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Content analysis

Overview

Content analysis is the systematic examination of written or recorded communication in order to break down, identify, and analyze the presence or relations of words, word sense, characters, sentences, concepts, or common themes. The focus of the analysis should be a critical examination, rather than a mere description, of the content. Examples of content include student journals, essays, online discussions, or any form of written, visual, or oral communication.

Content analysis works best when the purpose is to gain insight into a precise and focused research problem or topic.  It can help you to recognize patterns that you might miss using other methods. 

Suggested uses of content analysis

Limitations of content analysis

Resource requirements

Minimal resources are required, primarily involving the time to select and analyze content. You can complete the analysis without involving the target sample, or interrupting regular operations. Experience or training in content analysis is helpful. Analyzing content requires a very high time commitment depending on the amount of data you want to examine. [more]

Plan your content analysis

STEP 1. Identify the educational research problem or topic

Identify a research problem or topic from everyday life experiences, practical issues, past research, or theory.   Pay attention to the feasibility of your research problem or topic and whether it can be researched systematically.  Determine the resources needed to conduct the study, your interest level, its size and complexity, as well as the value of your results or solution for both theory and practice.

To thoroughly describe the research problem or topic, create a statement that includes the educational topic or specific problem and the justification for research.   

STEP 2. Review prior research

The literature review will help you gain an understanding of the current state of knowledge pertaining to your research idea.  It will inform you of what data collection methods have been used for similar research and to help make sense of the findings from these methods once data analysis is complete.  Try to specifically explore previous research that has used content analysis for research problems or topics similar to your own. 

The most effective and efficient way to review prior research is to search educational journals through electronic computer databases such as ERIC, PsychINFO, or Google Scholar.  Searching other library databases is also recommended.   

STEP 3. Determine the purpose, research question(s) or hypothesis(es)

Identifying a clear purpose helps determine how the research should be conducted, what research design you will use, and the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study.  

If the purpose of your study is to determine the presence or frequency of certain aspects of content, you will want to use a conceptual analysis approach. [more]   If you want to go one step further and determine relations between content, you will want to conduct a relational analysis approach. [more]

Once you have created your research question(s) or hypothesis(es), specify or match which research question(s) or hypothesis(es) content analysis will help to answer.  

STEP 4. Consider the research implications of content analysis findings

Implications are the practical ways your research will assist the field of education. These are the underlying goals, the rationales for, or the importance of your study.  Implications are linked to your research problem or topic, research purpose, and research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study.  Therefore, once you have matched the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) that content analysis findings will try to answer, determine the implications of these findings and how it will aid the field of education.  This will help you keep focused and maintain a clear vision when planning content analysis, and interpreting results. 

STEP 5. Plan the coding

Establish the level of content you want to analyze (e.g., words, phrases, themes); how deeply you analyze depends on your central question(s).  Next, decide on coding procedures such as how many concepts or words you will code for, your coding approach, and the rules for coding and distinguishing content.   The process of coding is basically to reduce content into categories that are consistent with your level of analysis.  Finally, depending on your central question(s), determine if you will explore the presence or frequency of these coded categories (conceptual analysis approach) or the relations between categories (relational analysis approach).  [more]

Additional information

Chism, N.V.N. (1999). Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

McNamara, C. (1998). Basic guide to program evaluation. Retrieved June 28, 2006 from http://www.mapnp.org/library/evaluatn/fnl_eval.htm

Weber, R.P. (1990). Basic Content Analysis, 2nd ed. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Writing Center at Colorado State University. Overview: Content analysis. Retrieved October 23, 2007 from: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/research/content/index.cfm

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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