How to Write a Content Analysis Paper

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Content analysis is defined by Seale (2004) as any technique for analyzing texts in terms of the presence and frequency of specific terms, narratives or concepts. Even though the data is qualitative, the analysis is quantitative, for charts and graphs can be used. Inferences can be made by comparing and looking for patterns and trends. A content analysis should include frequency, direction, intensity, and space. Below are steps illustrating how to write a content analysis paper. To illustrate the steps, the two documents compared are Justice Harlan's Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Chief Justice Warren Writing for the Majority in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

  • Make sure both documents have common themes, so you can do a comparison. For example, Justice Harlan's Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Chief Justice Warren Writing for the Majority in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) common theme is segregation. However, Plessy v. Ferguson's emphasis is on public coaches, whereas Brown v. Board of Education focuses on education.

  • Research and write background information on both documents.

  • Build a case for the common theme, segregation. First, you must do the frequency. Frequency is counting the number of times something occurs, so you will color-code the words that appear the most, excluding prepositions, definite and indefinite articles.

  • Express the number of word occurrences in percentages. For example, the most frequent mentioned word in Plessy v. Ferguson is "citizen."

  • Compare the word count. In comparison, all the most frequent mentioned words in Brown v. Board of Education appeared the same number of times.

  • Make a comparison chart of keywords and phrases with similar or contrasting meanings that support the common theme, segregation.

  • Determine the direction. The words surrounding the most often words give the direction. The direction can be, for instance, positive, negative, supporting, or opposed (Neuman, 2003). For example, some of the words in Plessy v. Ferguson include arouse race hate and distrust between these races. Therefore, the direction of Plessy v. Ferguson is one of opposition to segregation. In comparison, some of the words in Brown v. Board of Education include feeling of inferiority and separate but equal has no place. Thus like the direction of Plessy v. Ferguson, the direction of Brown v. Board of Education is also one of opposition to segregation.

  • Decide the intensity of the message, either major or minor. The intensity of Plessy v. Ferguson is major because of the phrases: the seeds of race hate, arouse race hate, distrust between white and colored citizens. Similar to Plessy v. Ferguson, the intensity of Brown v. Board of Education is also major because the results of having segregated public schools include: generates a feeling of inferiority and may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.

  • Count the words, and compare the total word count in both documents. The total word count for Brown v. Board of Education is 109, and the total word count for Plessy v. Ferguson is 123. Thus Plessy v. Ferguson is 12.84% larger than Brown v. Board of Education.

  • Last, count the number of sentences.

Tips & Warnings

  • References
  • Neuman, W.L. (2003) Social research methods (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NH: Prentice Hall. Seale, C. (2004). Researching society and culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
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