The new terminology for Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) data analysis: what is it all about?

This article explores the new terminology for the analytic process in IPA that was recently introduced in the second edition of Smith, Flowers and Larkin (2022).

While this is an exciting new development in IPA, you may be feeling discombobulated by what it all means for you and your IPA study.

What are the differences in the new IPA terminology?

The main difference is really how things are labelled – it is primarily a semantic change, and the actual analytic process is pretty much the same as ever.

The new terminology of formulating experiential statements (ES) rather than developing emergent themes (ET) feels (for me) an improved description of what we are trying to achieve in this step or stage of the analytic process.

My hope is that this will help guide students better towards the ultimate aim of IPA and its close examination of personal lived experience.

Experiential statements or ES are then clustered to form a Personal Experiential Theme (PET), a nomenclature that once again seems to better characterise what these represent, particularly for the novice IPA-er. It seems to me to emphasise IPA’s focus on experience in a more precise way than the previous, rather more generic label of emergent theme (ET).

Once we have gone cross-case (if we have more than one case), we then develop Group Experiential Themes (GETs) from our PETs, and these GETs are probably equivalent to what used to be termed Master or Super-Ordinate Themes (SOTs). Once again, we can see the more clearly defined focus on the experiential in the new term for this level of analysis.

Should I use this new terminology or stick with the old?

Smith and Nizza (2021) and Smith et al. (2022) advise employing the new terminology from the start if you are new to IPA.

However, if you are some way into your study, it is up to you (probably in conjunction with your supervisor) to decide whether to stick with the old or usher in the new – just ensure that you are consistent, whatever you decide.

Prof Smith and other ‘big names’ like Mike Larkin have noted that they expect both sets of terminology to continue to be used for some time as we all adjust to the switch.

This, of course, makes perfect sense but it may be worth learning about the old terminology if you are new to IPA as much of the hugely informative and useful older literature will of course still refer to the old terms.

A quick comparison of old and new terms to clarify

BEFORENOW
Exploratory codingExploratory noting
Identification and organisation of initial emergent themes (ET)Formulation and organisation of experiential statements (ES)
Searching for connections across emergent themes and clusteringClustering ES to form personal experiential themes (PETs)
An iterative process of refining clusters and mapping the single caseAn iterative process of refining clusters and mapping the single case
Tabulating the final gestalt or frame/structure for the caseTabulating the final arrangement of PETs in a case level summary
GOING CROSS-CASE:
Review theme tables looking for themes that cut across cases
GOING CROSS-CASE:
Review case level summaries looking for themes that cut across cases
Cluster cross-case themes into Super-Ordinate Themes (SOTs) and tabulateCluster cross-case PETs into Group Experiential Themes (GETs) and tabulate
Construct a written narrative account of the findings for your thesisConstruct a written narrative account of the findings for your thesis

An overview from ‘the maestro’ aka Mike Larkin

Mike Larkin has added yet another hugely helpful and informative video to his IPA Community YouTube channel that specifically addresses the new terminology. It gives a 10-minute overview of the process of IPA data analysis employing the new terminology.

There is also an accompanying document that tabulates the process of IPA analysis while employing the new terminology and goes into greater detail than I have here.

You can view the video here and download the document from here.

I cannot recommend these materials enough – this is an absolute MUST VIEW for all IPA students regardless of where you are in your research journey!

Final words: do not panic!

Please try not to freak out over this new terminology and what it all means for you and your IPA.

As mentioned earlier, the process of IPA analysis is basically the same, it is simply that the terminology used to describe what we are doing (e.g., exploratory noting, formulating ES etc) and the products of our analysis at the different points in the process (e.g., ES, PETs and GETs) have changed.

In my very humble opinion, this is all good and the new terms seem to be a much-improved descriptor of what we are actually trying to achieve with our IPA analysis.

References:

Smith, J.A., Flowers, P. & Larkin, M. (2009) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method, Research. London: Sage for the old terminology (obvs)

Smith, J.A., Flowers, P. & Larkin, M. (2022). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method, Research (2nd ed.). London: Sage for the new terminology

Larkin, M., Dec 1, 2021, IPA community: overall process of analysis [Video] YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yUCTkvZRxQ&ab_channel=MichaelL MUST VIEW!

Wishing you all the best with your IPA!
Until next time,
Elena

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