Content Analysis

30.12.20 Analyzing data Time to read: 6min

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Content analysis is an essential research tool. Researchers use it to determine patterns of words and concepts in a set of documents or a particular text. It is not merely as complex as other research tools. In this post, we look at this research tool on a deeper level, from how it is done, its benefits, and uses.

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In research it is a tool used by researchers to calculate and examine the presence, meaning, and relationships between certain words, concepts, and themes. Sociologist researchers also use it as a research method to analyze social life through word and image interpretation.

The content analysis involves identifying intentions or communication trends in specific data. The process also involved the description of attitudinal and social replies to communications. Group or individual interviews can be analyzed.

There are two primary types. The first one is conceptual analysis, and the second one is relational analysis. Conceptual analysis is used to determine the existence of frequency of certain concepts in a text. On the other hand, relational analysis is utilized to develop the conceptual analysis further. It does so by exploring the relationships between different concepts in a text. The two types of content analysis produce varying results, meanings, and in some cases, interpretations.

Definition: Content Analysis

It refers to the study of documents and communication artifacts. The artifacts include texts of different formats, photos, audio, and video files. It can also be defined as a research tool used to determine the meaning, purpose, or effects of different communication types like literature, broadcast, or newspapers.

It is done by studying and evaluating details in communication. Finally, it can also be defined as a research method used by sociologists to analyze social life by interpreting the words and images found in documents, cultural products, film, art, and music. Content analysis is the cornerstone of many doctoral and research programs.

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The Different Types of Content Analysis

There are two primary types of content analysis:

• Conceptual analysis: This type of content analysis is used to analyze the consistency and regularity of notions in a text. In this type, a notion is selected to be examined. The analysis of the content includes counting and quantifying its existence. The goal of conceptual analysis is to determine the occurrence of a predetermined term in data. The term can either be easy to identify (explicit) or complicated (implicit).

• Rational analysis: In this type of content analysis, a notion is selected for examination. The examination involves exploring how different concepts relate. In rational analysis, individual notions are seen to have no inherent meaning. Instead, they are viewed as a product of relationships between various concepts.

Content Analysis Step by Step

The process of content analysis differs between the two methods:

Conceptual Content Analysis

  1. Determining the level of analysis- is the first step. It would help determine whether it is a word, phrase, sentence, theme, or a word sense.
  2. Determine the number of concepts to code for-you then need to establish pre-defined sets of categories, also known as interactive sets. You can choose Option A or B. A allows you to introduce and analyze new and essential material that could have significance to the research questions. On the other hand, option B will enable you to focus on and analyze data for particular notions only.
  3. From there, you have to decide whether you want to code for presence or the frequency of the chosen concept. Note that whatever choice you make will affect the coding process. For instance, if you decide to code for existence, then you will have to count a concept once, even if it appears numerous times in the data. On the other hand, if you choose to code for frequency, then you will have to quantify the amount of times the said concept appears in the data.
  4. Determine how to distinguish between concepts- you have to decide if you want the text coded precisely as it appears or if you wish to have it coded the same way even when it appears in a different form. For instance, “color” and “colorful.” You also have to choose the level of inference you wish to allow. For example, if you only want to code the word or include concepts with the same meaning. For instance, “scary” and “the individual is dangerous.”
  5. From there, you have to come up with coding rules. The rules aim to promote organization and consistency in the coding process.
  6. Determine what you want to do with unimportant information. You can choose to ignore it or use it to reconsider the coding system.
  7. Now you can proceed to code the text. You can choose to do it manually or using the software.
  8. After coding, you have to analyze the results. You can use it to draw generalizations and conclusions where applicable.

Relational Content Analysis

  1. You have to start with determining the type of analysis you want to conduct. For instance, you have to select a sample then determine the types of relationships you want to examine. It would help if you also determined the level of analysis as in the previous technique.
  2. From here, you need to categorize the texts. You can choose word or pattern coding. In this technique, you can either code for the presence of denotations or words.
  3. Proceed to explore the way different concepts relate. For instance, you can explore the strength, sign, or direction of the relationships. This should be easy once you have coded the text.
  4. The information you acquire in the previous step has to be coded. This is the main difference between conceptual and rational analysis since in conceptual analysis, the relationships between notions or concepts are not coded.
  5. The next thing you need to do is perform statistical analyses. Start by exploring the differences and relationships between the variables you identified during the coding process.
  6. Come up with a mapped out representation of the data.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • It examines communication directly through text
  • It allows for both qualitative and quantifiable examination of both communication
  • Over time, the information gathered provides useful cultural and historical insights
  • It is referred to as an exact research method, and it allows for closeness to data
  • When it is combined with other research tools like interviews and observation, it can be such a powerful tool for analyzing historical concepts. It can also be used for documenting trends.
  • The research tool provides insight into intricate models of human perception and the use of language.


  • It consumes a lot of time
  • When dealing with intricate texts, it can be reductive
  • The technique is subject to a lot of error, mainly when it is used for high-level interpretation.
  • Sometimes, it can be hard to computerize and automate
  • It disregards the context under which the text is produced

In a Nutshell

Content analysis is a research technique used to determine and analyze the presence of specific words, concepts, and themes within a text. It is used to identify the intentions, focuses, and trends of individuals, institutions, or groups. It can be used to determine the psychological and emotional state of individuals in a group and communication content. There are two types of content analysis; conceptual and rational.