Content Analysis: What it is and Why its Important?

The field of content analysis has been growing steadily over the past several decades.  This type of research is becoming more common, especially as technology advances and allows for more efficient data gathering.  More researchers are turning to this method because it provides them with flexibility in their research methods while also allowing them to draw useful conclusions.

What is Content Analysis?

Content analysis, a method of research in which the researcher analyzes messages from a particular source.  There are several types of content analysis: functional, grounded theory, discourse, and semantic network.  Under each category there is further differentiation as to what constitutes the text that will be analyzed.  For example, a functional analysis looks at a text that is categorized into what purpose or function it serves.  A discourse analysis on the other hand analyzes texts for patterns of language use and meaning, often divided into two components: linguistic choices and intertextuality.

Semantic Network Content Analysis

In a semantic network content analysis, individual concepts or nodes are identified and the relationship between those nodes is identified.  The relationships can be related by degree, type, or other attributes.  A semantic network content analysis allows for a researcher to identify important concepts within the set of texts that are being analyzed.

Why is Content Analysis Important

There are many reasons why content analysis is an important tool in understanding messages.  By understanding what messages are trying to communicate, the researcher can determine the goals of that communication.  For example, if someone is studying how news outlets cover terrorist activity they would want to understand not only what they say about it but also why they are saying it.

The reason why content analysis is important can be illustrated by a study conducted by the University of California, Davis.  In this study, researchers analyzed over 400 popular songs from music charts in 2013 and 2014.  They found through their analysis that “nearly three-quarters of top-selling songs in America featured some form of misogyny.”  This illustrates the importance of content analysis as a technique because it can be used to detect trending topics or patterns in a set of texts.

This content analysis, as well as all studies that use this method, can be used to further understand the change of behavior over time.  What was popular in 2015 may not be what people are talking about now, meaning there is a trend or change in perspective.  For example, a study conducted by researchers at Indiana University found a direct relationship between how much coverage the media gives to transgender individuals and the public’s opinion of them.  The more that was reported on, the more likely it seemed that people held a positive view of that group.

This content analysis method is also important because it can be used to compare messages across multiple sources.  For example, if a researcher is looking for a relationship between news coverage and public opinion they need to look at the same things across those two types of texts.  By using content analysis, the researcher can compare both sets of data and find similarities and differences that may be relevant.

Content analysis is a powerful tool for researchers to help better understand the messages and patterns within texts.  It can be used in various disciplines such as communication, sociology, and even business studies.  This method allows for more precise data gathering and qualitative analysis which can lead to conclusive results with beneficial outcomes.

Content Analysis: What is it?

When talking about content analysis, we are referring to the systematic, objective analysis of text or other communication in order to understand what the author was trying to convey.  This method is most often applied in social science research and is used when the main method of data collection involves some form of textual material (Krippendorff).  Some examples include patient interviews or focus groups where participants discuss various topics related to health care; even news articles could be a type of text that will be analyzed through this method.

Content analysis allows researchers to determine not only what information a source presents but also why that information was presented, who it is aimed at, and other important factors.  This method of data collection is especially important in understanding the content of health care related texts because they can be difficult to understand for those who are not involved in the medical field.

Typically, this method will involve an initial training period where coders (people performing the analysis) are given specific instructions on what elements or variables should be looked for within text or how to code them.  Following this initial stage there is typically reliability testing which ensures the coder is following instructions properly; if they are not reporting things correctly then their results may not be accurate (Krippendorff).

To summarize, content analysis allows researchers to gather unbiased information through a systematic and objective process.  This, in turn, allows researchers to put numerical values on otherwise unmeasurable phenomena such as public opinion or mood.

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