Content analysis is a useful research method that allows scholars to perform qualitative analysis on objects -- most often discourses -- that do not readily submit to numerical description. This technique usually involves dividing the object of study into distinct, countable categories, then analyzing each category's occurrence with respect to the whole.
Library educator Ronald Powell notes that "content analysis has been used, for example, to determine how frequently racist and sexist terms appear in certain books" (Powell and Connaway 2004, p. 62). "Content analysis is the tallying of mentions of very specific factors" (2004, p. 153).
Content analysis may include another technique called coding. This is the act of drawing up the categories to be used in a content analysis, and assigning instances to each category.
Hernon, Powell and Young utilized content analysis in their study of the work patterns of academic library directors (2004). The authors collected diaries from twelve ARL and ACRL library directors, detailing what the directors did every day at work for approximately two weeks. Content analysis allowed the authors to more easily detect and explicate patterns in the resulting mass of information. The authors coded the diary information by distinguishing each activity a director had performed, writing the activity on a card, and sorting the cards into piles based on similarity of activity. The activities were then ranked based on the number of cards in each pile. Finally, the numerical ranking was compared with data from the authors' previous study (2003) to see whether library directors' actual activities matched a list of important director attributes.
The emphasis on numerical description in content analysis distinguishes this research method from the more subjective approaches to analyzing and describing patterns in discourse used by humanities disciplines such as literary or cultural studies.
Sanjeet-Singh E. Mann
Hernon, P., Powell, R. R. & Young, A. (2003). The next library leadership: Attributes of academic and public library directors. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
---. (2004). Academic library directors: What do they do? (Electronic version). College and Research Libraries, 65(6), 538-561.
Powell, R. R., and Connaway, L. (2004). Basic research methods for librarians (4th ed.). Westport: Libraries Unlimited.