As defined by Berelson (Berelson 1954: 489), content analysis is a research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of the manifest content of the communication.
Stone and others (Stone et al. 1966:5) view content analysis as any technique for making references by systematically and objectively identifying specific characteristics within the text. It includes observation as well as analysis.
The unit of analysis may be words (different words, or types of words in the message), characters (individuals or objects), themes (proportions), and space and time measures (length and duration of the message).
In business research, one can content analyze the messages in advertisements, newspaper articles, television, or radio programs.
For example, the frequency of appearance of tribal women and members of other minority groups in mass media may be studied using content analysis.
The primary goal of content analysis is to take a verbal, non-quantitative document and transform it into quantitative data.
The results of content analysis can generally be presented in tables containing frequencies or percentages, in the same manner as survey data.
It thus appears that content analysis is a marvelous approach that can turn words into numbers.
Holsti (1969:43) lists seven purposes for content analysis in addition to scientific hypothesis testing:
- To describe trends in communication contents;
- To relate known characteristics of sources to messages they produce;
- To audit communication content against the standard;
- To analyze techniques of persuasion;
- To analyze style
- To relate known attributes of the audience to messages produced for them;
- To describe patterns of communication.
Content analysis is the same sort of structured analysis applied to documents rather than to observation of nonverbal behavior.
In other words, it is a structured document-analysis technique in which the researcher first constructs a set of mutually exclusive categories that can be used to analyze documents and then records with which each of these categories is observed in this document studied.
Suppose, for example, and we wish to perform a content analysis of three definitions of content analysis due to three authors as below:
Definition 1: Content analysis is a research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication (Berelson 1954: 459)
Definition 2: Content analysis is any research technique for making references by systematically and objectively identifying specified characteristics within the text (Stone et al. 1966: 5)
Definition 3: We propose to use the term ‘content analysis’ and ‘coding’ interchangeably, to refer to the objective systematic, and quantitative description of any symbolic behavior (Cartwright 1953: 424).
Suppose we want to analyze the contents of the above three definitions concerning three chief components as follows:
- Whether the definition includes the term ‘quantitative’ or ‘qualitative.’
- Whether the definition includes the term ‘systematic’ or ‘non- systematic.’
- Whether the definition includes the term ‘objective’ or ‘subjective.’ The definitions, when analyzed, keeping in view the above objective, result in the following distribution:
In percentage terms, the word ‘quantitative’ appears in 67% of the documents; the word ‘systematic’ appears 100% of the documents, and so on.
The content analysis is usually not employed as the sole method in the research study. Still, it can serve as a useful adjunct to other types of data collection and analysis.
- Documents related to a training curriculum may be content analyzed to determine just what knowledge and skills the training is supposed to develop;
- Content analysis can serve to guide the researcher in devising procedures to test the knowledge and skills of the trainees;
- IEC materials may be content analyzed to indicate whether messages are being overemphasized or underemphasized about program needs;
- Research reports may be content analyzed to determine the present state of knowledge about a particular research topic to guide future research efforts;
- The content of press reports or public statements made by policymakers may be studied to assess attitudes towards family planning and population issues;
- Contents of newspaper articles about a company might be investigated about certain words, themes, characters, or space;
- Content analysis can highlight the role of Hindu women, tribal people, and other minorities in mass media.
To retrieve data from available sources, the researcher will have to design an instrument such as a checklist or compilation sheet.
In designing such instruments, it is essential to inspect the layout of the source documents from which data are to be extracted and design the compilation sheet so that items can be transferred in order in which they appear in the source document.
This will save time and reduce errors.
Limitations of Content Analysis Method in Research
- Difficult to gain access to the records or reports required
- Information may be incomplete
- Information may be out of date
- Definitions and methodologies may vary.