How to Do Content Analysis

How to Do Content Analysis

Content analysis is a research technique for systematically analyzing written communication. It has been used to study books, essays, news articles, speeches, pamphlets and other written material. Content analysis can help identify propaganda or describe attitudes and psychological states. Despite its name, content analysis is more of a data reduction technique than an analytical one because it breaks down lengthy text material into more manageable units of data.

  • Paper
  • Pens or highlighters
  • College-level dictionary

1 Analyzing Text Material

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2 State your research question

State your research question(s). Content analysis can be extremely time-consuming, involving reading and re-reading of a large amount of material. Knowing what you are trying to find out will help you stay focused in your research and analysis. Suppose, for example, you want to compare newspaper stories on two presidential candidates to see if the coverage was more favorable toward one candidate than the other.

3 Select your sample of text material

Select your sample of text material. This is what you will read and reduce to a more manageable set of data through a process of reading and categorizing. For our example on news coverage of presidential candidates, let’s say the sample is all news stories from five metropolitan newspapers over a one-month period.

4 Read and review the material

Read and review the material in your sample. Before beginning any kind of analysis, whether qualitative or quantitative, it is important to examine your data. This is no less true in content analysis.

5 Define your unit

Define your unit of analysis and categories. The unit of analysis may be specific words, phrases or themes. For this example, the unit of analysis could be specific words describing each candidate that have positive or negative connotations. Keep a dictionary handy for identifying all appropriate words and phrases. Categories, meanwhile, are groups of words, phrases or themes that have similar meanings.

6 Code the textual material in your sample

Code the textual material in your sample, marking the keywords or phrases with a pen or highlighter and placing them in the categories you’ve identified. You can use different colors of pens or highlighters for each category, marking words differently by category - it's up to you. Remember to make the coding process as easy for yourself as you can. Keep a tally sheet as you code the material. You may have to read everything more than once to identify all keywords and phrases. In doing so, you will have word counts of the frequencies with which certain words and phrases are used in relation to particular candidates.

7 Interpret and report your findings

Interpret and report your findings. Content analysis combines quantitative and qualitative techniques; therefore, writing your findings is in many ways an extension of your analysis.

  • When coding the material, pay attention to the context in which the keywords or phrases are used.
  • Although content analysis can be done by hand, some specialized computer programs exist to assist in the process.

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.