Content analysis is to words (and other unstructured data) as statistics is to numbers (also called structured data)—an umbrella term encompassing a range of analytic techniques. Content analyses range from purely qualitative analyses, often used in grounded theorizing and case-based research to reduce interview data into theoretically meaningful categories, to highly quantitative analyses that use concept dictionaries to convert words and phrases into numerical tables for further quantitative analysis. Common specialized types of qualitative content analysis include methods associated with grounded theorizing, narrative analysis, discourse analysis, rhetorical analysis, semiotic analysis, interpretative phenomenological analysis, and conversation analysis. Major quantitative content analyses include dictionary-based approaches, topic modeling, and natural language processing. Though specific steps for specific types of content analysis vary, a prototypical content analysis requires eight steps beginning with defining coding units and ending with assessing the trustworthiness, reliability, and validity of the overall coding. Furthermore, while most content analysis evaluates textual data, some studies also analyze visual data such as gestures, videos and pictures, and verbal data such as tone.
Content analysis has several advantages over other data collection and analysis methods. Content analysis provides a flexible set of tools that are suitable for many research questions where quantitative data are unavailable. Many forms of content analysis provide a replicable methodology to access individual and collective structures and processes. Moreover, content analysis of documents and videos that organizational actors produce in the normal course of their work provides unobtrusive ways to study sociocognitive concepts and processes in context, and thus avoids some of the most serious concerns associated with other commonly used methods. Content analysis requires significant researcher judgment such that inadvertent biasing of results is a common concern. On balance, content analysis is a promising activity for the rigorous exploration of many important but difficult-to-study issues that are not easily studied via other methods. For these reasons, content analysis is burgeoning in business and management research as researchers seek to study complex and subtle phenomena.