qualitative content analysis

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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Qualitative Content Analysis: The Challenge of Inference

Back in April 2013, a post in RDR talked about the “daunting job of conducting a content analysis that reveals how people think [the “stream of consciousness”] while at the same time Criminal-Case-Crime-Scene-Living-Room-Case-5answers the research question and takes the sponsoring client to the next step.” The article outlines the basic steps in a content analysis, including the analysis and interpretation phases of the process. Making interpretations from a content analysis are tricky things, esp., when conducting a “primary content analysis” when the content being analyzed is derived from non-research-related, pre-existing sources such as newspapers, blog posts, Hollywood films, YouTube videos, television broadcasts, and the like. The issue here is the “trap” content analysts can fall into by (a) thinking there are causal relationships in the data when there are not, and/or (b) trying to build a story in the shape of their interpretations when the story (based on the data) has little merit. In this way, an overabundance of subjectivity can creep into the qualitative content analysis method.

These traps, related to causality and storytelling, are fairly easy to fall into unless a systematic and conscientious approach is taken in the analysis and interpretation phases. In particular, Read Full Text