document review
Document Review and Analysis
Pros and Cons | Guides | Resources | Examples | Tools



  • get comprehensive and historical information
  • doesn't’t interrupt program
  • information already exists
  • few biases about information
  • can provide insight into what people think and do
  • can be collected from different time periods (historical data)
  • provides useful background data
  • useful for corroboration
  • grounded in local setting
  • use for exploration
  • inexpensive
  • often are reliable and valid
  • can study trends
  • easy to analyze data
  • often based on high quality or large probability samples
  • can utilize qualitative or quantitative analysis
  • time consuming
  • info might be incomplete
  • need to be clear in what you are looking for
  • data restricted to what already exists
  • may be representative on only one perspective
  • access to some content might be limited
  • may not provide insight into participants’ personal thinking
  • may not be generalized to all populations
  • may not be available to population of interest
  • may not be available for research question of interest
  • data may be dated
  • many of most important findings have already been mined from the data

What is document analysis?

  • a social research method
  • involves a lot of reading
  • finds and interprets patterns in data
  • classifies patterns
  • generalizes results
  • useful when looking at actions, events or occurrences
  • often avoids ethical issues

Here are several examples of analysis:

  • Recording commercials on three major television networks and analyzing race and gender within the commercials to discover some conclusion.
  • Analyzing the historical trends in public laws by looking at the records at a local courthouse.
  • Analyzing topics of discussion in chat rooms for patterns based on gender and age

 Documentation Review or Analysis can include

    • written document (public records, private papers, biography)
    • photograph
    • poster
    • map
    • artifact
    • motion picture
    • sound recording

Why do document analysis?

  • documents reveal what people do or did and what they value
  • behavior occurred in a natural setting
  • data has strong validity

When to do document analysis?

  • documents exist that are relevant to your question
  • if you did not analyze them, you would have a hole in your research
  • can’t observe or do interviews with your population

Types of Document Analysis:

  • Quantitative
    • Content Analysis (formal, systematic; lends structure to research; variables are categorized in a precise manner so you can count them; ignores context and multiple meanings)
      • Choose a question which can be measured with variables and use a coding scheme to capture them
      • Make a sampling frame (sample must be representative but small enough to analyze in depth, ex: counting the number of words in a document)
      • Code all the cases and analyze the data
      • Produce semi-quantitative results using charts, graphs, tables
      • Report in a standard “scientific” format
  • Qualitative

    • Semiotics (studies the life of signs in society; seeks to understand the underlining messages in visual texts; forms basis for interpretive analysis)
    • Discourse Analysis (concerned with production of meaning through talk and texts; how people use language)
    • Interpretative Analysis (captures hidden meaning and ambiguity; looks at how messages are encoded or hidden; acutely aware of who the audience is)
    • Conversation Analysis (concerned with structures of talk in interaction and achievement of interaction)
    • Grounded Theory (inductive and interpretative; developing novel theoretical ideas based on the data)
student resources

Good Websites to gain more insight:


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