes for an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) research study

How do I name the themes for my IPA study?

How to go about naming themes in an IPA research study is a recurring topic across all channels. This article will review some of the useful advice on how to name or label themes derived from the IPA discussion forum over the past three years. Alongside this, you will find some additions from yours truly as I weigh in with my two pennyworths on the topic of developing high-quality theme titles for your IPA. I will also, of course, draw upon the guidance provided in the definitive texts for IPA on generating appropriate and superior quality theme labels, titles, or names – however you wish to describe them.

Acknowledgments and further reading

From the IPA discussion forum:

Two contributions on this topic from early 2023 come highly recommended as essential reading:

The first is from the wonderful Sheryl Chatfield (I am a huge fan of all Sheryl’s heavyweight, generous, and thoughtful contributions on all aspects of doing IPA), and the second is from the inimitable Dennis Nigbur (another notable and regular contributor of enormously useful and meticulous responses to questions from students).

I encourage you, in fact, I URGE you, to read both posts which can be accessed by logging onto the forum and searching for messages #12219 for Sheryl’s golden nuggets (posted 28.01.23) and #12238 to read Dennis’ pearls of wisdom (posted 03.02.23 with examples, I hasten to add!).

You can also read another helpful post on this topic from Dennis by searching for #11340.
Finally, as always, Mike Larkin has also contributed with value – see message #10528.

NOTE: If you do not know how to search the IPA discussion forum for #/message/post numbers, please see my article ‘Making the most of the IPA discussion forum: using the archive and search functions effectively’. See the section titled ‘Searching by message number’ where I outline how to perform a search using #message numbers and provide screen shots to help you master this skill.

IPA texts:

These are no-brainers, obviously – the first and second editions of ‘the book’ and the Smith and Nizza from 2021.

Smith, J.A., Flowers, P. & Larkin, M. (2009/2022). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method, Research (1st and 2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Smith, J.A., & Nizza, I.E. (2021). Essentials of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

What is in a (theme) name?

Naming themes for your IPA is a tricky business that requires considerable creativity and can take quite a bit of time to finalise. Generating good quality theme labels can be a demanding and complicated process, and this is quite normal in my experience, so please do not panic if you are finding it a knotty problem that is taking up a great deal of time.

Like so much in IPA analysis, coming up with compelling and comprehensive theme labels does not happen linearly, much as we would love it to. So, take your time, as you will need to sit with your data and dwell on it in order to come up with the optimal theme names that tell the reader a persuasive and evocative story about the experience in question.

Of course, theme names or labels or titles (however you wish to describe them, and please note that all terms will be used interchangeably throughout this article) will be data driven. This is regardless of whether they are for Personal Experiential Themes (PETs) or Group Experiential Themes (GETs) or the themes and/or sub-themes nested within your PETs and GETs.

Your main aim is to capture what is happening in the data within that particular theme, how participants are relating to that experience and thus how they are making sense of it.

In other words, the purpose of your study, the RQ, and your data and analysis will drive your theme titles to a large extent. Good quality theme labels will give the reader a clear indication and ‘heads up’ on the experiential content of the theme. Ideally, we want to pique our readers’ interest and catch their imagination with our theme names, while also conveying something of what the theme communicates about the experience in question and how participants are making sense of it.

Your analysis chapter or section is arguably the centerpiece of your study – it is likely to be the longest chapter and is perhaps the most important as you showcase your data here, give voice to your participants, and it provides the vehicle for your all-important interpretative analysis of the data.

As such, your experiential themes are without a doubt a critically important output derived from your analytic efforts, if not the most valuable and key product of your analysis. (And let’s not be shy about it, there is a lot of effort involved in squeezing out these golden nuggets in an IPA!).

It is often your theme titles that draw a reader into your analysis, and it could be these that stay with them beyond their reading of all your hard work if they are particularly evocative and resonant.

What are the general features of a good quality and compelling theme title?

They are DATA-DRIVEN (see above)

They are INTENTIONAL in that they reflect or tell us something about what the reader will find or discover in the theme. Put simply, the experiential content of the theme should ideally be seen in the theme title.

