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Journal of Applied Communication Research
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Rethinking validity and reliability in content analysis
W. James Potter & Deborah Levine‐Donnerstein
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Professor in the Department of Communication, Florida State University, 356 Diffenbaugh Building, Tallahassee, FL, 32306–1531 E-mail: b
Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara Version of record first published: 21 May 2009.
To cite this article: W. James Potter & Deborah Levine‐Donnerstein (1999): Rethinking validity and reliability in content analysis, Journal of Applied Communication Research, 27:3, 258-284 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00909889909365539
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Journal of Applied Communication Research 27 (1999), 258-284
Rethinking Validity and Reliability in Content Analysis
Downloaded by [University of Cape Town Libraries] at 22:30 16 March 2013
W. James Potter and Deborah Levine-Donnerstein
ABSTRACT The central thesis in this essay is that validity and reliability should be conceptualized differently across the various forms of content and the various uses of theory. This is especially true with applied communication research where a theory is not always available to guide the design. A distinction needs to made between manifest and latent (pattern and projective) content. Also, we argue that content analyses need not be limited to theory-based coding schemes and standards set by experts. When researchers are clear about what kind of content they want to analyze and the role of theory in their studies, they are in a better position to select the most appropriate strategies for demonstrating validity and reliability.
ontent analysis is a social scientific methodology that requires researchers who use it to make a strong case for the validity and reliability of their data. This is especially true with applied communication research where the results of content analyses are likely to be used in public information campaigns about health (Hecht, Trost, Bator, & MacKinnon, 1997; Reel & Thompson, 1994; Smith, 1997) or for other practical applications in areas such as crisis management (Rogan & Hammer, 1994), use of power in organizations (Chiles & Zorn, 1995), maintaining collaborative work groups (Franz & Jin, 1995), and developing techniques to deal with spousal abuse (Sabourin, 1995). If content analysts cannot demonstrate strong validity and reliability for their findings, then people who want to apply these findings should be wary of developing implementations, especially when the resource costs and client expectations are high. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that content analysts should begin the task of design by confronting two foundational...
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