Aubia Communications

Count it out: How to conduct a content analysis

In my first Public Relations internship, I was responsible for maintaining a log of press releases distributed by the Valdosta Tourism Authority. I would make sure each press release was numbered, dated and filed along with a list of which media outlets received it. I didn’t know what I was doing then was the beginnings of a content analysis. A basic press release log with a just a few more steps could have been turned into a full quantitative research method.

How to develop your own content analysis

Count it out: How to conduct a content analysis

According to Dr. Don W. Stacks in his book “Primer of Public Relations Research,” content analysis is a “systematic, objective and quantitative method for researching messages.” This research method takes qualitative information and codes it into quantitative data that can be objectified for replication.

In setting up your content analysis, you need to distinguish three items:

1. Units of analysis

2. Categories those units will fall in

3. Coding methodology

Units of analysis

As with any method, you will first need to review research pertaining to your particular situation and state your objective in conducting the research.  This review and objective setting will help you to establish what content you are looking for.You can then determine what units of analysis that content would be found in.

Using my first internship as an example, the Valdosta Tourism Authority had started a campaign that year to showcase the city’s historical venues and major theme park, Wild Adventures, encouraging tourists to come experience “Antebellum to Adventure” in the city’s wide variety of sites and activities. Using the content “Antebellum to Adventure,” I could have then looked at the media outlets that received and used the press releases about the campaign, placing each form of media into its own unit, such as newspaper stories, magazine articles and news broadcasts. The objective of the content analysis could have been set to see if the campaign slogan was being used in at least 40 percent of media content about tourism in Valdosta.

Unit categories

After you have identified the units of analysis, you will then need to establish the categories that describe the content. Typical categories include subject matter, values and direction. Categories should be exhaustive to the point that a unit of analysis can only fit into one category.

For the “Antebellum to Adventure” campaign, I could have identified categories that placed the content into subject matter category of tourism, history and recreation; values category of fun, family-friendly and affordable; and direction category of positive, negative and neutral.

Coding methodology

Some units of analysis can be quite the undertaking. It is best to use an entire population of a unit, but if that is not feasible, take a reliable and valid sample of the unit to test. Once the units have been placed into descriptive categories that have been pre-tested to saturation, then it’s time to begin the analysis. For objectivity, at least three coders should be used. According to the Universal Accreditation Board’s Accredited in Public Relations Study Guide, you should have at least 80 percent or higher agreement between the independent coders of what units belong in what categories.

Using myself, the director of tourism and the director of convention sales, we three could have reviewed the entire population or sample of media units and placed each into one of the categories. Using a coefficient of agreement aimed for 80 percent or higher, we could have then analyzed the results using cross-tabulation to ensure we met the coefficient of agreement. (Dr. Stacks recommends Diction 6.0 for computerized statistical analysis.) Once this is achieved, we could have then reviewed the results of the content analysis to see if we met the objective of at least 40 percent of media content about tourism in Valdosta using “Antebellum to Adventure.”

Content analysis is a useful research method bridging the two major forms of research, qualitative and quantitative. What is your favorite research method?

photo credit: Ben McLeod via photopin cc

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