Content Analysis

"...Content analysis is a research method used for making replicable and valid inferences from data to their context, with the purpose of providing knowledge, a representation of facts , new insights, and a practical guide to action." — Krippendorff, 1980

Definition


Content analysis is a method to collect and organize information in a standardized format that enables researchers to make inferences about the characteristics and meaning of texts and other recorded material in an objective manner[1] .

The classic formula for content analysis is: WHO says WHAT in WHICH CHANNEL to WHOM with WHAT EFFECT[2] ? The formula, created by communication theorist Dr. Lasswell, simplifies the main components found in communication. In the formula WHO is the communicator; WHAT is the message; WHICH CHANNEL describes the medium of the message; WHOM is the receiver; and WHAT EFFECT is the effect the message will have on the receiver and other populations.
Figure 1 Content Analysis.jpg[3]

Figure 1 is a visual representation of Dr. Lasswell's formula for content analysis and demonstrates the position of the researcher ("content analyst") when using this method.

Relevant Characteristics


Content analysis is broadly described as a method where the content of a message forms the basis for drawing inferences and conclusions about its content[4] . It is also described as the scientific study of content with reference to meanings, contexts, and intentions. Hence, it is an unobtrusive and non-reactive method. Additionally, content analysis can be used to study changing trends in theoretical content and methodological approaches in a discipline.

Content analysis establishes the existence and frequency of categories in a text while relational analysis builds onto conceptual analysis by examining the relationships among the categories in a text[5] . With this said, content analysis is not simply counting the frequency of appearance in a text of words, phrases, or themes.

The material for content analysis can be books, book chapters, essays, interviews, discussions, newspaper headlines and articles, historical documents, speeches, conversations, advertising, theater, informal conversation, journals, magazines,literature, radio messages and commercials, television commercials, and videos. The method has evolved to analyzing social media posts, statuses. and tweets on Facebook and Twitter. Overall, content analysis can be used on any form of communication.

When using content analysis it is important for the researcher to make a clear research question or objective in order to ensure focus on specific, relevant aspects of the content[6] . Sampling techniques will differ depending upon what source material is used. Usually in content analysis, samples are based on a specific topic and time period.

Content categories are another relevant characteristic of content analysis. Content categories are used to frame units of content which then coded for analysis. Content categories are created in response to the question: what classification would most efficiently yield the data needed to answer the research questions raised [7] ? Content categories must be mutually exclusive, meaning a word, sentence, or phrase must belong to only one category. Hence, content categories must be thoroughly defined; although a miscellaneous category may be added for uncodable context.

Content Analysis "Made Easy"


To conduct a content analysis on a text or other recorded material, the researcher will code the text into a variety of categories (such as word, word sense, phrase, sentence, or theme) and then examine the categories using either conceptual analysis or relational analysis (see “Analysis” below). Finally, the results are used to make inferences about the messages within the text(s)[8] .

  1. Formulate research question or objectives
  2. Select text, content, or digital media
  3. Develop content categories
  4. Finalize units of analysis
  5. Prepare a coding schedule, pilot test and check intercoder reliabilities
  6. Analyze the collected data

Advantages


  • Unobtrusive
  • Used to interpret texts for a wide range of purposes and in a variety of disciplines
  • Context-sensitive
  • Ability to make quantitative data from qualitative materials
  • Minimum monetary investment (inexpensive)
  • Analyze large bodies of text
  • Provide valuable historical/cultural insight over time

Disadvantages


  • Inferences are limited to the content of the text
  • No guarantee that the sender or receiver shares the same attributed meaning by researcher
  • May fail to capture the meaning or significance of symbols
  • Researchers may have conflicting understandings of the content
  • Reductive when dealing with complex texts

Analysis


Content analysis can be split into two general categories: conceptual analysis and relational analysis.

Conceptual analysis is used when a researcher chooses a concept from a text to examine and look at the frequency of the concept within the text. Conceptual analysis allows the researcher to examine groups of words as they relate to a specific concept[9] . To conduct conceptual analysis, the researcher will examine all content related to a specific concept within a text, quantify the frequency of the concept’s occurrence and then derive meaning from the frequency with respect to the research objective.

Relational analysis is considered the “next step” to conceptual analysis because it examines the relationships between different concepts identified within a text. Relational analysis attempts to find meaningful or semantic relationships between the occurrence of concepts[10] . Relational analysis can be conducted between two concepts or as many concepts the researcher desires. Using relational analysis allows the researcher to have both qualitative and quantitative data.

Method in Context



Content analysis was first used in the fields of social science, political science, and communication. Later, content analysis was significantly developed as a scientific method during World War II when the U.S. government evaluated enemy propaganda. The principal investigator, Harold Lasswell, published Language of Politics which is considered a classic text for content analysis. Content analysis then became popularized as a research method in 1952 by behavioral scientist Bernard Berelson in his book Content Analysis in Communication Research. Klaus Krippendorff contributed to the method of content analysis with his books The Content Analysis Reader and Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology. In these books, he outlined six questions that every content analysis must address [11]
  • Which data are analysed?
  • How are they defined?
  • What is the population from which they are drawn?
  • What is the context relative to which the data are analysed?
  • What are the boundaries of the analysis?
  • What is the target of the inferences?

