Qualitative Content Analysis
The first proposals for qualitative content analysis were made as early as the 1950s, but the most sophisticated and popular approach today is probably that of Phillip Mayring, who developed it thirty years ago and continues to develop it. Qualitative content analysis according to Mayring will therefore also be the focus of this work.
However, qualitative content analysis is difficult to bring down to a "common denominator". There is a variety of methods and the demand to adapt the techniques to the respective concrete research material only allows the formulation of rough guidelines for qualitative content analysis. Nevertheless, this paper is intended to provide an overview of qualitative content analysis, in particular of Mayring's theory.
In the following, a definition of qualitative content analysis will be attempted and important features of the procedure will be listed. Then the procedure will be methodologically classified and a closer look will be taken at which elements of qualitative and quantitative analyses can be found in it. In order to describe qualitative content analysis in more detail, the three basic forms of this method, explication, structuring and summarising, will be briefly explained and illustrated by means of specially devised examples. In the following, the procedure of qualitative content analysis will be presented, with a focus on the summarising content analysis, in order to gain a detailed insight into the implementation of the method. In addition, the work will be supplemented with a presentation of the possibilities and limitations of the presented method as well as with exemplary application possibilities. In order to give a final conclusion on this method, experiences from a practical exercise with this method will be reported and briefly evaluated, and a short assessment of the method will be attempted.
Table of contents
2. What is qualitative content analysis?
3. Qualitative and quantitative aspects
4. The three basic forms of qualitative content analysis
5. Process of qualitative content analysis
6. Possibilities and limits
8. Practical experience and conclusion
Appendix A: Flow model and set of rules of the summary content analysis
Appendix B: Summary content analysis table
Qualitative processes often produce a large amount of material. Thus, several interviews after the transcription can already extend to a large number of pages: as a rule of thumb, one interview minute already fills an entire page in the transcript. The interpretation text or further explanations of the interviews can further expand this range of material (cf. Bortz/Döring, 2009, p. 329).
In order to process and systematically evaluate such large amounts of data, content analysis and especially qualitative content analysis has increasingly found its way into empirical research in recent years. It can even be said that techniques of qualitative content analysis have become a standard method of text analysis in the social sciences.
The first proposals for qualitative content analysis were already made in the 1950s, but the most sophisticated and popular approach today is probably the one according to Phillip Mayring, which he developed thirty years ago and continues to do (see Wagner, 2006, p. 172; Mayring, 2010, p. 601). The qualitative content analysis according to Mayring should therefore also be the focus of this work.
The qualitative content analysis is an interpretation method that serves the analysis of already collected material. In this way, it differs from many methods of qualitative social research, which focus on the generation of data or on the collection and interpretation are closely linked (cf. Strauss 1994, p.53 quoted from Wagner, 2006, p.170). It is a data-reducing method that is particularly suitable for comparing different texts, such as interviews. (cf. Hussy/Schreier/Echterhoff, 2010, p. 245), whereby it is also possible to process large quantities of material. The basis of the summary interpretation of the material is an elaborate category system. The aim of qualitative content analysis is to interpret the manifest and latent contents of the material in their social context and field of meaning. The aim is to achieve an interpretation that is intersubjectively comprehensible and as exhaustive as possible (cf. Bortz /Döring, 2009, p. 329).
However, qualitative content analysis is difficult to bring to "a common denominator". There is a variety of methods and the claim to adapt the techniques to the respective concrete investigation material only allows to formulate rough guidelines for the qualitative content analysis. Nevertheless, this work is intended to provide an overview of qualitative content analysis, in particular of Mayring's theory.
In the further course, a definition of the qualitative content analysis will first be attempted, as well as important features of the method will be listed. Subsequently, the method is classified methodologically and examined in more detail which elements of qualitative and quantitative analyses can be found in it. In order to describe the qualitative content analysis in more detail, the three basic forms, explication, structuring and summary, of this method are then briefly explained and illustrated on the basis of specially conceived examples. In the following, the process of qualitative content analysis is presented, focusing on summary content analysis, in order to gain a detailed insight into the implementation of the method. In addition, the work is to be supplemented with a presentation of the possibilities and limits of the presented method as well as with exemplary application possibilities. In order to give a final conclusion to this procedure, experiences from a practical exercise with this should be reported and briefly evaluated, as well as a short assessment of the procedure should be attempted.
2. What is qualitative content analysis?
In the following section, the method of qualitative content analysis will be briefly presented and illuminated. This is mainly based on Mayring/ Brunner (2009) and Mayring (2002) to try to define it.
With regard to the definition of qualitative content analysis, it should be stressed that "[...] content analysis and qualitative content analysis in particular can be understood as an evaluation technique, as a form of data analysis and text interpretation" (Mayring/ Brunner, 2009). Qualitative content analysis as an investigative tool " [...] wants to systematically analyze texts by processing the material step by step with theory-based category systems developed on the material." (Mayring, 2002, p. 114). The critique of the method is directed against the context observations of the present text fragments, which have not yet been taken into account, the latent underlying meanings and structures, the striking individual cases or even extreme cases, as well as the internally non-occurring facts (Mayring, 2002).
