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What Are the Steps of Content Analysis?

Collecting data and analyzing the data to arrive at a valid conclusion has to go through numerous stages before it can be presented to the stakeholders. You will be surprised that there is so much of information contained in your data when you start digging deeper. It is easy for the researcher to ger diverted into various directions if he/she is not following step-by-step content analysis.  

The content analysis process can be broken down into 5 steps:  

Step 1: Identify and Collect Data 

There are numerous ways in which the data for qualitative content analysis can be collected. Both verbal and non-verbal methods can be used to collect the data from the participants of the study. Surveys, interviews, podcasts, social media comments, online feedback, web conversations, etc. are some the ways in which the data can be collected. 

The seven major elements that are considered for performing content analysis are: words, characters, themes, paragraphs, concepts, items and semantics. It is very important to capture the relevant information needed for the content analysis so that there is enough data for the intended content analysis. Just like any other research, content analysis also involves sampling, just that it is not the people or the products, the sample here is the content itself. The sample should be big enough to represent the entire population. Make sure to consider the appropriate time period for extracting the sample.

Example:

Content analysis using social media information about the destination image of a city or country. The aim of the content analysis if to find the destination image of the place. The analysis revolves around the ‘place’ that the tourists have visited and have expresses their opinions on social media. The goal of the content analysis is to collect a holistic view of the ‘place’ using social media data. The opinions are expressed by tourists who visited the ‘place’ and have expressed their experience on social media. 

For data collection, the data sources will range from social media pages, websites, blogs, online forums, travel websites, etc. So the data collection can be done by using ‘place+’tourist’+‘Facebook’ search to identify the webpages where the data can be obtained.

Step 2: Determine Coding Categories

Measurement of content in content analysis is based on structured observation which is a systematic observation based on certain written rules. These rules detail out how the content should be categorized.  The categories defined for the analysis should be mutually exclusive. These written rules help to make easier replication and also to improve reliability. 

To be able to analyze the content, it is important to divide the entire content collected into categories so that it can be managed better. This is a process of selective reduction where the text is reduced to categories so that the research can be focused on the categories for specific words and patterns that answer the questions of the researcher. 

The categories or the codes could be a word, a phrase, a sentence, an article, brand names, numbers, competitor names, countries, emotions and much more. For example, the ‘people in public life’, are coded as famous personalities, politicians, sportsmen, celebrities, etc. 

Step 3: Code the Content

A code is the label that you assign to the text that has to be analyzed, and the text can be a word or a phrase.  For example, the code ‘politician’ is assigned when there is a mention of any political person in the text.

During the coding process, a number should be assigned to each category. The code should be mutually exclusive. 

Coding is a set of rules that explain the method of observing the content in given text. Coding will identify four important characteristics, frequency, direction, intensity, and space.

  • Frequency describes the number of times a particular code occurs.
  • Direction is the way in which the content appears, positive, negative, opposite, support etc.
  • Intensity denotes the amount of the strength towards a particular direction.
  • Space refers to the amount of space assigned to the text or the size of the message. 

The list of words, phrases, images, videos etc. is loaded to social media and other data sources to locate them in the source. Coding fetches highly reliable data as the word or phrase either exists or is absent.

Example:

Taking the above example, all the webpages that were shortlisted are combined into a master file. Coding software is used to identify the words/phrases/images from the webpages. There is lexical mapping software such as Leximancer that can identify various themes based on the cooccurrences of words/phrases/images across a text database. The frequency of the words/phrases/images is obtained and the frequency table is generated. 

Step 4: Check Validity and Reliability

The next stage involves the testing of the codes that have been designed. The codes need to validated for its reliability. The code has to be tested to check if it indeed measures what is purports to measure, and to check if the results are consistent. 

Sampling validity refers to the examination and validation of the sample that was selected for the analysis. Semantic validity checks to see if the different phrases or words that are part of a category have similar meaning and to make sure that they all belong to the same category. The correlation also has to be checked to see if one measure can be substituted for another. 

Reliability check of the data is important to know if the data is reliable, which means that it should be constant throughout the measuring process. A reproducibility check is conducted by having numerous coders code a sample data and to compare the results. The data can also be checked for its stability, where a check is performed to assess the degree of content consistency over a period of time. Accuracy check should be performed to measure if the process conforms to the standard as expected and if it yields the results according to what it is designed for. 

Establishment of reliability is very critical in content analysis as any results without proper validation and reliability is considered useless. 

Step 5: Analyze and Present Results

After completing the analysis, there will be several sets of information organized and available as files. This has to be presented in a report format that can be easily understood by the recipient. 

This involves review of the final results, identifying patterns, arranging all the information in a sequence and finally presenting it in the form of a report.  

The introductory sections of the report should address all basic information about the report such as:

  • The period of the study
  • The location chosen for the study
  • The aim and objective of the study
  • Explain different tools and techniques used during the study
  • Data sources and its composition

The results section should contain detailed information about the various factors that were observed during the study. The results should be supported by data and presented in the form of graphs and matrices. Clear presentation of the information makes it easy for the reader to understand and interpret the report. The results section should be able to offer detailed analysis and summary of observations that were gathered during the study. It should be a straightforward commentary of the observations during the study. Include the important findings and avoid adding too much information that can bury the actual findings. 

The results should try to narrate the findings without adding too much of judgements or solutions. This section should give a direction to the important stakeholders for further discussions and evaluations of the situation and encourage them to take decisions based on the report.