Textual Analysis – Definition, Approaches & Fields

19.11.22 Analyzing data Time to read: 5min

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Textual communication surrounds a large part of the methodology used by researchers to analyze and interpret texts by studying their style, content, structure, purpose, and underlying meaning. Besides analyzing the text, textual analysis gives us a better and more detailed idea of how people communicate and represent their experiences and perspectives through writing. This article will outline the different approaches to textual analysis and in what fields of study it is commonly used.

Textual Analysis – In a Nutshell

  • Text can be defined simply as any instance of language in any medium that makes sense to someone who knows the language, e.g., newspaper articles and transcripts of spoken interviews and observations.
  • The purpose of textual analysis is to describe the functions, content, and structure of messages contained in a text.
  • This type of analysis is used in different fields, including literary studies (where it is most common), social sciences, and cultural and media studies.

Definition: Textual analysis

Textual analysis is a broad term that entails various research methods, which allow to analyze, describe, and interpret the characteristics of a recorded message. There are four main approaches typically used in academic writing. Nevertheless, textual analysis is also used in other fields, such as in cultural and media studies, social sciences, and literary studies.


An example of textual analysis is brand monitoring to determine social opinion on your brand in various contexts.

What are the approaches to textual analysis?

There are four main approaches to textual analysis, which are listed and discussed  below:

1. Rhetorical criticism

Rhetorical criticism is the systematic method of describing, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating the persuasive force of messages within texts. At its core, rhetorical criticism is simply analyzing the use of rhetoric.

The process of rhetorical criticism has four steps:

  1. Select the text to study
  2. Choose the type of rhetorical criticism
  3. Analyze the chosen text using the chosen method
  4. Write a critical essay

The process of rhetorical criticism serves essential functions, including:

  • Helping in understanding the historical, cultural, and social contexts
  • Researchers can use it to evaluate society as a form of social criticism
  • Helps illuminate the purpose of persuasive messages
  • Teaching people what makes effective persuasion and how persuasion works

2. Content analysis

Content analysis is the analysis of specific message characteristics in a piece of text. It is usually considered unobtrusive since the analyzed texts already exist and are not being produced on request.

Content analysis can be both qualitative and quantitative, as described below:

  • Quantitative – A systematic step-by-step procedure used to test hypotheses and answer research questions
  • Qualitative – An approach that is more interested in the meanings of messages than the frequency of the occurrence of message variables.

The goals of content analysis include:

  • Understanding the intentions of groups and individuals
  • Identifying bias and propaganda
  • Finding connections in how concepts are communicated
  • Identifying communication differences in different contexts

3. Interaction analysis

Interaction analysis is the process of evaluating processes, determining the data requirements of each, and generating a matrix of what data is used by what process.

An interaction analysis involves two general tasks:

  • Obtain a sample of interaction: When gathering a sample, the researchers’ choices affect the quality and type of data collected. Their choices determine if the interaction will be natural or structured, whether the location will be in a laboratory or another area, and the exact methods used to collect data.
  • Analyzing the sample: Specific analysis of the collected samples will depend on the researchers’ goals and the form of the collected data.

4. Performance Studies

Performance studies is an approach that uses performance as the lens to study the world. There are six primary steps to undertaking a performance study:

Selecting The researcher identifies the text or act that they want to examine
Playing Different vocal and bodily behaviors are tried on
Testing A range of legitimate understanding is established
Choosing The researcher selects the valid interpretations to isolate one understanding to pursue
Repeating The researcher sets and refines their chosen interpretation
Presenting A report is made of what has been discovered through public performance. A display is put on for others to consider what the researcher has discovered.
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Different fields of textual analysis

Textual analysis is a critical component of research in various fields of study, as discussed below.

Textual analysis in cultural and media studies

Researchers in cultural and media studies take media and cultural objects and treat them as texts to be analyzed.


  • Media content
  • Music videos
  • Social media content.

Researchers in this field usually seek to connect contemporary culture and politics with text elements. In this context, the analysis is usually qualitative and creative. The different aspects of a text that a researcher may analyze include:

  • The relationship with other relevant texts
  • The design elements
  • The word choice
  • The location of the text
  • The intended audience

Textual analysis in social sciences

Textual analysis in the social sciences is usually applied to texts like surveys, interview transcripts, and different media types to draw conclusions about social relations.

In this field, textual analysis usually takes a more quantitative approach, where certain text features’ frequency is measured numerically.


A researcher may investigate which words in a particular language are used most commonly, or which colors feature most in different advertisements aimed at different demographics.

Common methods of analyzing text in this field include discourse analysis, content analysis, and thematic analysis.

Textual analysis in literary studies

One of the most common uses of textual analysis is found in literary studies. Almost all works in this field – poems, plays, stories, novels – involve a comprehensive analysis. As this field deals with literary texts, a greater emphasis is usually placed on deliberately constructed elements such as the narrator’s voice and the rhyming scheme. In understanding these elements, the researcher lends more meaning to the text.

Textual analysis in this field also explores what the text reveals from the perspective through which the text was written, and finds new and unexpected ways to analyze classic pieces of text.

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To write this analysis, the writer should analyze the structure, characters, setting, citations of a text, and central idea and themes. Consider the what, who, why, and where of the text you are analyzing.

There are four primary textual analysis approaches:

  1. Rhetorical criticism
  2. Content analysis
  3. Interaction analysis
  4. Performance studies

The key features of a textual analysis essay include:

  • The summary and context of a text
  • A statement of intent
  • Evidence
  • An explanation of the text’s continuing relevance

The analysis helps extract a deeper meaning from a specific text and discover different perspectives in context.