Questions with Kimberly Neuendorf: content analysis


We interview Professor Kimberly Neuendorf of Cleveland State University to get her take on content analysis: what it is, when it’s used, and what’s driving it. of its remarkable growth. Professor Neuendorf is an authority on content analysis methods. She specializes in how communications can influence public and consumer preferences, perceptions and behavior.

How would you define content analysis?

Content analysis is the systematic, objective and quantitative evaluation of message characteristics. Messages can be text (such as news articles, website comments, social media posts), visual (photos, video), or audio (radio broadcasts, speeches). Using specific techniques, researchers can analyze these messages in a way that is both reproducible and consistent with the scientific method.

What techniques are used in content analysis?

Two main techniques drive content analysis: computer-assisted text analysis and human coding.

Computer-assisted text analysis: Because content analysis is intended to be bias-free, computer algorithms are very effective tools. Computers can, for example, quantify the occurrence of certain words or phrases over time, as well as the correlations between certain words. Once computer algorithms map this data, researchers can identify broader patterns and themes.

Human coding: For tasks that computers cannot perform well, such as analyzing visual images or videos, human skills come into play. More nuanced textual content may also require human interpretation: the sarcasm employed in a speech is a good example.

Human coders adhere to specific procedures and follow a detailed written scheme when classifying messages. Typically, two people code each message independently; comparing their respective work allows the content analyst to verify that the coding is reliable and objective.

Under what circumstances do academic researchers rely on content analysis?

Content analysis is used in a wide variety of academic disciplines, including political science, psychiatry, and linguistics. To give examples in yet another area, media studies, researchers have sought to identify differences in news coverage over time or across geographic regions, or to analyze particular media themes, such as violence.

In the legal field, content analyzes of historical judicial opinions can provide quantitative means of interpreting case law. Specifically, by performing content analysis on past court decisions, attorneys can gain insight into factors that could inform future decisions.

When is content analysis used in litigation?

In misleading advertising cases, experts have performed content analysis to identify themes or terms that companies use in their advertisements. In defamation, consumer fraud, and product liability contexts, content analysis can help gauge public opinion on a given topic. For example, content analysts have evaluated Twitter posts to understand consumer perception of a product. In event studies, content analysis can show when and how news is released, and what information is in the public domain at certain times. Finally, law firms have used analyzes of the media coverage of their high-profile clients as evidence to support change of venue motions.

In addition to these specific scenarios, content analysis can be an essential eDiscovery and organizational tool in cases that rely on large numbers of documents.

What is driving the growth of content analytics?

A key factor is the explosion of the Internet. There is a large amount of content to analyze: social media, blogs, YouTube, websites, online document archives. The list is long and growing minute by minute.

Another driver is the growing sophistication of computers, which now perform tasks previously reserved for humans. Specifically, computers can use machine learning (like neural networks) to recognize certain content patterns without human intervention. Such advancements will make content analysis faster and more accessible in the near future.

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Jenny T. Curlee