A Definition of Content Analysis

In content analysis, evaluators classify the key ideas in a written communication, such as a report, article, or film. Evaluators can do content analysis of video, film, and other forms of recorded information, but in this paper, we focus on analyzing words. Here is a formal definition of content analysis: it is a systematic research method for analyzing textual information in a standardized way that allows evaluators to make inferences about that information. (Weber, 1990, pp.9-12, and Krippendorff, 1980, pp. 21-27) Another expression of this is as follows: “A central idea in content analysis is that the many words of the text are classified into much fewer content categories.” (Weber, 1990, p. 12)

The classification process, called “coding,” consists of marking text passages with short alphanumeric codes. This creates “categorical variables” that represent the original, verbal information and that can then be analyzed by standard statistical methods. The text passages can come from structured interviews, focus group discussions, case studies, open-ended questions on survey instruments, workpapers, agency documents, and previous evaluations. 1 Content analysis is particularly useful in GAO work because of the large quantity of written material that evaluators typically collect during a project, especially when it
comes from diverse and unstructured sources.

To classify a document’s key ideas, the evaluator identifies its themes, issues, topics, and so on. Theresult  might be a simple list of the topics in a series of meeting notes. Content analysis can go further if theevaluator counts  the frequency of statements, detects subtle differences in their intensity, or examines issues over time, in different situations, or from different groups.

Thus, content analysis can not only help summarize the formal content of written material; it can also describe the attitudes or perceptions of the author of that material. For example, if an evaluator wanted to assess the effects of a program on the lives of older people from their perspective, he or she could analyze open-ended interview responses to determine their outlook on life, loneliness, or security. Similarly, an evaluator could assess the effect of Voice of America broadcasts by analyzing the content of Soviet newspaper articles and radio broadcasts. (Inkeles, 1952)

Source: GAO (2013), Content Analysis: A Methodology for Structuring and Analyzing Written Material: PEMD-10.3.1, BiblioGov.

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