Theme labels should therefore tell the reader a story about the experience you are reporting on.

To do this, they need to be sufficiently evocative and clear so that they capture what is happening in the data that constitutes the theme and therefore what the theme represents in the context of the overall narrative of your findings.

This means that theme titles are likely to be PHRASES (as opposed to single words or single terms) that capture the experiential content of the theme and convey something of how that theme is experienced by participants, what their stance or orientation is towards it, and how they are making sense of it.

Dennis Nigbur gives some incredibly useful guidance in his highly recommended forum post (see #12238 for the full original – an absolute MUST read). He comments: ‘more fundamentally, though, such a theme name should provide an insightful answer to the question “What’s it like to live this experience?” (or something similar). In some ways, then, you can think of the theme names as answers to your research question(s), with each of them capturing an aspect of the experience’.

The label should reflect what the theme MEANS for participants, as opposed to just a category or a topic. Categories, topics, or very descriptive theme labels employing single words (e.g., a noun, like ‘threats’ or ‘difficulties’ etc) do not give sufficient information about what the theme addresses and do not give an indication of what the meaning of these things were for participants. Theme labels should tell a story about the lived experience you have examined, and this is going to be very difficult to achieve if you only employ single words.

They are expressed in an ACTIVE rather than a passive manner. This will help your theme titles reflect MEANING as opposed to simply categories or topics.

Smith et al. (2022, p.98) encourage us to employ active expressions of the experiential focus for a PET by using VERBS in our PET theme labels.

Sheryl gets more grammatically accurate in her post #12219 where she refers to the use of GERUNDS to suggest action, as per Charmaz (2009). My understanding of English grammar is that the term gerund (or even ‘present participle’) is technically grammatically correct, although please do not quote me on that as I am no expert. Regardless, I don’t think we need to call the grammar police on Smith et al. and I have written a little more on this (if you are interested) in the section below.

What is all the fuss about gerunds? Do I need to worry about the grammar police?

While I don’t want you to get hung up on the grammatical correctness of exactly which part of speech we are using to generate our theme titles, it might be of interest to understand where this guidance has originated. As mentioned above, Sheryl refers to the use of gerunds in her hugely helpful forum post on this topic (see #12219 for the original message) and notes that Charmaz discusses the use of gerunds when naming codes in a Grounded Theory analysis.

Of course, I immediately felt compelled to dive down the rabbit hole of gerund usage in GT, and I went back to the seminal text for Charmaz’s version of GT:
Charmaz, K. (2009). Constructing Grounded Theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage

For those of you that enjoy a little nerdery around this type of thing, Charmaz notes that Glaser in 1978 showed ‘how coding with gerunds helps you detect processes and stick to the data’ (p.49). She gives some examples and notes there is more of a sense of action when employing gerunds and that using nouns is likely to ‘turn…action[s] into topics’.

Given that we want to avoid ‘topics’ and ‘categories’ for our IPA theme labels and ideally want to focus on the experiential content and meaning of our themes, it makes sense that employing gerunds and generating a sense of action is going to be way more effective as a naming strategy for our PETs and GETs. Charmaz makes the clear point that gerunds ‘nudge out of static topics and into enacted processes [for a GT]’ (p.136). This enables us to move beyond categorisation, something that is essential for our IPA theme titles.

What do the ‘IPA dons’ say about naming themes?

Your first port of call for all things IPA should always obviously be the Smith, Flowers, and Larkin (2022) – this is the authoritative account to consult. The relevant sections can be found on pages 93-99 for PETs and pages 100-104 for GETs.

Naming PETS

When naming PETs, Smith et al. encourage us to give clusters of experiential statements (ES) (i.e., our PETs) a title that ‘describes its [the cluster’s] characteristics’ (2022, p.94). In other words, PET names or labels will be data and cluster driven and, in my experience, tend to develop organically as you sit with and dwell upon your analysis of the data. In summary, we bring the ES together in clusters, and from that clustering process we develop a PET label/title/name that represents the ES within the PET in a higher order and more abstracted sense.

