Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Critical Discourse Analysis and Content Analysis

In this essay I am going to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of two research methods used for researching the practice of journalism. The first research method I am going to focus on is content analysis. Content analysis is the method used for systematic and quantitative analysis of communication content. The second research method I will focus on is critical discourse analysis. Unlike content analysis CDA’s job is to observe the interpretative and contextual approaches to the data collection and analysis. There is one main reason why I have chosen to focus on these two methods in particular. I think these two can be used in conjunction with one another – for example, one disadvantage with content analysis is it seems to rely on what is written and how many times. It could be suggested that this does not have any meaning at all, therefore when using discourse analysis we can look at the wording used, observe and use an element of interpretation.

With most research methods there are always going to be disadvantages – nothing is 100%. However, content analysis is used in many productive ways and can conclude some interesting and vital information. Content analysis is often the method used for analysing and mapping out key characteristics of large bodies of text. For example if we took a newspaper article, for instance, the purpose of the method would be to identify and count the occurrence of the specified characteristics or dimensions of text, though this we are then able to come up with theories about the messages, images and representations of such texts and their wider social significance. We can do this by looking at some basic ‘identifiers categories’. Firstly, we can look at the language/vocabulary used. Content analysis will look at the choice of one word instead of another, the word may have more or less the same meaning and may also be used to represent the opinions, emotions or social position of a speaker. I think this is where we can use critical discourse in conjunction with CA. For example, if we look at how many times a word is used this can indicate meaning but if we look at overt and covert bias within the wording used we may come up with a different meaning. It is reasonable to argue that if a profound absence of information exists within any article, then that is just as relevant as the information that has been printed and unquestionably contributes to different degrees of bias. In regards to the details provided within the articles, it could be found that certain words or selected quotes often depict the meaning of the story, helping to contribute to the consumers’ ideas and viewpoints of what is being read.

Research previously undergone suggests that selected quotes for a newspaper article’s often reflects and often helps contribute to an idea or theme the newspaper may have already had a for a long time (agenda meeting). Newspapers may also use certain wording to express the definition of a situation they are reporting and also (something one may notice often) to signal the social or political positions of the newspaper about the events.

As mentioned before content analysis can be used to understand any recurrent themes of the newspaper. By simply looking at the types of news stories covered we can get an understanding of the type of newspaper and the types of people that read it. Usually we will use content analysis focusing on specific issues or periods of time to be analysed. We usually use this for two reasons, the first the analysis of a particular event (war). This would be used to create a better understanding of an event specified study; we would look at the coverage before and after the event. From this we are then able to get a greater understanding of the agenda they are trying to set or the ‘propaganda approach’ as stated in Hansel and Cottle’s book. The expectation of the event even before it has happened can then lead on to the main frame for the content itself. One could suggest this that the paper tries to push these expectations on to its readership.

The second way in which we can use content analysis to understand recurrent themes is through the mapping of some general aspect of coverage such as the portrayal of race or terrorism for example. As well as this particular aspect of the method being used here, what researchers may often find problematic is with this ‘reasonable representative’ approach is the fact that the seasons often have a lot to do with what’s reported. If one took a weeks’ worth of international coverage, specifically Japan and this happened to be a week where there was a natural disaster (major earthquake) it would result in some unusual conclusions.

As well as CA being beneficial in many ways there are also several shortfalls. The quantitative indicators that content analysis offers may be read and interpreted by different people – therefore different ideas will arise. If we use the example of a newspaper article on immigration published by The Sun the multi-cultural, diverse demographics will result in a range of ideas. Communications research over the last 50 years has proved that there is no simple relationship between media content and its reception and social implications. Basically content analysis can help to show distinctions and absences of key characteristics in texts but the evaluation will ultimately depend on the context and framework of interpretation meaning that the texts analysed are limited. This is a quantitative research method that wholly relies on frequency; however there is no definite proof that frequency means importance. One could suggest that the language used is tailored to the audience, i.e. colloquial language in a Tabloid newspaper. Content analysis is also often said to disregard the background that produced the text as well as the state of things after the text is produced. Some researchers have even said the method lacks any theory base and in some cases attempts to freely draw’s meaningful interpretations about the relationships and impacts applied in the study. This research method has been subject to increased error, particularly when relational analysis is used to achieve a higher level of interpretation, thus the use of critical discourse analysis.

Critical discourse analysis is often understood subconsciously based on what we know about the world. Most people have different ideologies of the world and this can be because of a range of demographic reasons. For example, different social and financial backgrounds and in many aspects where and how we access our media. Critical Discourse is the method used by looking at the study of language, taking social contexts and investigating the language used within them. What one must consider when using this research method is the ideas behind the language being used. By using the critical discourse method we can create a greater understanding of what and how language can have such a significant effect when it has been used purposefully. There are three aspects that should be expressed when analysing texts; firstly one must look at the way the world is represented in news reports – with ideologies already apparent and how they have been framed (as we will look at later on in the essay). Secondly we must look at what is being highlighted and lastly how the article/report has been written and what kind of relationship does this make with the reader (Formal/informal).

