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the analysis of content derived from existing, naturally occurring repository of information (for example corporate or  historical documents, media content, and diaries).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.

Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288.

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.

A Multi-method Approach in Qualitative Research

A portion of the following is taken from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 288-289).

In contrast to mixed methods, a multi-method approach in qualitative research is one in Multiple methodswhich the researcher combines two or more qualitative methods to investigate a research question or phenomenon. Although the terms “multi-method” and “multiple methods” are sometimes used to refer to qualitative–quantitative (or mixed-method) research (e.g., Brewer & Hunter, 2006; Snape & Spencer, 2003), this terminology is reserved here for research strategies that incorporate more than one qualitative method and do not include any quantitative methods.

Qualitative multi-method research—due to the additional data collection and analysis considerations—has the potential disadvantage of consuming valuable resources such as time and available research funds. However, this is not always the case and, under the appropriate conditions, multiple qualitative methods can prove very useful toward gaining a more fully developed complexity and meaning in the researcher’s understanding of a subject matter compared to a single-method research design (cf. Denzin & Lincoln, 2011; Flick, 2007).

Ethnography is one such example. Observation is the principal method in an ethnographic study; however, it is often supplemented with other qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus group discussions, and/or documentary review in order to provide a more complete “picture” of the issue or phenomenon under investigation. Other applications of multi-method qualitative research are not uncommon. Lambert and Loiselle (2008), for instance, combined focus group discussions and IDIs in a study with cancer patients concerning their “information-seeking behavior.” These researchers found that this multi-method approach enriched the study because one method helped inform the other—for example, group discussions identified relevant questions/issues that were then used in the IDIs—and contributed unique information—for example, the IDIs were effective in obtaining details of patients’ information-seeking processes—as well as contextual clarification—for example, the focus groups were more valuable in highlighting contextual influences on these processes such as the physicians’ preferences or recommendations. Lambert and Loiselle concluded that the multi-method research design “enhanced understanding of the structure and essential characteristics of the phenomenon within the context of cancer” (p. 235).

Research Design Review has published articles on two special types of multiple-method qualitative research—case study and narrative research—each of which is a form of “case-centered” qualitative research, a term coined by Mishler (1996, 1999) and used by others (cf. Riessman, 2008) to denote a research approach that preserves the “unity and coherence” of the research subject throughout data collection and analysis. A six-step approach to case-centered research design is discussed in this article.

Regardless of the particular multi-method design or type of research, a multiple-method approach requires a unique set of qualitative researcher skills. These skills are discussed in this article—“Working with Multiple Methods in Qualitative Research: 7 Unique Researcher Skills.”

Brewer, J., & Hunter, A. (2006). Foundations of multimethod research: Synthesizing styles. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2011). The Sage handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Flick, U. (2007). Designing qualitative research. London: Sage Publications.

Lambert, S. D., & Loiselle, C. G. (2008). Combining individual interviews and focus groups to enhance data richness. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(2), 228–237.

Mishler, E. G. (1996). Missing persons: Recovering developmental stories/histories. In R. Jessor, A. Colby, & R. A. Shweder (Eds.), Ethnography and human development: Context and meaning in social inquiry (pp. 73–100). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Mishler, E. G. (1999). Storylines: Craftartitists’ narratives of identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Riessman, C. K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Snape, D., & Spencer, L. (2003). The foundations of qualitative research. In J. Ritchie & J. Lewis (Eds.), Qualitative research practice. London: Sage Publications.