This process of naming your PETs often requires considerable time, reflection, and discussion with others before you settle on a way of best representing the patterns of meaning in the data. BUT given that the level of PETs is for the single case, my advice is not to get too hung up on getting it perfect as things will inevitably change when you go to the cross-case analysis for the entire data set.

Naming GETs

GETs are likely to be ‘scaled up versions of your earlier PETs’ (Smith et al., 2022, p.100) and/or ‘new latent entities within many of the individual cases but only salient when seen across the contributing cases’ (p.100). The advice in the second edition is simply ‘develop labels’ (p.101) as you did for your PETs. Smith et al. do note, however, that we must ‘choose a label that captures each GET overall’ (2022, p.101) with the same advice for any themes/sub-themes nested within that GET.

In the example of analysis presented in the second edition, the authors note that their GET labels are very similar to their PET labels (p.104). This may in part be due to the fact that their sample for this example analysis was small at just three participants.

Arguably, it is likely that the larger your sample and therefore the greater the number of participants contributing ‘evidence’ to each GET and theme within it, the more abstracted or synthesised your GET label will be in comparison to your PET labels across the individual case level summaries. You will most likely have to abstract to a higher level under these circumstances so that you can capture or encapsulate what is universal and/or reflects the shared features of the experience among a larger number of participants whilst still telling a story about the experiential content of the theme.

What about the first edition? Is there anything useful in there?

Yes! See pages 96-99. While this section primarily covers the clustering process in more detail than the second edition, it is helpful as it also considers the naming of the clusters which would be referred to as PETs these days.

What do Smith and Nizza say about naming themes?

Smith and Nizza, (2021) focus on PETs over GETs when it comes to guidance on naming themes. They describe the title for each PET as: ‘an expression of the convergence as the ES are bought together’ (p. 45). In other words, the PET label should encapsulate the main notion or idea expressed by the ES clustered together in the PET. They note that this process is data driven and will very much depend on the experiential content of the ES that make up the PET, much as we have already discussed at length in this article.

They do suggest a helpful way to consider how we name our PETs in relation to the overall aim of analysis. They state clearly that our overall aim is to recount a detailed narrative of ‘the three to five most important things we have learned about how the participant experienced the phenomenon under investigation. These most important things are the PETs.’ (2021, p. 47). Thus, your PET labels should convey these ‘most important things that we have learned’ and tell the story of the experience while also answering the research question.

In my humble opinion, if you keep this in the forefront of your mind when naming your themes, you won’t go far wrong.

How to generate good quality theme names/labels/titles – dos and don’ts

DO express your theme titles in an active manner, employing phrases that incorporate verbs/gerunds to reflect meaning and the experiential content of the theme.

DON’T use theme names that are simply categories or topics, often expressed in single words/nouns. If you have inadvertently come up with a category or topic, then ask yourself ‘what is it about X or Y that featured in my participants lived experience and how can I express that more actively with an emphasis on meaning and sense making?’

DO be as creative as you can – naming your themes presents a great opportunity to unleash your imagination and originality. Remember that there is no IPA without the I and we can really express our interpretative flair in our theme labels. Bear in mind that the fundamental tenet of naming themes is that we want to engage our readers. We want to resonate with them and/or touch them emotionally and/or intrigue them and/or pique their interest and pull them in – an effective and compelling theme label can help do that.

DON’T worry if you are struggling. Naming themes is difficult and doesn’t play out linearly. Rarely does one come to the end of the process of clustering a GET or PET and magically come up with a perfect name or label for it. It takes time and sitting with or dwelling with the data in the theme and what the theme means to come up with an effective name or label. And these may change over time – what seemed right at the point of clustering may not feel right when you develop the theme as you write up your narrative account for your thesis. Naming your themes is yet another iterative process in our IPA analysis that requires time and thought to execute.

DO understand that there will very likely be a difference between the ease with which you come up with your theme titles for a PET and for a GET. PETs are arguably easier to name in principle as you only have one person’s experience to capture in the label. Dennis Nigbur deconstructs the theme titles for a single case analysis in his forum post #12238 and you are advised to read this helpful example.