The origin of this method can be found in early communication science around 1900, in which it was used. Initially, it was used especially in the USA for the mostly quantitative evaluation and research of mass media. This narrow scope of application has dissolved in recent years and has been replaced by a wide range of possible applications in different research contexts (Mayring, 2002; Fuhs, 2007). In recent years, the presented method of investigation has increasingly found application in various scientific fields and must be recognized as an independent qualitative methodology. Point 4 deals in more detail with the basic forms typical of qualitative content analysis, but first the qualitative content analysis is to be classified methodically.
3. Qualitative and quantitative aspects
Content analysis itself comprises a number of methods: from quantitative content analyses, which are mainly used today in communication science, to so-called qualitative content analysis (cf. Hussy et al., 2010, p. 245), which is to be the focus of this work.
However, qualitative content analysis has its origins in quantitative content analysis. This was initially developed in the communication sciences as a purely quantitative analysis technique (cf. Mayring, 2010, p. 601). From the criticism of this quantitative content analysis, in which only textual components were counted, qualitative content analysis developed from the middle of the 20th century (cf. Wagner, 2006, p. 171; Mayring/Brunner, 2009, p. 672). According to critics, purely quantitative content analyses neglect the influence of the context on the respective passage of the text and the latent structures of meaning in the text (cf. Mayring, 2010, p. 602). The qualitative content analysis introduces an act of interpretation with the assignment of the text parts to categories, which should take these latent relationships into account. However, the strong demarcation of the resulting qualitative content analysis from the quantitative content analysis led to an overemphasization of the differences between the two (see Wagner, 2006, p. 172). The development of qualitative content analysis thus also reflects the dispute between the representatives of qualitative and quantitative approaches. However, the strict juxtaposition of qualitative and quantitative research is no longer considered useful in large parts of the methodological discussion, but models of the so-called mix of methods are increasingly represented in which qualitative and quantitative analysis are to be combined. Phillip Mayring, who proposes the most detailed concept of a qualitative content analysis and whose approach is therefore the focus of this work, agrees with this proposal of combining the two research directions. In his concept of content analysis, he speaks of qualitatively oriented research, in which he searches for connections with quantitative analysis steps (cf. Mayring/Brunner, 2009, p. 672). For him, qualitative content analysis thus represents the connection between the two directions. Therefore, he also proposes the designation as "qualitatively oriented content analysis" or "qualitative-quantitative content analysis" (ibid., p. 672) as far more apt.
The focus of the content analysis approach is almost always the application of a category system to the material to be examined. However, these categories must first be worked out and tested on the material. The processes of category development and category application are qualitatively oriented according to Mayring The assignment of the categories to text passages therefore represents a rule-based interpretation. Further analyses of these category assignments of the test parts can then also be quantitatively oriented. For example, frequency, difference or correlation analyses can be carried out based on the qualitative work with the category system. Such quantitative operations cannot stand on their own. Rather, they serve at this point as an aid to come to statements about the subject matter (cf. Mayring 2008, p. 19).
According to Mayring, the purely quantitative content analyses also remain dependent on qualitative elements, this is especially true when interpreting a text. The results of quantitative analyses must always be related to the previous question, i.e. traced back to it. These, in turn, are clearly qualitative steps (cf. ibid.).
In his qualitative content analysis, Mayring describes a fundamental sequence in the research process, namely from quality to quantity and again to quality. At the beginning of the research process, a qualitative analysis is carried out in relation to the question, the definition and category finding and the analysis instruments. Qualitative or quantitative analyses are linked to this. The analytical instrument is used depending on the subject and objective of the analysis. It is becoming possible at this point to use quantitative methods for help. The final step is then again a qualitative analysis. The results are related back to the question and interpreted accordingly (cf. ibid., p. 20).
As typically qualitative in the content analysis, the flexibility of adaptation to different materials can be classified. Typically, quantitative about it is again the systematics of the procedure in the analysis, i.e. the strong rule-basedness.
A further influence of quantitative research on content analysis work becomes clear when considering the quality criteria. Here, content-analytical criteria are usually discussed using the classical product criteria of quantitative research (cf. Mayring/Brunner, 2009, p. 677).
In summary, it can be stated that content analysis stands between qualitative and quantitative research. Elements from both paradigms can be detected in this evaluation method (cf. Hussy et al., 2010, p. 245). Thus, the content analysis stands, so to speak, between the fronts and occupies a kind of intermediate position in the dispute of the paradigms (cf. Mayring, 2010, p. 602; Mayring/Gläser-Zikuda, 2008, p. 9).
4. The three basic forms of qualitative content analysis
Qualitative content analysis is usually divided into the basic forms of summary, explication and structuring, which will now be discussed in more detail. Depending on the perspective of the researcher or the research team, the intention, the question and the underlying material, the decision for one of the three basic forms is different. This can be justified by the fact that each of the three forms is subject to a special process model and a special procedure for them and can thus bring different results to light depending on the selection of the basic form.
