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Content analysis is a method of research that examines cultural artifacts by observing and analyzing these objects in systematic ways. Researchers seek to understand messages within texts while also searching for the meanings being produced and interpreted by the audience and producer of the text. Anything that is in or can be converted to printed form can be examined using content analysis.
This unobtrusive method lends well to both quantitative and qualitative techniques. A quantitative approach studies text by using narrowly defined parameters, concentrating on a particular set of images, words or phrases to be counted within specific documents. Qualitative approaches work with a less closely defined set of parameters. Researchers typically perform one or two stages of analysis before eliminating materials from their analysis. Both approaches examine the data in a series of analytic phases and establish a clear set of systematic rules, including defining the unit of analysis used to study the text, before the examination begins.
The process of creating the criteria for analysis, examining the documents, locating, marking, and tallying the unit of analysis is called coding. Researchers study both manifest content, which are words and phrases that are obvious in their meaning, and latent content, which are words and phrases that are more subjective in their interpretation. Manifest content is considered the more objective and reliable largely due to ease of identification.
The benefits of this type of analysis are that it is unobtrusive, transparent and the material examined provides an accurate representation of society since it is created without the intent of being a subject of study. Content analysis is a complement to other forms of analyses on texts and messages, which include frame analysis, textual analysis, and discourse analysis.
- Krippendorff, K. (2003) Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology. Sage, Newbury Park, CA.
- Neuendorf, K. (2001) The Content Analysis Handbook. Sage, Newbury Park, CA.