See below for some further examples from the literature deconstructed by yours truly to help you develop a good understanding of what could be evaluated as a ‘good’ theme title.

DON’T worry if you find GETs more complicated to name – they are! This is generally because you are incorporating data from a range of participants within a GET. As a result, GET theme labels are likely to be more abstracted and yet still need to be sufficiently grounded in the data so that they tell us something useful about what is in the theme.

Coming up with a compelling title for your GET will involve summarising and drawing together what the theme covers, experientially speaking, so that the GET title indicates or points to something that is universal and/or central among the experience of the participants that contributed to the theme. This is not always easy, and it can take much more time to formulate a powerful and evocative GET title than a PET title, which is arguably more straightforward. Once again, Dennis Nigbur illustrates an informative example of GET titles in his forum post #12238 and you are advised to read this.

See below for more deconstructed examples from the literature, focusing on GETs and the themes within GETs to help you critically evaluate your own GET and theme titles.

DO follow Dennis Nigbur’s helpful advice on naming your GETs that can be found in message #11340 posted on 17.02.22. Dennis advises starting with naming the subordinate themes that are nested within your GET (NOTE: we might call these sub-themes or even just themes – it depends on personal preference which term we use for the themes nested within our GETs). Once you have these named, it will most likely be easier to come up with your overarching GET title in a way that is ‘descriptive, interpretative and insightful’ (Nigbur, #11340).

In other words, naming your sub-themes first gives ‘a solid starting point’ or springboard from which you can formulate an effective umbrella title for the GET that encapsulates the experiential content of all your constituent sub-themes at a higher level of abstraction.

DON’T feel under pressure to use quotes from your data in your GET theme titles – you may not find this approach works for your data and that is ok! Employing participants’ own words or short quotes in theme titles has advantages and disadvantages.

Dennis Nigbur has some useful advice on this aspect of naming themes in his forum post #11149 from 14.12.21: ‘The danger is that [using] a good quotation from one participant may tempt you (or the reader) to project their sense-making onto the others. You just have to be careful to avoid this. If you can, then you can probably go ahead’.

I consider this to be very sage advice.

Essentially, there are two competing arguments around employing this practice of incorporating quotes into GET theme titles: firstly, that employing direct quotes is advocated as they capture participants’ experience in their own words and stay close to the data. The counter argument is that the use of individual quotes may constrain the theme by misguidedly imposing one participant’s experience onto everyone. This argument holds that GET titles should be more interpretative and abstract as opposed to being tied so closely to one individual.

However, if the quote you elect to use does represent or apply to all the experiential content of the theme and can extend the theme title in a useful way for the reader, then by all means go for it. Quotes can be super effective in generating compelling and interesting theme titles that will draw the reader into the analysis. They can also flesh out theme titles in a way that raises the level beyond simple categories and topics, pointing to the experiential content of the theme more successfully. See some of the deconstructed theme titles from the literature at the end of this article for more examples of how this can work well.

Braun and Clarke (2013, p.258) also have something useful to say on this topic. They note that sometimes ‘a direct quote from the data can capture this [both the content and the analysts take on a theme] perfectly, because it provides an immediate and vivid sense of what a theme is about, while staying close to participants’ language and concepts’. However, they caveat this with the potential requirement for a subtitle to supplement a brief data quote as a theme label to ‘signal the analytic scope’ (p.258). So, they seem to be suggesting, as mentioned earlier, that caution and care need to be taken when employing this approach, particularly for an analysis of multiple cases, due to the danger of potentially trying to squeeze a diversity of perspectives into a theme name using a quote from only one individual.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful Qualitative Research: a practical guide for beginners. London: Sage

DO use participant’s own words in the form of ‘soundbites’ or short quotes in PET titles within a case level summary or in theme titles for a single case study. This is likely to be much easier at the level of the single case as we avoid the danger of forcing multiple participants’ experiential content under the umbrella of a quote from a single individual.

