III. Content Analysis
A. What Is Content Analysis?
Content analysis, or textual analysis, as it is sometimes known, allows scholars to systematically study and classify the contents of an individual work or body of work, often to determine the presence of certain words or concepts. It is defined as “the identifying, quantifying, and analyzing of specific words, phrases, concepts, or other observable semantic data in a text or body of texts with the aim of uncovering some underlying thematic or rhetorical pattern running through these texts” (Huckin, 2003, p. 14).
Content analysis is applied not only to scholarly works (e.g., journals or books) but also to both the print and visual media (e.g., newspapers, television, movies). Other sources of data for content analysis include book chapters, interviews, conversations, speeches, historical documents, and so on. Content analysis may be applied almost anywhere communication occurs.
Content analysis has been used in criminology to study a wide variety of topics, ranging from how newspapers discuss community policing (Mastrofski & Ritti, 1999) to how television newscasts cover crime (Chermak, 1994). Wolfgang et al. (1978) used content as well as citation analysis when examining the field of criminology. They read, classified, coded, and rated more than 4,400 works, ranking them on scientific merit. More recently, Richard Wright (1995) conducted a number of content analyses of criminology and criminal justice textbooks, looking at topics such as the coverage of women and crime, the coverage of career criminals, treatment-of-choice theory, and the coverage of deterrence.
Content analysis allows researchers to study not only how messages are conveyed but also what meaning those messages convey. Like citation analysis, it is a primarily quantitative method of analyzing data. However, one of the key elements of content analysis is coding the concepts to be studied, and this may involve some subjectivity. For example, if a researcher wants to examine all references to prisons, a wide variety of terms may be relevant, including not only prisons but also jails, supermax, corrections, and so on. Which terms are used will depend on the individual researcher and the research question.
B. Types of Content Analysis
There are two main types, or categories, of content analysis: (1) conceptual and (2) relational. These were described in detail by Busch et al. (2005).
1. Conceptual Analysis
Conceptual analysis is what most people think of when the term content analysis appears. It is occasionally referred to as thematic analysis. In essence, it involves selecting a concept to be studied and determining how often that concept appears in the material being examined. For example, conceptual analysis could be used to determine how often terms relating to youth gangs are mentioned on a local newscast, appear in a local newspaper, or are mentioned in speeches by key government officials (or candidates).
To increase objectivity, particularly if multiple individuals are involved in the research, it is necessary for the terms in question to be identified in advance, so as to ensure intercoder reliability (in other words, to make certain that all researchers focus on the same specific words or word patterns). For example, in a study of youth gangs, other terms might also be used to refer to the concept in the text being examined; the researchers must decide in advance which terms imply “youth gangs” so that they will know which to terms include when and if they appear (e.g., synonyms such as juvenile gangs or teen gangs, as well as the names of specific gangs, such as “Crips” or “Bloods”). This step also is necessary when there is only one researcher examining the data, to ensure consistency throughout the data coding process.
It is also necessary for the researchers to decide whether to study presence or frequency. When the researcher is looking only at the presence (or absence) of a concept, it does not matter how often the relevant term appears in the text; the researcher cares only whether the term appears at least once. Therefore, a newspaper article that mentions youth gangs only once would be considered equal to one that focuses on the topic and mentions youth gangs repeatedly throughout the article. In a frequency study, on the other hand, a key term will be counted each time it appears. Measuring frequency rather than simple presence allows the researcher to assign a level of importance to the term. For example, one might conclude that a political candidate who mentions youth gangs 25 times during the course of a campaign speech considers the problem to be more serious than a rival candidate who mentions youth gangs only once during a speech.
Content analysis in criminology has also focused on manifest content, looking at the amount of coverage, usually measured by column print inches or pages, given to specific topics or individuals. Manifest content analysis researchers in criminology, criminal justice, and deviance have used length-of-coverage measurements in a variety of different ways. For example, Cohn et al. (1998) used content analysis to examine the amount of coverage given to scholars in introductory criminology textbooks and identify the most influential scholars on the basis of page coverage. Other researchers have used the number of inches of print in newspaper columns as a way to measure the amount of publicity devoted to various news stories.
2. Relational Analysis
Relational analysis, which is also known as semantic analysis or concept mapping, examines the relationship among various concepts within a given text. Relational analysis not only identifies concepts within the text but also explores the relationships between the various concepts. For example, examining the terms that appear next to or near the phrase community policing in newspaper articles may give insight into community attitudes toward or views about community policing. The basic idea behind relational analysis is that the individual concepts have no inherent meaning in and of themselves but they instead gain meaning as a result of their relationship with other concepts in the text. Researchers generally look at three main aspects of the relationship among the concepts being studied: (a) the strength of a relationship shows how strongly the concepts are related, (b) the sign indicates whether concepts are positively or negatively related, and (c) the direction refers to the type of relationship (e.g., does one concept precede another?).