8-step procedure to conduct qualitative content analysis in a research

A study by Ary et al. (1996) categorized qualitative research/method into two distinct forms. Firstly participant observation, where the researcher is a participant of the study. Secondly non-participant observation, where the researcher observes but does not participate. It is in this non-participant observation where one can use the content analysis approach.

“A research method for the subjective interpretation of the content of text data through the systematic classification process of coding and identifying themes or patterns”- Hsieh & Shannon (2005; p.1278).

The content analysis unlike statistical analysis does not measure or quantify patterns. It is based on interpreting opinions and perspectives of various subjects. Content analysis takes into following elements when analyzing issues:

Major elements to take into consideration while conducting a content analysis
Major elements of content analysis   (Source: Kohlbacher, 2005)

Steps of content analysis

Content analysis in qualitative research is carried out by recording the communication between the researcher and its subjects. One can use different modes such as transcripts of interviews/discourses, protocols of observation, video tapes and written documents for communication. Its strength lies in its stringent methodological control and step-by-step analysis of material. In other words every element in the data collected is categorized into themes which are identified through secondary literature. The method of the analysis comprises following 8 steps:

  1. Preparation of data: As discussed previously, there are several ways by which one can collect the data for qualitative content analysis. However one needs to be transform the data before the analysis can start. From the data set which the researcher has collected, choice of “content” need to clearly defined and justified. Before initiation of data preparation, researcher needs to know the answers to following questions:
    • All the data collected be transcribed or not.
    • Should verbalizations be transcribed literally.
    • Should observations be transcribed as well.

    Answers to these questions are dependent on the the objectives of the study. However,  everything should be transcribed at the start to save time during analysis.

  2. Defining the unit or theme of analysis: Unit or theme of analysis means classifying the content into themes which can be a word, phrase or a sentence. When deciding the unit of analysis, one theme should present an “idea”. This means the data related to the theme has to be added under that unit. Furthermore, unit or themes should be based on the objectives of the study.
  3. Developing categories and coding scheme: Next step is to develop sub-categories and coding scheme for the analysis. This is derived from three sources, the primary data, theories on similar topic and empirical studies. Since the qualitative content analysis can be based on both inductive and deductive approach, the categories and codes needs to be developed based on the approach adopted.In case of deductive approach, it is important to link the interpretations with the existing theories in order to draw inferences. However, in case of inductive approach the objective is to develop new theories. So, it is important to evaluate secondary sources in order to stimulate original ideas. In order to ensure consistency in the codes, the categories as per their properties with examples has to be defined.
  4. Pre-testing the coding scheme on sample: Like quantitative data, pre-testing qualitative data is also important. In order to ensure consistency, members of the research team need to code the sample of existing data. If the level of consistency is low across researchers then re-coding has to be done again.
  5. Coding all the text: After the coding consistency in the previous stage, it is important to apply the coding process to the data.
  6. Assessing the consistency of coding employed: After coding the whole data set validity and reliability should be checked.
  7. Drawing inferences on the basis of coding or themes: In this step, one has to draw inferences on the basis of codes and categories generated. It is important to explore the properties, dimensions and identify the relationship and uncover patterns in order to present the analysis.
  8. Presentation of results: To present the results under each theme with conclusions the results should be supported by secondary data and quotes from the developed code. Further, based on the analysis, the researcher can also present the results in the form of graphs, matrices, or conceptual frameworks. The results should be presented in such a way that the reader is able to understand the basis of interpretations.

Computer-assisted qualitative content analysis

In conclusion ,qualitative data, like quantitative data can be huge. In such cases assistance from computer programs is required in order to reduce the complexity of analysis. Among various tools the most common are NVivo or Atlas. These tools have several features, which helps in coding and development of the nodes. This also enables visual presentation of interpretations drawn from the content.


  • Berg, B.L. (2001). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Bradley, J. (1993). Methodological issues and practices in qualitative research. Library Quarterly, 63(4), 431-449.
  • Glaser, B.G., & Strauss, A.L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. New York: Aldine.
  • Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S.E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277-1288. Available on : http://qhr.sagepub.com/content/15/9/1277.short?rss=1&ssource=mfc
  • Miles, M., & Huberman, A.M. (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Weber, R.P. (1990). Basic Content Analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Validity in qualitative researchHow to determine validity for quantitative research?

