Content Analysis

Content Analysis Definition

Content AnalysisContent analysis involves the systematic coding of information in archival records. It is a research tool used to determine the presence of certain words or concepts within a set of texts. The process of content analysis involves first selecting the texts from which the information will be gathered and then deriving the coding categories that will be used. The coding categories must be objectively defined to ensure reliability and consistency across various texts and different coders. Content analysis is most often used in exploratory and descriptive research.

Content Analysis Background

Historically, content analysis was a time-consuming process. Analysis was done manually, or slow mainframe computers were used to analyze punch cards containing data punched in by human coders. Single studies could employ thousands of these cards. Human error and time constraints made this method impractical for large texts. Due to technological advances and increased use of the Internet, researchers today are able to analyze large bodies of text, focusing on concepts rather than single words, and on semantic relationships rather than just frequency counts.

Content Analysis Evidence

There are many types of data suitable for content analysis. It could be used to study the use of negative political messages in television advertisements or to analyze personality characteristics of U.S. presidents based on information provided in biographies. One particularly influential content analysis conducted in the 1970s analyzed popular children’s books and showed how different and stereotypical the roles played by boys and girls were. The analysis was useful because it highlighted important trends that had been overlooked.

Content analysis is primarily useful for three types of research problems. First, it is helpful in analyzing large volumes of text. Researchers today can rely on either technological advances, such as Internet searches, or multiple, trained coders to perform the task. Second, it is helpful when a topic must necessarily be studied “at a distance,” as is the case in analyzing historical documents or television broadcasts from a hostile country. Finally, it can reveal evidence and patterns that are difficult to notice through casual observations. The authors or readers of the children’s books mentioned above may not have been consciously aware of the themes and biases present in the works, but content analysis research has revealed these trends.

Content Analysis Implications

What content analysis does, then, is turn verbal information into numerical data. In doing so, it not only describes the information, but it also opens the way for a researcher to perform additional statistical tests on the material. One problem in content analysis is that researchers must be sure that the categories that are chosen are appropriate for the data. Generally, this means researchers need to spend a lot of time examining the data and their research interests to be sure that the categories accurately reflect what they are interested in.


  • Simonton, D. K. (1988). Presidential style: Personality, biography, and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 928-936.

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