Qualitative Content Analysis

Qualitative Content Analysis: 6 Articles on the Definition & Quality Design Considerations

QCA - 6 Articles on the Definition & Quality Design Considerations

This compilation of six articles is equally divided between brief articles pertaining to the definition of qualitative content analysis and those that address quality design considerations. These articles appeared in Research Design Review in the 2014-2022 time period. Although there are other articles in RDR relevant to “content analysis,” the articles in this compilation were chosen due to the inclusion or focus on the primary qualitative content analysis method, i.e., the analysis of content derived from existing, naturally occurring repository of information (for example corporate or historical documents, media content, and diaries).

“Qualitative Content Analysis: 6 Articles on the Definition & Quality Design Considerations” is available for download here.

Seven similar compilations of RDR articles, devoted to particular methods or techniques, are also available:

“Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research: 16 Articles on the 10 Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research” is available for download here.

“Ethnography & the Observation Method: 15 Articles on Design, Implementation, & Uses” is available for download here.

“The Focus Group Method: 18 Articles on Design & Moderating” is available for download here.

“The In-depth Interview Method: 12 Articles on Design & Implementation” is available for download here.

“Reflexivity: 10 Articles on the Role of Reflection in Qualitative Research” is available for download here.

“Qualitative Data Analysis: 16 Articles on Process & Method” is available for download here.

“Qualitative Research: Transparency & Reporting” is available for download here.

Qualitative Content Analysis: Defined

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 231-232).

The qualitative approach to content analysis traces its roots to the mid-20th Qualitative content analysis: Definedcentury when qualitative researchers began to modify the approaches that had been used by quantitative content analysis researchers. The purpose was to enrich what qualitative researchers believed was an overly sterile approach that focused preponderantly on manifest (surface) content and largely missed the richer latent content, consequently missing much of the meaning underlying the text or other form of content being studied. The “content” in qualitative content analysis often originates from other qualitative methods (e.g., transcripts from in-depth interviews, group discussions, and ethnographic field notes). With this point in mind, qualitative content analysis researchers devised and advocated for a methodical process similar to quantitative content analysis but with a greater emphasis on subjective interpretations of the meaning in qualitative content so as to identify relevant themes and patterns (Zhang & Wildemuth, 2009; Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).

There is no shortage of definitions associated with the content analysis method. In fact, there appear to be no two definitions that are identical. Two researchers, Berg and Lune (2017), draw on several sources to define content analysis as “a careful, detailed, systematic examination and interpretation of a particular body of material in an effort to identify patterns, themes, biases, and meanings” (p. 182). Similarly, Krippendorff (2019) states that “content analysis is a research technique for making replicable and valid inferences from text (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use” (p. 24). Information researchers Zhang and Wildemuth (2009) take the latent aspect one step further in their discussion of qualitative content analysis with the assertion that the aim is “to understand social reality in a subjective but scientific manner” (p. 308).

Regardless of the definition, there are six essential components to the content analysis method in qualitative research. Qualitative content analysis:

  1. Encompasses all relevant qualitative data sources, including text, images, video, audio, graphics, and symbols.
  2. Is systematic, process-driven method.
  3. Draws meaningful interpretations or inferences from the data based on both manifest and latent content.
  4. Is contextual, that is, relies on the context within which the information is extracted to give meaning to the data.
  5. Reduces a unit of qualitative data to a manageable level while maintaining the critical content.
  6. Identifies patterns and themes in the data that support or refute existing hypotheses or reveal new hypotheses.

Looking at these elements of the content analysis method, Roller and Lavrakas (2015) derive the definition of qualitative content analysis as, the systematic reduction or “condensation” (Graneheim & Lundman, 2004) of content, analyzed with special attention to the context in which it was created, to identify themes and extract meaningful interpretations of the data. Qualitative content analysis can be used as a secondary or primary method.

Graneheim, U. H., & Lundman, B. (2004). Qualitative Content Analysis in Nursing Research: Concepts, Procedures and Measures to Achieve Trustworthiness. Nurse Education Today, 24(2), 105–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2003.10.001

Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732305276687

Krippendorff, K. (2019). Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Lune, H., & Berg, B. L. (2017). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. Pearson.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach. New York: Guilford Press.

Zhang, Y., & Wildemuth, B. M. (2009). Qualitative Analysis of Content. In B. M. Wildemuth (Ed.), Applications of Social Research Methods to Questions in Information and Library Science (pp. 308-319). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Qualitative Analysis: A Reflexive Exercise for Category Development

The second component of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) is Analyzability. This component provides researchers with critical thinking considerations relevant to the completeness and accuracy of their analyses and interpretations of the data. Analyzability consists of two fundamental elements — processing and verification — the first of which involves coding followed by deriving categories and themes from the data.

From a TQF perspective, a useful exercise for category development — particularly when the study entails multiple researchers and a large amount of data — is by way of the reflexive template. Although similar in spirit to the writing function in computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software programs, the primary purpose of this reflexive template is to encourage researchers to actively reflect as they go about developing categories or buckets from the underlying constructs gained from the data. By way of the template, the analyst can document the relationship they perceive between the category and the construct as well as provide an example or further input to support their thinking.

For instance, a researcher conducting a qualitative content analysis study of diaries written by women confined to prison concerning their activities and experiences during confinement, may have derived the category “educational opportunity” (EDUOPPTY) from the coded data defined in part (i.e., along with other relevant constructs) by the underlying construct “well-being.” Within the well-being construct, the researcher also identified three key subconstructs — physical well-being, mental well-being, and financial well-being — that play a central role in understanding the meaning of the well-being construct as well as deepening the definition of the EDUOPPTY category. In this example, the reflexive exercise (by way of the template, see below) has facilitated the researcher’s ability to record the connections between the category and key constructs — highlighting instances of the relationship between EDUOPPTY (e.g., how to use the exercise equipment and art classes) and physical well-being, mental well-being, as well as financial well-being — while aiding collaboration with the research team and adding transparency to the analysis process.

Reflexive template for category development