Summary content analysis focuses on reducing the material by filtering out essential contents of the material and creating a kind of image of the base material through a higher level of abstraction (Mayring, 2002; Fuhs, 2007). This level of abstraction arises from the fact that by filtering important content and formulating reduced categories, the material in its structure is not changed, but summarized. An example here could be to summarize text components that address hurdles, experiences of success and grades in the school context as "school experiences". The material paraphrasion is carried out with a) deletion of meaning-identical/ unimportant passages (1st reduction) and b) bundling of similar paraphrases (2nd reduction), whereby an abstract image of the underlying material is created (Flick, 2009).
The structuring form is suitable for obtaining an overview of the material using formed categories or for assessing the material by filtering certain aspects (Mayring, 2002; Fuhs, 2007). Flick summarizes the structuring content analysis under the terms of type search and the finding of formal structures through formal, content-related, typifying and scaling structuring (Flick, 2009). As an example, it can be cited here that this method proves to be favorable if open interviews are conducted by a research group and a special aspect is addressed in the evaluation of these. It is also conceivable that, for example, in interviews with teachers, certain types of teaching forms should be filtered out: "reform pedagogical", "traditional-frontal" or similar.
The explicating content analysis is in contrast to the summary content analysis in the sense that the explicating version is about clarifying contradictory and ambiguous text passages through the context material (narrow and wide context analysis possible) (Flick, 2009). In order to expand the understanding of the material, additional material units are used. According to Mayring (2002), these sources of explication can be, on the one hand, the direct text environment of the fragment in question (narrow text context) and, on the other hand, information about the author, the cultural environment, the history of origin, the addressees, the intention and other verbal or non-verbal information beyond the text environment (further text context). For example, interviews with politicians could lead to a better understanding by adding explicit information. The material could then be made more detailed if information is used that describes, for example, whether the election campaign has begun or the party in which the politician is seeking a coalition with another and possibly abandoning traditional party-based values.
5. Process of qualitative content analysis
The qualitative content analysis sets itself apart from so-called free or impressionistic interpretations by first formulated precise rules according to which the text analysis takes place. These are precise content-analytical rules that determine the individual steps of the analysis, precise flow models and the definition of the analysis units. The process models of the qualitative content analysis determine in advance the exact steps of the analysis and their sequence. They are adapted to the respective question, so that depending on the question, very different models are created. As different as these are for the individual research foci, the general content-analytical process model developed by Phillip Mayring will be discussed in more detail below, so that an overview of the individual steps of the analysis is created. This general process model contains a total of eleven steps for the course of qualitative content analysis (presented below according to Mayring, 2008, pp. 46-63):
In the first step, the material is determined, i.e. a precise definition is made as to which material will be the basis for the analysis. This means, for example, the selection of the interviews to be analyzed or the parts of interest for the question. Qualitative content analysis usually works with texts. This may be found textual material, which has therefore not been falsified by the researcher or material produced in the research project. In addition to any form of interviews, it can also be a variety of documents, files, notes, observation protocols, group discussion protocols or the like. Thanks to the systematic approach, large quantities of material can also be processed with the help of qualitative content analysis (cf. Mayring/Brunner, 2009, p. 673).
In the second step, the development situation of the material is analyzed. It describes exactly how the material came about, i.e. where the elements to be analyzed come from, who was present in the interview situation, by whom the material was produced and under what conditions this happened. Of interest is also the emotional and cognitive background of the producer, his socio-cultural background and the target group in whose direction the material was written.
In the third step, the material is formally characterized. This means that we will set out how it was collected, how it was subsequently processed and in what form it is now available for analysis. In most cases, the material is available in written form. If they are tape recordings of interviews, they should be transcribed. However, if the categorization permits, it is also possible to edit tape or video recordings without transcription (cf. Mayring, 2010, p. 607).
In a fourth step, the direction of the analysis is determined. It is determined what exactly should be interpreted from the material, i.e. in which direction the interpretation should go. These directions can be very different depending on the question. You might want to find out something about the author, learn something about the effect of the text on the target group, say something about the subject matter, such as in a document analysis or find out something about the emotional state of the communicator, as is often the case in the field of psychotherapy.
In the subsequent fifth step, a theoretical differentiation of the question takes place. The question, the direction of which was determined in more detail in the previous step, is now further differentiated and theoretically justified in a theory-led manner. This must be precisely defined in advance in the qualitative content analysis and linked to the previous research on the subject. It can also be further differentiated into various sub-questions.
This is followed by the analysis technique and the concrete process model. Such a process model as described here is created and also determined which of the three basic techniques of content analysis is to be used, depending on which fits the question and theoretical basis.
In the seventh step, the analysis units are defined. Here, coding units are determined that determine which can be the smallest material component that may be evaluated, i.e. what is the minimum part of text that can fall under a category. In addition, the context unit to be determined determines what is the largest part of the text that can fall under a category. The evaluation units also determine which parts of the text are evaluated one after the other.