qualitative content analysis

A Quality Approach to Qualitative Content Analysis

The following includes excerpts from Section 1 and Section 4 in “A Quality Approach to Qualitative Content Analysis: Similarities and Differences Compared to Other Qualitative Methods” Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 20(3), Art. 31. The Table of Contents for the entire FQS special issue on qualitative content analysis can be found here.

1. Introduction

Scholarly discourse about what it means to collect and analyze qualitative data is a dynamic discussionQualitative Content Analysis in the qualitative community. At the center of this discourse is the shared understanding that qualitative research involves the examination of nuanced connections, along with the social and contextual dimensions, that give meaning to qualitative data. Qualitative researchers strive to discover these nuanced connections and contextual dimensions with all methods, and most assuredly with qualitative content analysis (QCA) (ELO & KYNGÄS, 2008; GRANEHEIM & LUNDMAN, 2004; HSIEH & SHANNON, 2005; LATTER, YERRELL, RYCROFT-MALONE & SHAW, 2000; SCHREIER, 2012; TOWNSEND, AMARSI, BACKMAN, COX & LI, 2011). Yet, in every instance, qualitative researchers are presented with the challenge of conceptualizing and implementing research designs that result in rich contextual data, while also incorporating principles of quality research to maximize the discovery of valid interpretations that lead to the ultimate usefulness (i.e., the “so what?”) of their  research.

In this article I discuss what makes QCA similar to and different from other qualitative research methods from the standpoint of a quality approach. In order to establish the basis from which quality concerns can be discussed, I begin with defining the QCA method (Section 2) and, in so doing, identifying the fundamental similarities and differences between QCA and other methods (Section 3) from the perspective of the ten unique attributes of qualitative research (ROLLER & LAVRAKAS, 2015). With this as a foundation, I continue with a brief contextual discussion of a quality approach to qualitative research and the QCA method (Section 4), followed by an introduction to one such approach, i.e., the total quality framework (TQF) (ibid.), in which I give researchers a way to think about quality design throughout each phase of the qualitative research process (Section 5). With these preparatory sections—defining and contrasting the QCA method with other qualitative methods, discussing quality approaches, and a brief description of the TQF approach—I lay the necessary groundwork for a meaningful discussion Read Full Text

Secondary & Primary Qualitative Content Analysis: Distinguishing Between the Two Methods

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 241-244).

The definition and use of the content analysis method in qualitative research varies depending on the particular type of qualitative content analysis (QCA) being conducted. The most common QCA method is utilized when it plays a supportive analytical role in combination with other qualitative methods, such as in-depth interviews (IDIs) and focus group discussions, i.e., when content analysis is being used as a secondary method. The other less common QCA method is used when the source of content is an existing, naturally occurring repository of information (such as historical documents, media content, and diaries), i.e., when content analysis is being used as a primary method.

Secondary Method

A systematic application of QCA* as a secondary method has been conducted across a variety of disciplines.  Health care researchers in particular have used content analysis in conjunction with other qualitative methods to investigate a broad range of topics.  For example, Söderberg and Lundman (2001) applied the content analysis method to analyze the results from 25 unstructured IDIs conducted with women inflicted with fibromyalgia, from which they isolated five areas in these women’s lives impacted by the onset of this condition. In a similar approach, Berg and Hansson (2000) examined the lived experiences of 13 nurses working in dementia care at a psychogeriatric clinic who received clinical group supervision and individually planned nursing care. Berg and Hansson conducted unstructured, open-ended IDIs with each nurse and executed a content analysis that revealed two principal and five subordinate themes indicating supportive needs at the personal and professional level. Kyngäs (2004) studied the support network among 40 teenagers suffering from a chronic disease, such as asthma or epilepsy, by way of semi-structured IDIs.  Content analysis in this instance showed six distinct social network Read Full Text

The Unique Quality of Qualitative Content Analysis

A unique attribute of qualitative content analysis is the focus on a continual process of revising and developing meanings in Qualitative Content Analysisthe data based on new discoveries. Unlike quantitative content analysts who set their coding scheme early in the research process — typically modifying it only slightly or not at all during data collection — qualitative researchers methodically and frequently revisit the content they are studying to better understand each relevant piece as well as its relationship to the entire context from which it was chosen (sampled), thereby modifying how and what they are coding throughout the data collection period. In this way, and as Krippendorff (2013) points out, qualitative content analysis puts the analyst in a hermeneutic circle1 whereby interpretations are reformulated based on new insights related to, for example, a larger context.

This more flexible, less rigid, approach to content analysis also embraces the notion of multiple meanings derived from multiple sources. A case in point is triangulation, which is used in qualitative analysis to verify the analyst’s interpretations by considering alternative points of view or analyzing deviant cases. It is this more far-reaching consideration of the data — along with the added support of the research participants’ verbatim comments that are typically included in the final research document — that is indicative of the unique qualities of the qualitative approach.

Indeed, it is the inductive strategy in search of latent content, the use of context, the back-and-forth flexibility throughout the analytical process, and the continual questioning of preliminary interpretations that set qualitative content analysis apart from the quantitative method.

Adapted from Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 233-234.

1Krippendorff (2013) uses the concept of the “hermeneutic circle” in content analysis to mean that “text is interpreted relative to an imagined context, and these interpretations in turn reconstruct the context for further examination of the same or subsequently available text” (p. 259).

Krippendorff, K. (2013). Content analysis (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

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