The world around us is always changing and so is the content we consume, whether it’s listening to a radio show on the way to work, reading a magazine we grabbed at the grocery store checkout, or watching the latest documentary series on Netflix.
But what’s even more interesting than the content itself is the audience’s reactions to these shows and books and speeches. That’s where content analysis comes in.
What is content analysis?
Content analysis is the identification of patterns in recorded communication. This research method is objective, meaning you’re looking for quantitative data (percents, numbers etc.) from the collection of written, oral, or visual communication you’ve gathered.
What is a content analysis used for?
Content analysis is used to find out more about the purpose or effectiveness of communication content. You’re also able to gather insight on the content creators as well as the audience through this analysis.
Content analysis is used in a variety of fields, including marketing and psychology, to reach a multitude of different goals: identifying bias in communication, getting a better understanding of an individual or group’s intentions, finding patterns in how certain concepts are communicated, and studying the consequences of different types of content.
For example, if you wanted to research the importance of foreign policy in political campaigns, add up the amount of times you hear related terms in campaign speeches and analyze the difference between each candidate. From this, you can find out which communication style or phrases are most effective, how the intended audience feels about this topic, and so on.
Another example is studying phrases or words used in advertisements and seeing which is the most successful for your own marketing campaign. Content analysis would reveal audience’s reactions to a variety of commercials or print ads, helping your own campaign be more lucrative.
Advantages of content analysis
Content analysis is continuously used by so many fields because of its reliability and simple implementation. You don’t even need a huge sample for your content analysis to be accurate. Here’s a few advantages:
Content analysis can easily be done at any time and anywhere — and for any cost, too. All you really have to do is get access to the sources you need, which can be as easy as a collection of books, a streaming service, or the internet.
Unobtrusive data collection
Since most of your sources are written or recorded, you also don’t need any participants to do accurate studies. You can easily analyze communication and social interaction without influencing the results with your presence. In fact, most of the reactions and responses you need have already happened, meaning it’s just more source gathering.
Transparent and replicable
Content analysis follows a pretty straightforward systematic procedure, meaning your research can be easily replicated by other researchers. This means that the yielded results are quite reliable and trustworthy.
Know Your Audience: Content analysis
A lot of times, content analysis isn’t simply about studying the content itself. It’s often about studying the content’s intended audience. You’re attempting to figure out their response to certain words or subject matter or speech styles. You’re trying to understand their disdain for certain television shows and infatuation with others. You’re hoping to uncover why they consider some copy trustworthy while immediately regarding others as trashy.
The things you’ll uncover about the audience is almost infinite. To properly narrow down your research, you first have to focus on the content itself. You don’t want to listen to an entire year’s worth of a radio show or read thousands of books. So you’ll have to find out which content is fit for your analysis.
Units of content
If you want to properly count content, you’ll need to divide your collection into units of roughly the same size. Of course, there’s no limit to the number of units you create out of your collection of writing, but keep in mind that the larger the unit, the fewer you’ll need.
Sometimes you can’t simply divide your collection into units if the lengths vary too greatly. Think a collection of books where one is 400 pages and one is over 1,000. Instead of dividing your content by books, then, you’d do it by pages. If it’s video content with varying lengths, maybe divide them into units by minutes instead of “per video.”
If you’re analyzing media content, here are some unit ideas: a word or phrase, a paragraph or statement, an article, or a large document (like a book).
If you’re studying audience content, you can study the collection for these units: open-ended responses to survey questions, statements made by consensus groups, or comments from interviews and group discussions.
Selecting content for analysis
So how do you select the content that you’ll gather into your collection of content, also known as a corpus? This can seem daunting when there’s basically an unlimited supply of content in the world. And you’ll honestly never be able to study all of the content surrounding one area of interest of subject.
While there’s an endless array of content available, you don’t need to gather a very huge sample for content analysis. Think between 100 and 2,000. Your goal is basically to find content that’s fully representative. This means you wouldn’t just select one issue of a magazine if you wanted to study its advertisements. You’d want to gather other issues as well, since it’s not clear if the single issue you first selected truly represents the magazine as a whole through time.
When you’re just starting out your research, you will need to decide which medium and genre you’re going to collect in your corpus, the criteria for its inclusion, and the parameters in terms of date range and location.
If there’s truly only a small amount of text that meet your above criteria, you should probably analyze all of them. If the collection is much too large to consume in a realistic amount of time, you will need to select a sample.
Content analysis is continuously an important area of research because of content’s ever-exiting presence in our world. From classical novels and hand-written letters to emails and YouTube videos, content is always being created for people to consume and react to.
While there’s an overabundance of content, the first step of content analysis is to identify your specific research question. Is there a difference in how the US networks represents male and female news reporters in terms of trustworthiness? Are there certain words, phrases, or topics the news reporters consistently say? How does the audience react to that?
The second step is to narrow down your selection of content, creating a fair representation of your chosen media that is still able to be studied properly in a doable amount of time.
Content analysis is important because it shows just how susceptible audiences are to certain words, phrases, ideas, images, or works/programs/shows. And since content is always changing, new content analysis is always needed.