Shruti Datt

Project Handler at Project Guru
Shruti is B-Tech & M-Tech in Biotechnology. Some of her strengths include, Good interpersonal skills, eye for detail, well devised analytical and decision making skills and a positive attitude towards life. Her aim in life is to obtain a responsible and challenging position where her education and work experience will have valuable application.
She is a true Piscean. She loves doing things to perfection with passion. She is very creative and likes to make personalized gifts for her dear ones, this is actually something that keeps her going. Shruti loves adventure sports and likes river rafting and cliff jumping.
Shruti Datt

Latest posts by Shruti Datt (see all)

10 thoughts on “8-step procedure to conduct qualitative content analysis in a research”
  1. Avatar maurice chinyani 2 years & 2 months ago

    With what general kinds of research questions is content analysis concerned?

    • Avatar Shruti Datt 2 years & 2 months ago

      Dear Maurice,

      Content analysis is a qualitative approach which needs to be adopted to gather in-depth information. So, in case there is not much information available on the problem at hand, then it is advisable to adopt qualitative analysis. This helps in narrowing down your future research.

  2. Avatar khalid bashir 1 year & 11 months ago

    Madam,i am doing qualitative study o “concurrent evaluation of acute flaccid paralysis and measles surviellance in kashmir valley”. I am doing in depth interviews of various stakeholders.Kndly advise me regarding analysis.

  3. Avatar Avishek Majumder 1 year ago

    Hi Khalid,
    First of all best of luck for your research study. For qualitative analysis, you may follow a grounded theory or narrative type of analysis.

    • Avatar kalaiselvan 1 year & 7 months ago

      Hi sir / madam, i am doing qualitative study on “PSYCHOLOGICAL FRAMING OF DEMONETISATION: A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF NATIONAL NEWSPAPER COVERAGE”.kindly give suggestion regarding analysis.

      • Avatar Avishek Majumder 1 year & 7 months ago

        Dear Khalid,

        First of all best of luck for successful completion of the study.
        Hope you are using interviews or focus group for data collection. Also, you may adopt the conventional content analysis method.

  4. Avatar Sumani George 1 year ago

    Farming Aid UK is a non-profit initiative designed to bring volunteers from the UK to various
    farming communities in Ghana. Their main objective is to help these communities use
    environmentally sustainable and effective farming methods. Farming Aid UK’s volunteers are
    high school graduates taking a gap year to volunteer in farming communities in developing
    countries and they normally range between the ages of 18 to 25 years old.
    Farming Aid UK changes its set of volunteers at the end of each year. This year’s volunteering
    group would finish their posting in January 2019. A new group of volunteers would take over
    in January 2019 and continue till January 2020. The organisation has noticed that it takes
    about 3months for their volunteers to learn enough words and sentences in the local dialect
    of the communities that they volunteer in to enable them work effectively. They have also
    noticed that they inadvertently commit some culturally unacceptable blunders when they
    initially arrive and are also unaccustomed to many local conditions like the food and weather.
    This problem impacts negatively on their project outcomes and they are desperate for a
    Farming aid UK has decided to train their volunteers to learn basic phrases in the local
    language and cultural norms of the communities in which they reside before they arrive in
    Ghana. They have been advised that ICTs could be a good tool for teaching and learning and
    would like to know more about how technology can be tapped into to solve this perennial
    Task 1
    Conduct a context analysis including but not limited to the learning needs and characteristics
    of the volunteers, technology assessment and requirements, the necessary content and
    instructional strategies for the purposes of designing a courseware. You have therefore been
    tasked to write a report of about 2000 words explaining how ICTs can be used to deliver a
    training program for Farming Aid UK. Your report should include a detailed analysis and
    recommendations of suitable course website to undertake a task.
    Madam how do go about it thanks.

  5. Avatar ansa ijaz 4 months & 3 weeks ago

    dear i am phd scholar and working on my research can you guide me my supervisor advise me to conduct case study method i have done 8 case studies on caregivers of alzheimer now want to analyse data through content analysis quantitatively please guide me how i can do it by which specific technique.

  6. Avatar Georgia kokkinou 3 months & 1 week ago

    Dear, can you please inform me about the kind of questions asked during an M.A viva presentation?

  7. Avatar Kate Okyere 3 months ago

    Hello, I need your assistance with my thesis. I am conduct research on content analysis of an online portal. How do I do the coding for the analysis?