Content Analysis

The content of written or recorded information, usually from media sources such as magazines, newspapers or television, is analysed using this method. The aim is to look for themes and categories which are common to different pieces of content. What those categories are depend upon the purpose of the study, and are decided by the researcher. The target categories, themes or behaviours are then counted (tallied) over the articles, producing quantitative data for easy comparison.

  • Quantitative data is generated and so inferential statistical testing can be carried out (such as the Spearman’s rank coefficient or chi-squared test) to test for the significance of any differences found
  • Reliability can be tested for, as other people can repeat the content analysis using the same themes and categories
  • The choice of the categories and the definitions of what comes under each category is decided by the researchers, bringing possible subjectivity into the research (for example not everyone may agree whether something could be considered to fit within a category)
  • Limited to the study of existing articles and sources so is inflexible and specialist, its use is limited to certain occasions

Cumberbatch and Gauntlett (2005)

This was a content analysis commissioned by Ofcom. They wanted to see how often smoking, alcohol and drug abuse were featured in television programmes watched by 10 to 15 year olds, and how they were handled. TV programmes between August and October 2004 were sampled, with 256 programmes in all. Over 70% were soap operas, and all programmes were broadcast before the 9pm watershed. Visual presentations and references to smoking, alcohol and drugs were noted. It was found that alcohol featured the most, with about 12 incidences per hour. There was much less reference to drugs or smoking, but only 4% of programmes featured none of these three. It was noted that major characters could be seen drinking and smoking, and large story arcs centred on drug abuse. But it was praised that drugs especially were always seen in a negative light. Smoking and alcohol were seen in either a negative or neutral light, but nothing was given to show drugs in a positive aspect. Being a content analysis, these results are the conclusions.