Theoretical Influences on Relational Analysis
The kind of analysis that researchers employ will vary significantly according to their theoretical approach. Key theoretical approaches that inform content analysis include linguistics and cognitive science.
Linguistic approaches to content analysis focus analysis of texts on the level of a linguistic unit, typically single clause units. One example of this type of research is Gottschalk (1975), who developed an automated procedure which analyzes each clause in a text and assigns it a numerical score based on several emotional/psychological scales. Another technique is to code a text grammatically into clauses and parts of speech to establish a matrix representation (Carley, 1990).
Approaches that derive from cognitive science include the creation of decision maps and mental models. Decision maps attempt to represent the relationship(s) between ideas, beliefs, attitudes, and information available to an author when making a decision within a text. These relationships can be represented as logical, inferential, causal, sequential, and mathematical relationships. Typically, two of these links are compared in a single study, and are analyzed as networks. For example, Heise (1987) used logical and sequential links to examine symbolic interaction. This methodology is thought of as a more generalized cognitive mapping technique, rather than the more specific mental models approach.
Mental models are groups or networks of interrelated concepts that are thought to reflect conscious or subconscious perceptions of reality. According to cognitive scientists, internal mental structures are created as people draw inferences and gather information about the world. Mental models are a more specific approach to mapping because beyond extraction and comparison because they can be numerically and graphically analyzed. Such models rely heavily on the use of computers to help analyze and construct mapping representations. Typically, studies based on this approach follow five general steps:
- Identifing concepts
- Defining relationship types
- Coding the text on the basis of 1 and 2
- Coding the statements
- Graphically displaying and numerically analyzing the resulting maps
To create the model, a researcher converts a text into a map of concepts and relations; the map is then analyzed on the level of concepts and statements, where a statement consists of two concepts and their relationship. Carley (1990) asserts that this makes possible the comparison of a wide variety of maps, representing multiple sources, implicit and explicit information, as well as socially shared cognitions.