Content Analysis


Content Analysis  “Content Analysis” is a research method that examines the content of messages. A message may be intended to span generations (e.g., a personal journal passed on as a family heirloom). Or it may be intended to span the planet (e.g., war news spread through radio, television, or the Internet). Even when the purpose of a message is the simple description of an experience, it cannot avoid expressing values and norms. Often such messages are purposely manipulative, intended to shape the behavior of those that hear or see them. Content analysis allows researchers to examine both social expression and social change. 1) Choose a research question that can be answered through the content analysis of 20 recorded messages. For example: Suppose that I want to know how much violence (if any) is being promoted through popular music. My content analysis might measure what percentage of top 5 songs in four different music genres includes violent lyrics. (That’s 20 songs total.) Suppose that I want to know how much public acceptance of racial stereotypes has changed since the 1950’s. My content analysis might compare which racial stereotypes show up in a sample of 10 1950’s comic strips with those that show up in a sample of 10 current comic strips. Suppose that I want to know how advertisers attempt to manipulate different age groups. My content analysis might compare 5 food ads that target elderly adults, 5 that target middle aged adults, 5 that target teens, and 5 that target children. Suppose that I want to know how bumper stickers are being used in local politics? My content analysis might examine 20 bumper stickers in a particular neighborhood and determine what percentages are devoted to political issues (e.g., environment, abortion) or to political candidates. Please do not use any of these examples. Be creative, and come up with your own. Reminder: you will not be directly observing anyone this time — instead, you will be analyzing messages that people leave behind. 2) Choose a hypothesis (i.e., what might be found?). For example, suppose I’m trying to demonstrate that gender stereotypes are still obvious in magazine ads. I might hypothesize, “Out of twenty magazine ads that I examine, at least 80% will show men as powerful, but only 40% will show women as powerful.”   3) Create a checklist to measure the main variable. For the example above, I might create a checklist measuring the variable, “powerful,” like this: ____Woman is facing forward with direct eye contact ____Man is facing forward with direct eye contact ____Woman’s expression is serious. ____Man’s expression is serious. ____Woman is active (rather than passive). ____Man is active (rather than passive). As you create your checklist, make sure that it actually measures the concept that you’re after. (In other words, your measurement must be “valid” as we discussed in Lecture 3.) Your checklist must allow for the full range of possible responses. Notice that, in my example above, whatever item I listed as possible for a woman, I also listed as possible for a man. In many lists, the word “other” can cover anything that might have been forgotten. 4) Apply the checklist to each message.  For the example above, complete the checklist (i.e., check off the items on the list) for each of the twenty magazine ads. (total = 20 completed checklists). 5) Summarize the numbers in terms of percentages. What can be concluded? For the example above, I might discover that 70% of the ads showed men as powerful while 50% showed women as powerful. Given my original hypothesis, I would have to conclude that the gender stereotypes are still present but not as severe as I expected.  6) Write about the results in an essay (300 words minimum). Include the research question, hypothesis, original checklist, percentages, and conclusion. There’s one more thing I’d like you to add:  Briefly summarize the results of someone else’s study about the same topic. It must be a study that was published in a professional source. (See the next page after this one, labeled, “How to Find a Professional Source.” Remember to cite APA style.) Here’s an example of how I might briefly include the results of someone else’s study in my essay. Let’s stay with the example we’ve been using about gender and power in magazine ads. But what if I can’t find a published study like that? That’s all right…I’ll just use a study on a similar topic. I only need to pull out one relevant detail that will help my discussion. I’ll use the other person’s study right up front to introduce my own. Like this: Gender stereotypes still show up in the media even though this has been decreasing for decades. One study tracked the changes in gender stereotypes through time. They concluded that the media is a reflective mirror of what the general society believes, rather than a cause of those beliefs (Eisend, 2009). Then I’d go on with what I found in my own content analysis. Then, at the end, I’d include an end of paper citation, like this: Eisend, M. (2009). Meta-analysis of gender roles in advertising. Journal of the Acadamy of Marketing Science.        38,418–440. Retrieved April 9, 2020 from For a full example of how to put all these pieces together, see the page labeled, “Example of a Content Analysis Project” after the professional source page. 7) Submit the collection of completed checklists. Also submit your essay, called your “Content Analysis Write-Up.” One more example of completed checklists: Suppose I asked, “What is the main purpose of most billboards — to offer helpful information or to sell things?” Here are the first three of my twenty completed checklists: Billboard 1 Main St. and 14th St. Coke ad _x_ Message advertises a product ___ Message advertises a public service ___ Message includes information ___ Other Billboard 2 Interstate 5, exit 157 Hospital ad _x_ Message advertises a product _x_ Message advertises a public service _x_ Message includes information ___ Other Billboard 3 Vierra Rd. and Pine Ave. Crisis hotline ___ Message advertises a product _x_ Message advertises a public service _x_ Message includes information ___ Other Etc… to the twentieth billboard.

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