Increasing rigor and reducing bias in qualitative research: A document analysis of parliamentary debates using applied thematic analysis

Penny Mackieson, Aron Shlonsky, Marie Connolly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Qualitative research methods have traditionally been criticised for lacking rigor, and impressionistic and biased results. Subsequently, as qualitative methods have been increasingly used in social work inquiry, efforts to address these criticisms have also increased. Applied thematic analysis provides structure and integrates reflexivity in qualitative research using textual data. In this article, we describe how applied thematic analysis was operationalised in a document analysis of the official records of parliamentary debates in the Australian State of Victoria relating to the introduction of Permanent Care Orders, an alternative to adoption for children residing out-of-home and unable to be safely reunified with their parents. We present this example to extend the knowledge base regarding applied thematic analysis and to demonstrate how step-by-step implementation of a purposeful methodology using trustworthy documentary data can effectively increase rigor and transparency, thereby reducing potential bias, in a qualitative analysis. First, we clarify key terms; then discuss the challenges of analysing textual data; consider the value of parliamentary debates as a textual data source; and provide a detailed description of the processes undertaken in the document analysis. Finally, we reflect on the application of applied thematic analysis in our study, highlighting its value in strengthening qualitative social work research using document analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)965-980
Number of pages16
JournalQualitative Social Work
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • applied thematic analysis
  • bias
  • document analysis
  • parliamentary debates
  • Qualitative research
  • rigor

Cite this