This approach can be a really effective way of generating striking and compelling theme labels that take advantage of the double hermeneutic, as Dennis Nigbur outlines in his message #12238: ‘This [using quotes] makes sense [for a single case study] because it exploits IPA’s double hermeneutic: The participant has used these expressions to make sense of her experience, so the researcher can use them to make sense of the participant’s understanding […] It shows that the analysis is clearly grounded in the participant’s perspective’.

Dennis also makes the cautionary point that we may be constrained by our data and ‘not all interviews are as rich in soundbites’ nor is it ‘obligatory or universal to use the participant’s own words in theme names’ (Nigbur, #12238).

In summary, we can only do what we can do with our data, so try to avoid squeezing quotes that are not suitable or up to the job of describing or encapsulating the experiential content of a theme into the theme title.

DO bear in mind that GET and theme names/titles should always be held lightly as nothing is finalised in the analytic procedure for IPA until the process of writing up the narrative account of your analysis is underway. The fine tuning of GET and theme names/titles/labels is likely to occur at the point of writing as this is often where most of the interpretative depth is developed.

In addition, it is at this point that we may start showing our analysis to others (e.g., our supervisor or our local IPA group) to get feedback on the structure and comprehensibility as we start to firm it up for submission. This process can also be invaluable in checking that our GET/theme labels are truly representative of the experiential content within them and really capture a flavour of what the theme contains and the story it is trying to convey.

Developing your critical eye: deconstructing theme titles in some exemplar IPA studies

In this section, I have attempted to deconstruct the theme titles from a selection of IPA studies. My aim is to help you develop a ‘critical eye’ for this area so that you can harness this knowledge to help you formulate your theme titles more easily and effectively.

Please note that all the papers I have drawn upon are taken from the list of exemplars that can be found in the appendix of Smith and Nizza (2021).


Huff, J.L., Smith, J.A., Jesiek, B.K., Zoltowski, C.B. & Oakes, W.C. (2018). Identity in Engineering Adulthood: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Early-Career Engineers in the United States as They Transition to the Workplace. Emerging Adulthood, 1-17

Theme 1: Embracing the Career Identity of an Engineer—Feeling the Distinct Shift to Adulthood as Engineers
Theme 2: “After 5 O’clock, It Gets to Be Me”— Developing Identities In and Out of the Engineering Context
Theme 3: Finding Tension Between the Engineering Identity and Family Roles

This study usefully employs gerunds to generate titles for themes 1 and 3. These theme titles give a distinct flavour of participants’ sense making that is outlined in both themes, how they relate to the phenomenon in question – their developing identity as they take up their first job in engineering. As such, the titles for themes 1 and 3 could be argued to represent active descriptions of what is to come due to the use of gerunds and this effectively captures the experiential claims of the sample in a nutshell for the reader as well as participants’ stance or orientation towards the phenomenon.

Theme 2 cleverly incorporates a ‘soundbite’ or very brief quote from one participant that is representative of the theme in addition to a gerund. As such the quote exemplifies a valuable addition to the theme label as it enhances our understanding of what is to come, setting the scene for the reader.

These theme titles are obviously focused around the central phenomenon of identity. Each addresses a different facet of the phenomenon through the effective use of gerunds to suggest an active and dynamic understanding of the process of professional identity formation in early career engineers. In this way, the theme titles taken together as a whole tell a clear story about this experience or process as participants transition and develop their identity as an engineer.


Holland, F., Archer, S. & Peterson, K. (2018). Thresholds of size: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of childhood messages around food, body, health and weight. Journal of Critical Dietetics, 4(1), 25-36

Theme 1: Family Culture and body norms: ‘I had these models of women who were at war with their own physical selves’
Theme 2: Thresholds of size: ‘I just remember feeling like my body was too big’.
Theme 3: Action and outcome: ‘So here came the diets’

What we see here are theme labels that could be argued to be simply ‘categories’, however, they are enhanced and uplevelled through the addition of the ‘soundbites’ tacked onto them. These are in the form of very short, direct quotes from participants that are derived from the analysis. The judicious inclusion of these additional elements raises the level of the theme names, giving a much-improved sense of the themes’ interpretative meaning.

