Applying Codes in Content Analysis

In manual coding on hard-copy documents, the coder simply marks the boundaries of the recording unit and writes the code in the margin of the document, as in figure 4.1. It is often helpful and speedier to use different colored pens for each variable. The procedure is similar when using a computer, but the details depend on the software. Coders can link brief comments to a recording unit in coding manually with some software. Such comments may be useful during data analysis to give a rationale for the code, to make cross-reference to another passage in the document, to flag the coder’s uncertainty, and so on.

1. Codes That Overlap

In either manual or computer coding, two codes can overlap: the recording unit for one variable overlaps the recording unit for another variable. Figure 4.2 excerpts an interview in which one objective was to find out what local officials thought about their central agency’s actions. The figure shows two coded variables: “weaknesses in the agency’s strategies” and “consequences of agency actions.” Weaknesses in the agency’s strategies had three categories: inconsistency (coded here as “in”), micromanaging, and other. Consequences of agency actions also had three categories: inefficiency (coded here as “in”), vulnerability to fraud, and other. The code “[weakin-92” indicates that the passage between lines 88 and 92 identifies inconsistency as a weakness of the central agency. The code “[consin-93” between lines 89 and 93, and therefore overlapping the first code, indicates that a consequence of agency action—in this case, inconsistency—is inefficiency.

2. Nested Codes         

A code is nested within another when the recording unit for one variable completely envelopes the recording unit for another variable. Figure 4.3 shows a coded portion of an interview for two variables. One is “view about time spent on financial management” with three categories: excessive, about right, and insufficient. The other is “causes for project delays” with four categories: financial management problems, insufficient staff, supply shortages, and other. Code “[fimgtex-424” indicates that a passage between fines 416 and 424 expresses the view that time spent on financial management is excessive. Code “[delayfm-424” indicates that a passage between fines .417 and 424 attributes project delays to financial management problems. The second passage is nested within the first; as may be seen from the figure, nesting is a special case of overlapping.

Coders may find it useful to account for structured data associated with a document. When coding responses to open-ended interview questions, for example, they might want to crosstabulate the coded text variables with demographic variables such as gender, age, and ethnicity. The demographic variables can be added easily by hand or with computer software.

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

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