WHAT IS CONTENT ANALYSIS?
A content analysis is an observation. However, it studies human behaviour indirectly, usually by observing the things we produce e.g. television programmes, magazines, web sites, advertisements etc.
Wait, analysis? analyses? which is it?
You have one content analysis.
If there's more than one, they are content analyses.
You don't have content 'analysises'; 'analysises' isn't a word.
Content analysis is a method used to analyse qualitative data (non-numerical data). In its most common form it is a technique that allows a researcher to take qualitative data and to transform it into quantitative data (numerical data). The technique can be used for data in many different formats, for example interview transcripts, film, and audio recordings.
An analysis of what we produce should be able to tell us a lot about the way we structure our society and about our values, prejudices and so on. This is because there are two types of content:
For example a content analysis of UK television advertisements of the 1970s would probably paint a far more sexist view of the world than today. This latent content would not have been noticed by many of the people who originally read the magazines.
Content analysis, though it often analyses written words, is a quantitative method, it produces numbers and percentages.
After doing a content analysis, you might make a statement such as "27% of programmes on local radio in May 2015 mentioned Taylor Swift compared to only 8% in 2010.”
The counting serves two purposes:
WHAT IS "CONTENT"?
All content is something that people have created. We call these artefacts. You can’t do content analysis of the weather - but if somebody writes a report predicting the weather, you can use a content analysis of that.
Examples of artefacts include:
CATEGORIES & THEMES
The most important part of the process is categorising the data.
For example, if you were looking at paintings produced by patients with schizophrenia, you may want to categorise in terms of colour, complexity, content etc.
Categories for products advertised in men's lifestyle magazine might include cars, aftershave and watches.
Themes are broader than categories and more linked to latent meaning. For example, themes in the paintings of schizophrenics might be distressing imagery or confusion about reality and fantasy. Men's magazines might feature themes like whether the adverts celebrate aggression, power or the sexual objectification of women
CONTENT ANALYSIS OF GENDER ROLES IN TV ADVERTS
Manstead & McCulloch (1981) carried out one of the earliest British studies of sex-role stereotyping in TV advertisements.
They focused on adverts that featured an adult playing a leading part, analysing the role played by the adult and the basis of their credibility. The researchers watched 170 television advertisements in a week and scored them on a whole range of factors such as gender of product user, gender of person in authority, gender of person providing the technical information about the product and so on.
They found men portrayed an autonomous role, gave factual information about a product and were experts on it. Women tended to be shown in dependent roles, gave opinions about products and were product users.
Ten years later, Cumberbatch (1990) also used content analysis to study the portrayal of men and women on TV and found the same gender stereotypes still going on. They also found an additional age bias in favour of portraying younger women.
THE BECHDEL TEST
Content analyses are often complicated but they can be very simple. The Bechdel Test is a very simple one.
As content analyses go, this is very simple (no need to count past two), but it claims to reveal something about the latent content of Hollywood movies.
HOW TO CARRY OUT CONTENT ANALYSES
This will be the artefacts that are to be analysed. This needs to be representative. For example, if looking at gender stereotypes in car adverts that appear in magazines, you would need a wide range of different magazines to get a representative sample. If you only used men’s magazines, your sample would be biased, and you may not be able to generalise your results.
Similarly to an observation, the researcher has to create a coding system, which breaks down the information into coding units. These units vary depending on the artefact used, but an example would be the number of swear words in a film.
So for the example above, for each advert, you may first identify the gender of person in the car advert, and then tally what they are depicted doing. These behavioural categories might be driving the car, passenger in the car, washing the car, loading up the boot, sitting on the bonnet, looking at the car etc.
The researcher would then tally each time either a man or woman was seen doing a particular behaviour in the advert.
An alternative to having a coding system like above is to do a qualitative analysis. This is where the researcher has categories and chooses a particular example to illustrate this category. So for the category “Driving the car”, he might choose the picture (below) as a demonstration. Instead of counting the data, it is described (hence qualitative rather than quantitative).
The researcher then looks at the data and draws conclusions. For example, there may be more men shown driving the cars than women, and women are more likely to be seen as passengers. A conclusion might be that there is a gender bias in the way cars are advertised.
Women of Color in Advertisements: A Content Analysis of Cosmopolitan by Paige Ostos
EVALUATING CONTENT ANALYSES
Content analyses are only as generalisable as the artefacts being studied. If the artefacts are limited to a particular culture or group (like recording conversations among Sixth Form schoolgirls), then the findings won't be generalisable to wider society.
Content analyses are easily time-locked, such as an analysis of a video games from the 1990s. However, comparing content analyses of artefacts from different times (like a '90s video game compared to one today) can be very revealing about changes in the content and construction of games (manifest content) and changing social attitudes towards gender, violence and culture (latent content).
Unlike other types of observation, content analysis can be easily replicated by others. So long as the artefacts that are being analysed are available for others (the same magazines, TV shows etc), the analysis could be repeated and reliability measured using inter-rater reliability.
It is a reliable way to analyse qualitative data as the coding units are not open to interpretation; they are applied in the same way over time and with different researchers.
It is an easy technique to use and is not too time consuming.
It allows a statistical analysis to be conducted as there is usually quantitative data as a result of the procedure. Content analyses usually tally frequencies, so the statistics used will be the mode (most frequent) and the Chi-Squared test (for nominal level data). Frequency data is usually showed in a pie chart or a histogram/frequency polygon.
Causality cannot be established; content analyses describe the data. If you want to discover the cause of the behaviour you are observing, you need to use an experiment.
As it only describes the data, content analysis cannot extract any deeper meaning or explanation for the data patterns arising. However, qualitative content analysis can get around this by exploring the latent content of an artefact.
Content analyses tend to have high ecological validity because they are based on observations of what people actually do; real communications that are current and relevant such as recent newspapers or children’s books.
Also, as the artefacts that are being analysed already exist, there is no chance of demand characteristics. The person who created the artefact did not know that what they created would be used in a content analysis, and therefore, this could not have affected them.
However, a big weakness in a content analysis is observer bias: different observers might interpret the meanings of the categories in the coding system differently.
There can be a culture bias as the interpretation will be affected by the language and culture of the observer and the coding system used. This is a particular problem if you are carrying out a content analysis of artefacts from another culture (Swedish crime drama, Japanese animated films, Russian news stories) where there is a danger of being ethnocentric.
There is usually no risk to content analyses. The artefacts are normally public documents like news articles, TV shows or music videos. There is no need for consent and no one will be harmed.
(It's different if the recording was specially made for its content to be analysed, like recording classmates' conversations to analyse what they talk about and the language they use; then you need consent).
Social responsibility is important in some content analyses. For example, an analysis of the language and imagery used in religious fundamentalist recruiting videos might have a big social impact, especially if it adds to prejudice against a religious minority. Analysis of pornographic or hate material might inflame anger and offence and might be emotionally difficult for the researcher too. This sort of research needs to be weighed up against the public good that might result from carrying it out.