In reading Merriam (1998) Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education, I ran across an old friend — content analysis.
In a chapter on mining data from documents for qualitative research, Merriam discusses content analysis for qualitative case studies. As a communication/PR/IMC professional, content analysis is a familiar frequently used tool for determining what is being reported in the media. Commercial clipping services are frequently hired to provide the practitioner with packets of press clippings and broadcast monitor reports. These can be studied to see what messages are getting out to audiences. They do not, however, provide any solid information on readership or if there is any impact of the messages on attitudes, beliefs, or behavior.
Merriam reminds us that historians and literary critics have long used content analysis to analyze historical documents and literature. She acknowledges that content analysis is currently used most frequently for media such as newspapers, periodicals, television, and film. Merriam says these applications have a strong quantitative focus and are concerned with measuring the frequency and variety of messages and confirming hypotheses.
Cutlip, Center, & Broom (2006), writing in Effective Public Relations, say content analysis has a role in determining trends, providing valuable insights into what might be on the public relations agenda in the future. Public relations firms increasingly help clients anticipate issues by using the services of issues-tracking firms and by conducting their own content analysis.
Merriam says most research designs using content analysis are sequential, moving from category construction to sampling, data collection, data analysis, and then interpretation.
The deeper I dig into my doctoral studies, such as my current focus on qualitative research methods for education, the more similarities I find with aspects of my career in communication/PR/IMC. I find that most comforting.
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