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Qualitative Research Methods

Analysis of Professional Literature
Class 8: Qualitative Research 3
(Content Analysis & Literature Review Writing Skills)

James Neill
Last updated:
05 Jul 2006

Summary from previous class

Content analysis: Finding the essence

Optional exam task: A mini-qualitative study (content analysis)

Recommended reading

Further reading

Summary from Previous Class

We discussed the role of observation, which is used to gather data about:

  • individual behavior

  • social behavior

  • materials and environment

Observation is particularly useful where self-reporting from participants is distorted through biases such as social desirability, prejudice, Hawthorne effect, etc.  Observation can also be usefully used in conjunction with other forms of data (such as self-report or interview).

Observation, however, is time-intensive and resource intensive in that it requires the observer to be on-location for usually extended periods of time.  Alternatively observation can be made of videotape.  In any case, the chief advantage of observation is undoubtedly richness and contextual validity of the data.

Observation, importantly, also need not be restricted to qualitative research - quantitative data can also be recorded (e.g., number of times pushing is observed in a school playground).

Content Analysis: Finding the essence

Content analysis is about essence, capturing the essence...what is the perfume, the flavor, the nature of the phenomenon.

As one goes further along the research paradigm spectrum, from quantitative to qualitative assumptions, then the researcher tends to immerse him/her self experientially in the holistic nature of the phenomenon.  In content analysis, there is immersion in text, and one can use a variety of approaches to analysis.  It may be that via deep, personal reading and thinking about textual data that a researcher can develop authentic and well-polished conceptualizations and understanding.  But it may also be that using more structured, analytical techniques, involving:

(i) sorting;

(ii) categorizing;

(iii) naming themes,

(iv) counting, etc.

a more rigorous and valid content analysis can be achieved.  As always, the exact method  will depend on the nature of the situation, the personality and expertise of the researcher, the financial and political context, etc.

Optional Exam Task:
A Mini-Qualitative Content Analysis Study

In the attached file, you will find approximately 100 open-ended written responses from adolescents who completed Outward Bound Australia programs (5 to 9 days long).

How could you analyze the descriptions?

Recommended Reading

Gall, M. D., Borg, W. R., Gall, J. P. (2003).  Educational research: An introduction. (7th Edition). White Plains, New York: Longman. Recommended: Skim read:

  • Chapter 9: Collecting Data through Observation and Content Analysis (pp. 253-285) (same as recommended reading from last week)

Further Reading

Mayring, P. (2000). Qualitative content analysis. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(2).