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Deciphering the Data: A Comparison of Computer and Traditional Coding in Content Analysis
Unformatted Document Text:  22 seven words of their target terms. This might be a more effective way to link an attribute to a candidate in a campaign story. Another important point is the amount of subjective decision making involved in computer assisted content analysis. Normally, subjectivity is linked with traditional human coding which is why checking intercodal reliability is such an important step. But in this case study, the computer team had to make several value judgments to put together a plan to help the computer program investigate the research question. Since the two person team worked separately after the initial codebook was completed, many important decisions were made without any reliability test. Tasks such as deciding which words would symbolize attributes, separating the data set into candidate and attribute files, and choosing positive and negative terms to determine affect were made by individuals without any method in place to check the validity of those human decisions. One person might decide “tobacco” symbolizes a business attribute, while another would code it as an experience attribute for Dan Morales since he was part of the precedent-setting tobacco settlement. So even though computer-assisted content analysis is equated with precision, as the computer is being used, many subjective, human decisions have to be made, often without any process for validation. On the other hand, the computer coders had resources to help make those human decisions, resources that weren’t available to the traditional coders. The VBMap program grouped all the words in the data set on an graph so the coders could see what words might be grouped together in different categories. Plus, the computer coders were able to generate a list of all words in the text and how often they occurred. So the

Authors: Conway, Mike.
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seven words of their target terms. This might be a more effective way to link an attribute
to a candidate in a campaign story.
Another important point is the amount of subjective decision making involved in
computer assisted content analysis. Normally, subjectivity is linked with traditional
human coding which is why checking intercodal reliability is such an important step. But
in this case study, the computer team had to make several value judgments to put together
a plan to help the computer program investigate the research question. Since the two
person team worked separately after the initial codebook was completed, many important
decisions were made without any reliability test. Tasks such as deciding which words
would symbolize attributes, separating the data set into candidate and attribute files, and
choosing positive and negative terms to determine affect were made by individuals
without any method in place to check the validity of those human decisions. One person
might decide “tobacco” symbolizes a business attribute, while another would code it as
an experience attribute for Dan Morales since he was part of the precedent-setting
tobacco settlement. So even though computer-assisted content analysis is equated with
precision, as the computer is being used, many subjective, human decisions have to be
made, often without any process for validation.
On the other hand, the computer coders had resources to help make those human
decisions, resources that weren’t available to the traditional coders. The VBMap
program grouped all the words in the data set on an graph so the coders could see what
words might be grouped together in different categories. Plus, the computer coders were
able to generate a list of all words in the text and how often they occurred. So the


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