As such, they serve to enhance our understanding of what the theme will convey by harnessing the words of participants in an evocative and effective manner, giving a sense of their orientation and stance in relation to these themes. Without the addition of these ‘extras’ I think the theme labels would have been too descriptive and representative only of categories which would have added significantly less value.

Again, the theme labels are centred around the main object of concern for the study, that of childhood messages around food, body, health, and weight. The themes take on what could be described as a taxonomy, outlining the upcoming exploration of different components of participants’ experiences of these messages. Notice also how the theme titles tell a story about the experience when taken together and how this answers the research question of how participants experienced the childhood messages in question.


Nizza, I.E., Smith, J.A., & Kirkham, J.A. (2018). ‘Put the illness in a box’: a longitudinal interpretative phenomenological analysis of changes in a sufferer’s pictorial representations of pain following participation in a pain management programme. British Journal of Pain, 12(3) 163–170.

Time 1: 2 months before the PMP (pain management programme) – crushed, overwhelmed and isolated
Time 2: 1 month after the PMP – taking ownership of pain
Time 3: 6 months after the PMP – the perils of normality

This is a LIPA case study of a single individual: ‘Jane’

These theme titles are quite brief and succinct, but nonetheless they give a good sense of the meaning of the experience that is captured within the three themes. Notice the use of three evocative words for Time 1 – these words conjure up a powerful image of where Jane was at the point of referral to the PMP.

Time 2 employs a gerund, and this short, active, and dynamic phrase neatly captures and conveys where Jane finds herself after a month of the PMP.

Time 3 is again evocative and redolent of where Jane has ended up once the programme is over, and she has resumed ‘normal’ life. The choice of vocabulary gives a strong indication and sense that Jane’s new ‘normality’ is not unproblematic.

All in all, these are very effective theme labels that meet all the criteria discussed while still being concise and succinct.

These theme labels are clearly focused upon the stages within a temporal process experienced by Jane in relation to her pain, her PMP and its outcome. In this manner, they convey a clear story as they chronicle Jane’s experience across the intervention.


Dwyer, A., Heary, C., Ward, M., & MacNeela, P. (2017). Adding insult to brain injury: young adults’ experiences of residing in nursing homes following acquired brain injury, Disability and Rehabilitation, DOI: 10.1080/09638288.2017.1370732

GET title: Existential prison of the nursing home: stagnated lives:
Theme 1: I don’t belong here: living in god’s waiting room
Theme 2: Confinement and punishment: What have I done wrong?
Theme 3: Institutional life: disempowerment and dehumanisation
Theme 4: Battling the emptiness: meaningful connection and meaningful lives
Theme 5: Rehabilitation: the key to freedom and the hoped-for self

Starting with the overarching GET title, we can see how this conjures up an evocative sense of what it is like for participants to be ‘incarcerated’ in the ‘existential prison of the nursing home’ and experiencing ‘stagnated lives’. This relatively succinct phrase invokes a powerfully resonant image of this experience for participants even before we have launched into the analysis! As such, it is a high-quality scene-setter, skilfully capturing/encapsulating the experiential content of the GET.

All the subsequent theme labels include some articulation of participants’ sense-making, providing the reader with a compelling and persuasive indication of what each theme means to participants and thus how they relate to the experience. In this way, they are very evocative and powerful in ‘craft[ing] a binding narrative’ (Smith et al., 2022, p. 151) alongside the analysis itself – they outline a truly compelling and haunting story of this experience for participants. As such, they add to, and really enhance, the analysis and make a robust contribution to our understanding of each theme.

Notice the use of gerunds for the more ‘active’ theme labels: ‘living in god’s waiting room’ and ‘battling the emptiness’. These are very effective in giving a flavour of how participants are experiencing their time living in a care home with ABI. The remaining theme titles are arguably more descriptive; however, they employ evocative language/terms that nonetheless provide a powerful sense of what is going on in the theme and how participants are making sense of their experience. These theme labels clearly demonstrate what can be done with a judicious and creative choice of language in naming our themes.

