Content analysis

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Content analysis is a research method in the social sciences used to reduce large amounts of unstructured textual content into manageable data relevant to the (evaluation) research questions.

Texts refer to any occurrence of communications - including websites, social media, books, essays, interviews, focus groups, diaries, discussions, articles, speeches, conversations, advertising, theatre, informal conversation, and so on. To conduct a content analysis on any such text, the text is broken down into manageable categories on a variety of levels (ie, keywords, word sense, phrase, sentence, or theme) and coded. The coded content can then be quantitatively analyzed for trends, patterns, relationships, similarities, differences etc., from which researchers can get insights and make inferences about the messages within the texts, the writer(s) and the context.

Content analysis uses thematic coding in order to perform a quantitative analysis of particular occurrences of themes in an unstructured text. The coding schedule consists of a table in which each row is a unit for which data is being collected. Each column is a dimension or theme to be analyzed, according to the evaluation questions. Elements of the content are described and organized using these categories. This process is called 'coding' and can enable more efficient sorting and retrieval of data, particularly with the aid of appropriate software. Interpretation of the data may be based on:

  • frequency of occurrences (e.g. in different samples, or at different times)
  • patterns of co-occurrence (e.g. ‘Boolean operators’, cluster analysis)
  • sequence of occurrences.

Sources

Busch C, De Maret P S, Flynn T, Kellum R, Le, Brad Meyers S, Saunders M, White R, and Palmquist M. (2005). Content Analysis. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University Department of English. Retrieved from https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=61

Power Point Presentation (2007) Introduction to qualitative analysis, Lecture from Psychology course. Retrieved from www.psychology.soton.ac.uk/researchmethods/lectures/media/2007-10-29/qual_lecture3.ppt

List D (2012) Know Your Audience Chapter 16? Audience Dialogue Website. Retrieved from http://www.audiencedialogue.net/kya16a.html (archive link)

'Content analysis' is referenced in: