Content analysis: An introduction

By Gordon Rugg

I have very mixed feelings about content analysis. At its best, it gives you a new understanding of the world around you. At its worst, which I see all too often, it’s little more than an attempt to salvage mangled fragments of something useful from the wreckage of a questionnaire perpetrated by some sinner who deserves to be locked in a cell for a while with the assorted works of Barbara Cartland being read aloud over the intercom. Accompanied by accordion music.

So what is content analysis, and why do I have such strongly mixed feelings about it? In essence, it’s about analysing the content of texts. The texts may be questionnaire answers or interview answers, or magazine articles, or books, or online forum debates, or just about anything else that’s spoken or written.

Content analysis is usually something that you “grapple with” rather than “do” because it’s a messy, nasty problem. The core dilemna is that the further you get from the original words in the text, the more you risk distorting their meaning; however, the nearer you get to the original words, the less sense you can make of what those words are telling you.

There are various ways of tackling this problem, but none of them provide a perfect solution. The result is that there are numerous types of content analysis, which vary widely in their assumptions, methods, strengths and weaknesses. This article describes a “vanilla flavour” type of content analysis, which is enough for the needs of many students. I’ll look at other types in future articles.

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Life at Uni: Will the world end if I fail my exams?

By Gordon Rugg

The short answer, in case you were in any doubt, is “No”.

The world won’t end if you fail your exams.

At one level, you already knew that. The planet won’t be destroyed if you don’t get the exam grades you wanted. However, there’s another version of the question that bothers a lot of students. It’s about whether their personal world is going to be destroyed by exam results.

Again, the answer is “No”. This article is about the reasons for that answer. It’s another gentle, supportive article with practical advice. To set the mood, here’s a picture of a sweet little kitten.

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“Wikipedians cat” by Remedios44 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wikipedians_cat.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Wikipedians_cat.jpg

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How much is too much?

By Gordon Rugg

There are various well-established answers to the question of how much is too much. (Though being well-established doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re true…)

In this article, I’ll look briefly at four types of answer:

  • Moral outrage
  • An unforeseen price
  • To infinity and beyond
  • The statistics of uncanny valleys

I’ll look at the statistical type in most detail, because it’s received least attention in the past, and because it has some fascinating implications for fashion, the media, and inter-group relations.

This is a story that goes in some improbable-sounding directions. It starts with mediaeval pointy shoes, lust-crazed beetles, and beer bottles.

bannerImages from Wikipedia; full details and acknowledgements at the end of this article

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A cheering tale: The Gimli Glider

I like the story of the Gimli Glider. It’s a feel-good true story, for days when a person needs a feel-good true story; it’s invaluable as a case study for my students; it’s also good for putting problems into perspective on a hard day.

If the name gives you surreal images of a Middle-Earth dwarf wielding an axe in a sailplane, you might be relieved to learn that the reality is very different, though equally surreal in some ways.

It’s the true story of an airliner that ran out of fuel at 41,000 feet, because of a misunderstanding about whether it had been fuelled in litres or in pounds of fuel. At that point, it became the world’s largest glider. The co-pilot recommended an emergency landing at Gimli airfield, which he knew from his days in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The pilot landed successfully, largely because he happened to know a lot about flying gliders. Nobody died; everyone walked away, with feelings of disbelief and massive relief. Even by the standards of movies about fictional aircraft in jeopardy, it’s quite a story.

bannerImages from Wikipedia; details with attributions at the end of this article

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