Another way in which we can use critical discourse is not just by looking at the words/language that has been used or what hasn’t but by also focusing on the selection of quotes available and interviewee’s. Discourse analysis can usually be used on most texts as there are not any specific guidelines. Like many other research techniques, CDA does not provide precise answers but aims to raise an acknowledgment of agendas and suggested motivations behind the texts being analysed.

As said previously in this essay as in regards with content analysis, no research method is 100% therefore there are weaknesses. There is no hard data that critical discourse is reliable and the strength of the research wholly depends on the logic of the argument. Also, again just like content analysis CDA does not provide distinct answers and is not “hard science”, the findings are purely interpretational so in most cases for better results this research method would need to be used in conjunction with another methodology.

Critical discourse is a good way to understand how certain words will create subconscious associations within one’s mind with little to no effort at all. The main advantage with critical discourse analysis is that it is appropriate to every subject. Certain wording can link us to representations and ideologies we may have already adopted. For example motive words like “Terrorist” and “Abuser” etc. In many forms of media, especially newspapers, it would be appropriate to presume that they will rely on covert bias to inject ideologies, keeping the audiences with a certain viewpoint, without making it so obvious. We can also use critical discourse effectively by looking at the use of overt and covert bias within texts, when using DA one must always take into consideration what has not been included within the text is just as important as what has been included within the text. A way to analyse this successfully is by taking two different newspapers (Tabloid and Broadsheet are often effective) and pick the same coverage of an event from each. When the media print an article or inject any message into the public, people will draw two inferences: the language that has been used to tell the story and our knowledge about the world. The facts which we understand about the world could continually be consumed through this one paper – therefore certain ideologies could be adopted. Some mediums have stereotypical view points of the world; consequently the paper will only include what the public would normally expect in such circumstances.

By looking at aspects like colloquialisms one can create some interesting ideas. If we take the ‘Steven Lawrence’ story that has dominated news in all its formats in recent weeks, The Sun newspaper approaches it by using words like “Stephen's estranged parents, who have fought tirelessly for justice for their son, were in court with brother Stuart to see their son's killers finally brought to justice” while The Guardian uses less motive words and approaches it reading: “The case was one of the most famous unsolved murders in Britain. An 18-year fight for justice by Lawrence's parents led to a public inquiry which uncovered blunders by the Metropolitan police, blamed on institutional racism, which allowed his killers to escape justice.” If we look at the words from The Sun newspaper “estranged”, “tirelessly” opposed to The Guardian’s use of words (meaning the same thing) “18-year fight” and “escape justice” one can suggest that The Sun may be trying to cause a reaction from its readers and sticking to typical language that most people would expect from this newspaper. From this researchers using this particular research method have been able to come up with such conclusions like ‘using different wording to what readers are used to could cause confusion’. The same opening paragraph in The Guardian uses less motive words and also includes words like “Metropolitan police”; I think this offers a sense of authority and trusted sources within the article. The main focus here is taking a look at why a certain word has been chosen instead of another word and just as importantly what effect might this have on the representation and ideas being portrayed?

To conclude my essay I think it is fair to say that each of the two methodologies I have looked at within this article have clear strengths that help one to create a better understanding of texts using both frequency and some interpretation. From the research carried out to write this essay I have found an important extension of the method of content analysis by which content analysis can be closely incorporated with discourse analysis in the social scientific analysis of textual data. I think that this does not only allow interrelationships of words and content categories to be defined in a way that was only possible by manual analysis of large areas of text, but I think we have now adapted to a new stage of critical discourse were we are now able to link nouns with their attributes therefore allowing a further depth of analysis. One could suggest that with the many strength’s that come with using these two research methods there are also many shortfalls, therefore when these two methodologies are used in conjunction with each other we can then understand further key relationships within discourse. I have looked at the many strengths that one could say do help to create valuable ideas about the texts being analysed, but as mentioned previously with critical discourse analysis – interpretation is varied by each individual person – just like the main shortfall within content analysis and its quantitative approach, is this really hard facts? I think the argument here is that although these methodologies may suggest things about the texts there are no definitive answers. These integration techniques are both important and also a helpful step forward in social methodology.


  1. Bibliography

    Barker Chris...Galasinski Dariusz, 2003. Cultural studies and discourse analysis – A dialogue on language and identity. SAGE Publications Ltd. (Pages 14-15)

    Fairclough Norman, 1995. Critical discourse analysis, the critical study of language. Longman group Ltd

    Hansen & Cottle, 1998. Mass Communications Research Methods, MacMillan Press Ltd.


  2. Assignment two: JN3024
    University of Central Lancashire

  3. Hi,
    I would like to know if there is any strong connection between Content Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis?

    Expecting your response please!