Anthropologists have used content analysis to understand how race and ethnicity have been used in medical anthropological research. Debates as to whether or not race is the product of biology or whether it is a social construct are important for understanding the sources of health disparities and for making sense of the research that explores the roots of these disparities. Anthropologists such as Gravlee and Sweet use content analysis to not only understand how these concepts have been used, but also to demonstrate ways in which medical anthropologists can contribute to debates about the true nature of racial and ethnic health inequities [12] . Content analysis is important for anthropologists because it is a tool for understanding the myriad ways in which anthropological research defines the content of its studies, uses language to communicate findings, and recommends future directions for research. Additionally, Gravlee and Sweet note that some of the earliest examinations of race and ethnicity were in anthropological research [13] . They allow that this recognition of anthropologists' expertise is rare and places the discipline in a unique position to influence theoretical and practical debates on this issue.

Today, the method is used by many researchers in a range of disciplines such as marketing and media studies, literature and rhetoric, anthropology and cultural studies, gender and age issues, sociology and political science, psychology and cognitive science, history, and environmental science.

Online Resources


A Practical Introduction to Content Analysis from Western University


Constructions of Risk in News Reporting about Herbal Medicine: A Content Analysis of Mainstream Australian Newspapers


A Writing Guide to Content Analysis from Colorado State University: http://edu-net.net/bus-writing/writing/guides/research/content/index-2.html

Further Readings


Gabaccia, D. R. (2010). Nations of immigrants: Do words matter?. Pluralist, 5(3), 5-31.

Gravlee, C. C., & Sweet, E. (2008). Race, ethnicity, and racism in medical anthropology, 1977-2002. Medical anthropology quarterly, 22(1), 27-51.

Krippendorff, K. (2012). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology (3nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Stojanowski, C. M. and Buikstra, J.E. (2005) Research trends in human osteology: A content analysis of papers published in the american journal of physical anthropology. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 128, 98–109. Retrieved from http://www.mendeley.com/catalog/research-trends-human-osteology-content-analysis-papers-published-american-journal-physical-anthropo/

Spitulnik, D. (1993). Anthropology and mass media. Annual review of anthropology,22, 293-315. Retrieved from http://anthropology.emory.edu/FACULTY/Spitulnik/ANTDS/Spitulnik93MediaAnthro.pdf

Sobo, E., Herlihy & Bicker, M, E. (2011) Selling medical travel to US patient consumers:the cultural appeal of website marketing messages. Anthropology & Medicine, 18:1, 119-136.

Thomas, S. (1994). Artifactual study in the analysis of culture: A defense of content analysis in a postmodern age. Communication research, 21(6), 683-697. Retrieved from http://crx.sagepub.com/content/21/6/683.full.pdf+html

References


  1. ^ United States General Accounting Office. (1989). Content analysis: A methodology for structuring and analyzing written material. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  2. ^ Prasad, D. B. (2008). Content analysis: A method in social science research. In Research methods for social work (10). Retrieved from http://www.css.ac.in/download/deviprasad/content%20analysis.%20a%20method%20of%20social%20science%20research.pdf
  3. ^ Prasad, D. B. (2008). Content analysis: A method in social science research. In Research methods for social work (10). Retrieved from http://www.css.ac.in/download/deviprasad/content%20analysis.%20a%20method%20of%20social%20science%20research.pdf
  4. ^ Prasad, D. B. (2008). Content analysis: A method in social science research. In
    Research methods for social work (10). Retrieved from http://www.css.ac.in/download/deviprasad/content%20analysis.%20a%20method%20of%20social%20science%20research.pdf
  5. ^ Palmquist, M. (1980). Content analysis. In Research methods in librarianship: Techniques and interpretations. Retrieved from http://www.gslis.utexas.edu/~palmquis/courses/content.html
  6. ^ United States General Accounting Office. (1989). Content analysis: A methodology for structuring and analyzing written material. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  7. ^ Palmquist, M. (1980). Content analysis. In Research methods in librarianship: Techniques and interpretations. Retrieved from http://www.gslis.utexas.edu/~palmquis/courses/content.html
  8. ^ United States General Accounting Office. (1989). Content analysis: A methodology for structuring and analyzing written material. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  9. ^ Palmquist, M. (1980). Content analysis. In Research methods in librarianship: Techniques and interpretations. Retrieved from http://www.gslis.utexas.edu/~palmquis/courses/content.html
  10. ^ Prasad, D. B. (2008). Content analysis: A method in social science research. In
    Research methods for social work(10). Retrieved from http://www.css.ac.in/download/deviprasad/content%20analysis.%20a%20method%20of%20social%20science%20research.pdf
  11. ^ Krippendorff, K. (2012). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology (3nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  12. ^ Gravlee, C. C., & Sweet, E. (2008). Race, ethnicity, and racism in medical anthropology, 1977-2002. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 22(1), 27-51.
  13. ^ Gravlee, C. C., & Sweet, E. (2008). Race, ethnicity, and racism in medical anthropology, 1977-2002. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 22(1), 27-51.