Methodology Of Content Analysis: Methods, Applications And ProblemsMethod And Applications

Methods, Applications, And Problems


In recent years there has been a growing recognition that both qualitative and quantitative approaches are needed for advancing nursing science. Morse (1991) has suggested, "researchers who purport to sub- scribe to the philosophical underpinnings of only one research approach have lost sight of the fact that research methodologies are merely tools, instruments to be used to facilitate understanding". 

The most recent controversial issue is not whether one method is intrinsically better than another, but which combination of methods is best to meet the aims of a particular study. An integral part of contemporary nursing research, content analysis methodology offers the opportunity to combine what are often thought to be antagonistic approaches to data analysis. 

The intellectual basis of content analysis can be traced to the beginning of the conscious use of symbols and language. Before World War n, the method was primarily restricted to a critique of journalistic endeavors, to document their religious, scientific, or literary content (Krippendorff, 1980; Speed, 1893). 

The simplistic reliance on counting words or phrases mat was characteristic of the method in its early development and is attributed to these journalistic roots. According to Weber (1985), the first large-scale application of the method was during World War n by the U.S. Office of Special Services to Nazi war propaganda. 

Although used widely in other disciplines as diverse as psychology, sociology, and political science, I shall discuss the use of content analysis in nursing science research and provide examples from that discipline. Content analysis is a research method that provides a systematic and objective means to make valid inferences from verbal, visual, or written data in order to describe and quantify specific phenomena. 

Unfortunately, for some researchers, scientific validity is equated with quantification. Content analysis is more than a counting game; it is concerned with meanings, intentions, consequences, and context. To describe the occurrences of words, phrases, or sentences without consideration of the contextual environment of the data is inappropriate and inadequate. 

The analyst must be cognizant of the context and must justify the findings in terms of the context or environment that produced the data. The goal of content analysis is to enhance the inferential quality of the results by relating the categories to the context or environment that produced the data. Inferences are not an integral part of the data, but rather come from the researcher and the research reader. 

An unobtrusive method, content analysis can be applied to existing data from one point in time or to documents that have existed over longer time frames; it can be used either alone or in conjunction with other methods.

Method And Applications 

Krippendorff (1980) disagreed with the contention that content analysis is what each of us may do in reading the morning paper, and he clearly identified it as a scientific process that differs across disciplines in terms of its focus. This set of analytic techniques facilitates the description of the manifest and/or latent content of communication by measuring the frequency, order, or intensity of occurrences of words, phrases, or sentences (Krippendorff, 1980; McLaughlin & Marascuilo, 1990; Weber, 1985).

Designing the Sampling Method and Selecting the Unit of Analysis 

External validity is a goal of content analysis, so the use of probability sampling techniques is an issue. Content analysis is predictive of intent. To select a sample, the population of all sources of data must first be identified, such as all records of hospice volunteers' interactions with terminally ill patients.


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