What are the benefits of content analysis

Qualitative content analysis 1 of 2 Dr. Petra Scheibler

The qualitative content analysis according to Mayring (2010) is an evaluation procedure for qualitative data that enables theory- and rule-based as well as methodically controlled evaluations.


1. Introduction

Despite a large number of qualitative studies, there are so far only a few methods for evaluating qualitative data that meet the scientific requirements with regard to transparency, theoretical reference and scientific quality criteria. A frequent criticism of qualitative studies is that the results are not comprehensible and verifiable because they are subject to a high degree of subjective interpretation. This supposedly subjective space of interpretation also often serves as an argument to attribute little scientific knowledge to qualitative data compared to quantitative data.

Several methods such as grounded theory methodology and qualitative content analysis offer a way out. The qualitative content analysis according to Mayring (2010) opens a way to the theory and rule-based as well as methodically controlled evaluation of qualitative data. A central area of ​​application consists in finding hypotheses and building theories. The qualitative content analysis is characterized precisely by the fact that it enables not only the uncovering of object-related individual factors, but also the construction of the possible connections between several factors.

A particular advantage of this method is the opportunity to combine both qualitative and quantitative analysis steps. In addition, it can be linked to relevant quantitative quality criteria that have not been adequately implemented in practice in social science and psychological research for a long time.

2. Requirements

The basis of the qualitative content analysis is text material, e.g. B. was collected on the basis of qualitative interviews. Other text sources that are already available can also be accessed and systematically analyzed using this evaluation method. The prerequisite is that qualitative data are available in written form.

3. The content analysis process model

The qualitative content analysis follows a systematic process model in which a distinction is made between specific techniques. These are the three basic forms of summarizing, explicative and structuring content analysis.

3.1 Explicit content analysis

The aim of the explicit content analysis is to add additional material (this includes all types of background information such as lexical or literature sources) to the text to be analyzed in order to be able to achieve a higher level of understanding. This is especially true for unclear text passages. The explication material should be collected systematically and in a controlled manner and made transparent in the research process.

3.2 Structuring content analysis

The aim of the structuring content analysis is to filter out certain criteria that should completely map the entirety of the text material. If these criteria have been defined beforehand, this step is carried out using a deductive approach. New content can lead to the inductive formation of categories. In this way, a system of categories can be developed step by step, which depicts the central content of the text material in a compressed form. Depending on the research question and the objective of the analysis, a formal, content-based, typifying or scaling procedure is used.

3.3 Summary content analysis

In the summarizing content analysis, the text material is reduced to such an extent that the essential content is retained and a clear short text is created. The basis for this procedure is the psychology of word processing. A distinction is made between individual summarizing, reductive processes. In order for this form of content analysis to be successful, procedural rules were developed, which include paraphrasing, generalization and various forms of reduction.

4. The content analysis category system

The core of the qualitative content analysis is the category system. This requires a precise definition of each individual category and sub-category. Each category must be described exactly in its form so that a later assignment of the text components to the corresponding categories is possible. To make this easier, so-called "anchor examples" (i.e. quotations) are selected from the text material. These examples are intended to make it clear in a concise manner which thematically delimitable text content must be assigned to a category. Another prerequisite for developing a “good” category system is the so-called selectivity.

5. The importance of selectivity for the categories

Categories should represent unambiguous, delimitable spaces for text content. It is very dependent on that Selectivity to pay attention to between the categories. Compliance with the selectivity enables text content to only be assigned to a single category. If there is ambiguity regarding the assignment of a text passage to a category or the text passage can be assigned to two or more categories, then there is a lack of sharpness between the categories. If no correction is made in this case, in order to ensure sufficient selectivity with a corresponding precision, multiple assignments of text passages will occur in the subsequent coding process. This has consequences for the interpretation of the results, especially if a quantitative evaluation is to be carried out afterwards. These consequences have to be discussed before creating the category system!

6. The coding rules

Coding rules are defined in a further step. These rules give the coder the necessary orientation framework, which facilitates the assignment of text passages to categories. The coding rules are intended to help especially with content-related problems of delimitation of thematically related categories. Here the coders receive information about when and under what conditions text passages are to be assigned to a certain category and when to another category.

7. Does the category system completely map the content of the qualitative data?

In a first trial run, it is checked to what extent the definitions of the categories as well as the anchor examples and the coding rules enable the text passages to be clearly assigned to the categories. The aim is to assign all textual content that can be distinguished in terms of content to the categories. Usually this test run makes it clear that a revision of the category system including its definitions and coding rules is necessary. In a final step, the text material is reassigned to the revised categories.

8. Advantages of qualitative content analysis

The strengths of qualitative content analysis lie in the systematic and rule-based approach, which ideally takes into account the relevant quality criteria of qualitative research. It also guarantees a high level of transparency in the research process. Measured against these criteria, the qualitative content analysis plays an important pioneering role in qualitative research, because it is currently the only qualitative method that ties in with the relevant quality criteria of scientific research. The criteria of validity and reliability are in the foreground: Is the content depicted with the respective category that is to be depicted? Can the text material be clearly assigned? And: Are the same assignments to the categories made using the category system when you go through the text material several times?

Recommended reading

Mayring, Ph. (2010 [1983]). Qualitative content analysis. Basics and Techniques (11th, updated and revised edition). Weinheim: Beltz