Content Analysis

Steps for Conducting Relational Analysis

The following discussion of the steps (or, perhaps more accurately, strategies) that can be followed to code a text or set of texts during relational analysis. These explanations are accompanied by examples of relational analysis possibilities for statements made by Bill Clinton during the 1998 hearings.

The question is important because it indicates where you are headed and why. Without a focused question, the concept types and options open to interpretation are limitless and therefore the analysis difficult to complete. Possibilities for the Hairy Hearings of 1998 might be:

What did Bill Clinton say in the speech? OR What concrete information did he present to the public?

Once the question has been identified, the researcher must select sections of text/speech from the hearings in which Bill Clinton may have not told the entire truth or is obviously holding back information. For relational content analysis, the primary consideration is how much information to preserve for analysis. One must be careful not to limit the results by doing so, but the researcher must also take special care not to take on so much that the coding process becomes too heavy and extensive to supply worthwhile results.

Once the sample has been chosen for analysis, it is necessary to determine what type or types of relationships you would like to examine. There are different subcategories of relational analysis that can be used to examine the relationships in texts.

In this example, we will use proximity analysis because it is concerned with the co-occurrence of explicit concepts in the text. In this instance, we are not particularly interested in affect extraction because we are trying to get to the hard facts of what exactly was said rather than determining the emotional considerations of speaker and receivers surrounding the speech which may be unrecoverable.

Once the subcategory of analysis is chosen, the selected text must be reviewed to determine the level of analysis. The researcher must decide whether to code for a single word, such as "perhaps," or for sets of words or phrases like "I may have forgotten."

At the simplest level, a researcher can code merely for existence. This is not to say that simplicity of procedure leads to simplistic results. Many studies have successfully employed this strategy. For example, Palmquist (1990) did not attempt to establish the relationships among concept terms in the classrooms he studied; his study did, however, look at the change in the presence of concepts over the course of the semester, comparing a map analysis from the beginning of the semester to one constructed at the end. On the other hand, the requirement of one's specific research question may necessitate deeper levels of coding to preserve greater detail for analysis.

In relation to our extended example, the researcher might code for how often Bill Clinton used words that were ambiguous, held double meanings, or left an opening for change or "re-evaluation." The researcher might also choose to code for what words he used that have such an ambiguous nature in relation to the importance of the information directly related to those words.

Once words are coded, the text can be analyzed for the relationships among the concepts set forth. There are three concepts which play a central role in exploring the relations among concepts in content analysis.

  1. Strength of Relationship: Refers to the degree to which two or more concepts are related. These relationships are easiest to analyze, compare, and graph when all relationships between concepts are considered to be equal. However, assigning strength to relationships retains a greater degree of the detail found in the original text. Identifying strength of a relationship is key when determining whether or not words like unless, perhaps, or maybe are related to a particular section of text, phrase, or idea.
  2. Sign of a Relationship: Refers to whether or not the concepts are positively or negatively related. To illustrate, the concept "bear" is negatively related to the concept "stock market" in the same sense as the concept "bull" is positively related. Thus "it's a bear market" could be coded to show a negative relationship between "bear" and "market". Another approach to coding for strength entails the creation of separate categories for binary oppositions. The above example emphasizes "bull" as the negation of "bear," but could be coded as being two separate categories, one positive and one negative. There has been little research to determine the benefits and liabilities of these differing strategies. Use of Sign coding for relationships in regard to the hearings my be to find out whether or not the words under observation or in question were used adversely or in favor of the concepts (this is tricky, but important to establishing meaning).
  3. Direction of the Relationship: Refers to the type of relationship categories exhibit. Coding for this sort of information can be useful in establishing, for example, the impact of new information in a decision making process. Various types of directional relationships include, "X implies Y," "X occurs before Y" and "if X then Y," or quite simply the decision whether concept X is the "prime mover" of Y or vice versa. In the case of the 1998 hearings, the researcher might note that, "maybe implies doubt," "perhaps occurs before statements of clarification," and "if possibly exists, then there is room for Clinton to change his stance." In some cases, concepts can be said to be bi-directional, or having equal influence. This is equivalent to ignoring directionality. Both approaches are useful, but differ in focus. Coding all categories as bi-directional is most useful for exploratory studies where pre-coding may influence results, and is also most easily automated, or computer coded.

One of the main differences between conceptual analysis and relational analysis is that the statements or relationships between concepts are coded. At this point, to continue our extended example, it is important to take special care with assigning value to the relationships in an effort to determine whether the ambiguous words in Bill Clinton's speech are just fillers, or hold information about the statements he is making.

This step involves conducting statistical analyses of the data you've coded during your relational analysis. This may involve exploring for differences or looking for relationships among the variables you've identified in your study.

In addition to statistical analysis, relational analysis often leads to viewing the representations of the concepts and their associations in a text (or across texts) in a graphical -- or map -- form. Relational analysis is also informed by a variety of different theoretical approaches: linguistic content analysis, decision mapping, and mental models.


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