The theme titles are very clearly all centred around the key idea encapsulated in the GET title – that participants’ experience their time in the care home as being imprisoned and how this was lived and made sense of the same and yet differently by all. Again, when taken as a whole, the theme titles arguably provide a strong narrative account that chronicles the various facets of the experiential content of the GET.


Dickson, A., Knussen, C., & Flowers, P. (2008). ‘That was my old life; it’s almost like a past-life now’: Identity crisis, loss and adjustment amongst people living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Psychology & Health, 23(4), 459-476.

Theme 1: Identity crisis: Agency and embodiment
Theme 2: Scepticism and the self
Theme 3: Acceptance, adjustment and coping

You will notice that the GET/theme titles are relatively short for this analysis – I believe this is partly due to the age of the publication (2008 as opposed to in the last decade) and we would see something slightly more active/dynamic now, perhaps expressed as phrases. Nonetheless, these theme labels still convey a sense of how participants are relating to the phenomenon, their experience of CFS, and in this way they successfully contribute to our understanding of the analysis.

Perhaps they could be extended to provide more of a sense of how participants are relating to their experience and making sense of it. For example, what is it about agency and embodiment that featured in participants’ identity crisis? Could a brief addition incorporated into the current theme title capture more of the sense making involved and thus add to our understanding of what the theme conveys? Could the judicious use of a gerund better express what this theme captures experientially?

What is it about scepticism and the self that is featured in or facilitating participants’ meaning making? The addition of more (albeit brief) active information (e.g., perhaps using a gerund here) could help flesh out the theme title and provide more of an understanding of what the theme encapsulates about the experience.

Finally, how do acceptance, adjustment and coping relate to participants sense making of their experience? A little more detail, perhaps via the incorporation of a gerund, could usefully enliven this theme title for the reader and give more of an indication of how they are relating to the experience in these ways.

Regardless of the brief nature of these theme titles, when taken together they still nonetheless give a sense of the story behind the experience.


Phew! This has turned into a bit of a monster at nearly six thousand words after my initial worries that I wouldn’t have much to say on the topic of naming themes!

I do hope this is useful as you wade your way through your analysis and need to formulate your theme titles while pulling it all together.

If you would like to access further expert guidance and in-depth tutoring in a small group setting on how to conduct your IPA analysis and write up a compelling and persuasive narrative account for your thesis, please do consider attending one of my IPA workshops. There are two workshops devoted to the analytic process for IPA and more details can be found on the workshop page of this website.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Dennis Nigbur and Sheryl Chatfield for their hugely useful contributions to the IPA discussion forum on this topic. Both of their 2023 posts were the springboard for this article and really provided the impetus and stimulation for me to get around to writing it. This topic has been on my ‘content to be created’ list for some time, and both Sheryl’s and Dennis’ thoughtful and considered responses (which I recommend as core reading on this process of naming themes) re-ignited my interest and roused and inspired my effort.

My final words are that the process of formulating good quality theme titles (or labels or names, whatever you want to call them), takes time and reflection and this is entirely normal in my experience. So, carve out the time, try not to fret about getting it ‘right’, and draw on the IPA community and your study buddy to help you come up with the best that you can.

Wishing you all the best with naming your precious themes!

Copyright © 2023-24 Dr Elena Gil-Rodriguez

These works are protected by copyright laws and treaties around the world. Dr Elena GR grants to you a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, revocable licence to view these works, to copy and store these works and to print pages of these works for your own personal and non-commercial use. You may not reproduce in any format any part of the works without my prior written consent. Distributing this material in any form without permission violates my rights – please respect them.


The information contained in this article or any other content on this website is provided for information and guidance purposes only and is based on Dr Elena GR’s experience in teaching, conducting, and supervising IPA research projects.
All such content is intended for information and guidance purposes only and is not meant to replace or supersede your supervisory advice/guidance or institutional and programme requirements, and are not intended to be the sole source of information or guidance upon which you rely for your research study.
You must obtain supervisory and institutional advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of my guidance and/or content and materials.
Dr Gil-Rodriguez disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed upon any of the contents of my website or associated content/materials.
Finally, please note that the use of my content/materials does not guarantee any particular grade for your work.

You may also like…