C. Advantages of Content Analysis
There are a number of advantages to content analysis. First, it is both quantitative, or objective, and qualitative, or impressionistic. Much of the process is clearly objective; counting the prevalence or frequency of occurrence of set of words or phrases in a television news program, for example, is strictly quantitative and does not consider any underlying semantic features that may be found from an examination of the context of those phrases. However, the technique also allows for more subjective operations, such as allowing the individual researcher to determine whether specific television programs are pro- or antiviolence. Simply counting the number of violence-related terms that appear in the programs may not make it clear whether the programs support or oppose violence. However, an examination of the context in which the terms are used, although more subjective and somewhat less reliable, may provide more insight into this research question.
Another advantage of content analysis is that it is an unobtrusive research method. Experiments and surveys frequently require researchers to interact with research participants during the data collection process in an abnormal or unnatural way. This interaction may affect the responses of the participants, who may omit key pieces of information, either deliberately or inadvertently. Texts and other types of media, on the other hand, are not affected by being read and analyzed by the researcher. For example, if a researcher is studying politicians to determine their views on the problem of youth gangs, the researcher could interview each politician individually. However, it is possible that the politicians might respond to the interviewer’s questions with answers that they believe the interviewer wants or that make the politician look better. On the other hand, an examination of each politician’s speeches would provide a more unbiased record, because the transcripts of the speeches cannot be altered to appear more favorable. Therefore, content analysis allows the researcher to reduce bias during the data collection process.
An additional strength of content analysis, in particular conceptual analysis, is that it generally is highly replicable. In other words, a different researcher, using the same coding system, should be able to produce the same results.
Content analysis also is extremely flexible and convenient for researchers. There are no surveys to conduct, no experimental subjects to test, no focus groups to conduct. The researcher can perform the analysis on his or her own schedule, rather than having to coordinate with research participants. In addition, because this methodology does not involve human participants, there are fewer ethical issues to take into consideration.
D. Disadvantages of Content Analysis
There are also several problems with content analysis as a research method. First, it is often very time-consuming and labor-intensive. The process is not as simple and straightforward as it may appear at first glance. Defining the categories, for example, may be a difficult process when multiple researchers are involved, and pretesting is essential to ensure that nothing is overlooked and that there is no confusion of terminology. In addition, the process requires a considerable amount of time. A study of prime time television programs to study violent content does require the researcher to watch the programs; even with commercials deleted, this will require a large time investment.
Another criticism of content analysis is that it frequently focuses on only the surface issues. In an effort to be more quantitative, the researcher may simply conduct word counts without looking at the context in which those words appear. In other words, the researcher focuses on the individual words, rather than on their meaning, by ignoring the contextual aspects of the communication.
Some scholars have pointed out that when content analysis is more qualitative, such as when one is conducting various types of relational analysis, the coding used frequently becomes more subjective and open to interpretation. This has the effect of increasing error and reducing reliability. To deal with this problem, multiple coders may be used, and interrater reliability measures may be applied.
E. Concluding Remarks
Overall, content analysis provides criminologists with opportunities to study, examine, and make inferences from a variety of print and other media. It allows researchers to expand their horizons and explore new concepts and new relationships among those concepts.