The General Inquirer
A Computer Approach to Content Analysis
The General Inquirer is a unique set of procedures for identifying, in a useful and meaningful way, recurrent patterns within the rich variety of man's written and spoken communications. Using the computer to implement analysis procedures, the General Inquirer provides a remarkably flexible common referent for testing the hypotheses of different investigators. It provides investigators with explicit procedures that can be exchanged, applied to one another's data, discussed, argued, and revised, thereby generating new hypotheses and insights.
The system is programmed to accept actual text, look up words and phrases in dictionaries, assign descriptors, check for specified descriptor patterns, count occurrences, and retrieve sentences with specified characteristics. Beginning with studies of small-group interaction, the applications of the General Inquirer to content analysis have ranged over a wide variety of fields, including clinical psychology, social psychology, personality structure, cross-cultural comparisons, political science, survey research, business marketing, and, in initial explorations, literary analysis.
In the first section of the book, the concept of content analysis is introduced and defined and the rationale are presented. The second section offers example applications carefully selected from five years of research experience to illustrate different theoretical orientations, text problems, and research designs. These orientations vary from simple word and phase counts to tests for complex thematic sequences – from short simple sentence completions to the range of complexity found in therapy protocols, political speeches, cultural folktales, suicide notes, autobiographies, field reports, diplomatic notes, editorials, and samples of psychotic writing. The research techniques vary from producing simple graphs to the complexities of factor analysis or interaction effects in analysis of variance.
The supreme virtue of the General Inquirer method devised by Dr. Stone and his associates is that it keeps conceptual issues in the foreground and refuses to give undeserved prominence to the computer. Dr. Stone is thoroughly justified in insisting that the problem of inference should receive top billing in any appraisal of results or evaluation of future alternatives. The General Inquirer gives promise of providing a means by which a particular investigation can be conducted in the light of accumulated knowledge about content analysis without losing the possibility of adding detail as required to revise, respecify, or generalize the dictionaries and programs at hand.
Although computers are essential to this approach to content analysis, technical details are relegated to a separate User's Manual in the belief that the real issue and excitement of content details but in the basic deigns and issues of the research strategy itself. The evolution of the system and changes planned for the future are also discussed.
This first full discussion of computer-aided content analysis should prove as valuable as it is fascinating to all students of human behavior and indeed to anyone confronted with the task of organizing and making sense out of the spoken and written word.