Qualitative content analysis – the nuts and bolts…

Categories: Qualitative


I write about qualitative content analysis, I teach qualitative content analysis, I supervise work using qualitative content analysis – and I have many students approach me with the problems they run into when using the method. So why not – blog about qualitative content analysis as well? And what better place to do so than Methodspace? (which I joined more than a year ago, but which, I must admit, I have not been back to for a while – but this is about to change…)

So this is the idea: to take the various questions I get from students, to share them with you, and to share my suggestions (and sometimes puzzlement) as well. And to hopefully have you join in and comment, and maybe ask your own questions, or let me know if I’m not making myself clear, or anything else that comes to your mind.

To give you an idea what this might look like: Yesterday an MA student came to see me during my office hours. She plans to look at the symbols that are used to represent the EU in news reports by broadcasters from three different countries and also by Euro News. She had already started to develop a coding frame to classify the different symbols, such as: the EU flag, EU representatives, EU buildings, etc. Her main category for this was ‘type of symbol’, and EU flags, buildings, etc. were her subcategories. In addition, she also wanted to capture the visibility of these symbols. Could she do so by introducing yet another category, named ‘visibility’?

My answer was: no. Visibility is an abstract concept, and in a first step she needs to find indicators (criteria) of greater or lesser visibility. We came up with the following criteria: duration of exposure, foregrounding, distance of shot. Two of these can be captured by introducing additional categories (foregrounding and distance), whereas the other is a metric variable (duration to exposure).

This immediately led to the next question: How to introduce these additional categories – as subcategories of ‘types of symbol’? Again my answer was ‘no’. Just as type of symbol was a main category, she would have to introduce additional main categories: foregrounding (with symbol in the foreground and symbol in the background as subcategories) and distance (close, medium, and long shot as subcategories). She would then have to classify each symbol in her material on all three main categories, i.e. according to what type of symbol is shown; whether it is displayed in the foreground or in the background; and whether it is shown as a close-up, a medium or a long.distance shot. And for each news clip, she would also have to determine for how long the symbol is shown (not really a very qualitative procedure – true – but sometimes you have to mix…).

And how does she get from here to assessing the visibility of each symbol? Well, this would make the first post a bit long… More on this the next time. In the meantime: Do you find this Q and A Blog on Qualitative Content Analysis useful? Tell me what you think! I look forward to your comments.