What Is Document Analysis? (Definition, Steps, and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 1, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Researchers often use content analysis to classify different research documents when building reports. In reviewing these sources, they examine them thoroughly to ensure accuracy and relevance. Understanding the types of research analysis can help you choose the most appropriate option and how to perform it. In this article, we explore document analysis, explain the types of primary research sources, review why it's essential to perform the analysis, discuss the process for the study, and identify the advantages and disadvantages associated with the process.

What is document analysis?

Document analysis is a qualitative research method involving a systematic procedure that researchers use to evaluate documents. This research methodology requires a repeat review of documentary evidence and data interpretation to get an empirical knowledge of the source documents in question. You may conduct document analyzes alone or as a part of a wider qualitative or mixed-methods study in a process called triangulation. Performing a triangulation technique helps researchers triangulate research results from other data sources, like surveys, observations, interviews, or focus groups. It also helps elucidate, refute, corroborate, or expand on results from different data sources to prevent bias.

As a research employee, you may use this research technique to assess and evaluate research documents, understand their meanings, and develop the information it contains. When working with primary sources, the first step is to conduct this type of analysis. It helps you get a contextual understanding of the documents and make informed inferences before extracting information from them. Most researchers often use this type of analysis or content analysis worksheets to help them sort the different classes of information sources such as photographs, maps, written documents, videos, posters, audio recordings, and cartoons before analyzing them.

Read more: How to Write an Analysis (With Importance and Tips)

Types of primary document research sources

When analyzing data sources, the three different types of primary data sources researchers often use are:

  • Public records: This source is the official records that organizations such as universities, states, companies, and governmental and non-governmental organizations use for their activities and anyone can access. The types of documents you may access from this source include annual reports, syllabi, policy manuals, birth and death records, mission and vision statements, census data, student transcripts, court records, strategic plans, and students' handbooks.

  • Personal documents: Examples of this document are first-person accounts of beliefs, actions, personal beliefs, or events. Examples of personal documents are journals, duty logs, scrapbooks, emails, newspapers, incident reports, blogs, calendars, and social media posts.

  • Physical evidence: Physical evidence, or artifacts, are physical objects found within a particular study setting. Examples include agendas, flyers, posters, training materials, and handbooks.

Why perform document analysis?

As an employee or candidate, this type of analysis is essential for the following reasons:

  • Data context: It provides researchers with the context of their research. It allows researchers to make sense of their primary and secondary resources and choose the right pieces for their study.

  • Introductory questions: Researchers can ask introductory questions when analyzing the research documents. As a result, it allows researchers to use more efficient data by combining document analysis with other qualitative and quantitative research forms to create synergy.

  • Organization of qualitative data: It helps researchers organize qualitative data into categories. This can help provide additional insight into the research process.

  • Monitor the project development: It allows researchers to track their study development. This can ensure the research process is orderly and streamlined towards a particular goal.

Read more: What is Quantitative Analysis?

What is the process for document analysis?

Different researchers conduct this analysis differently based on the document types, study purpose, and research preference. Still, here are seven essential steps for this analysis:

List your resources

The first step in analyzing your sources is determining what type of documents you want to use. The different factors you may consider when selecting your texts may be:

  • Parameters: You may use such parameters as location, author, or date range.

  • Medium: Different research documents are websites, newspapers, blogs, written reports, and magazines.

  • Inclusion criteria: This criterion may limit the sources to just websites or newspapers.

  • Genre: Different genres that may apply are politics, world economics, social issues, marketing, or education.

Decide on how to organize the information

You may organize your information sources based on size. For example, if the documents are few, you may choose to list them all out, and if they're a lot, you may use samples. Next, when organizing information in this type of analysis, it's important to define two elements, sets of categories and units of meaning.

While sets of categories are the characteristics of the document content, units of meanings are the elements you look for in the texts, like images, words, or phrases. You can also include conceptual categories like trustworthy, corrupt, or loyal. Alternatively, you may consist of objective categories like religion, gender, or origin. After defining your information elements, you can establish rules to build a coding system. This system helps you better analyze results by organizing the information by theme.

Make copies for notes

It's essential to make multiple copies of your information sources for different reasons. First, it lets you make impressions and annotations on the copies while analyzing without damaging the original document. Again, it allows you to carry smaller parts of significant information sources around multiple environments. For instance, you make photocopies of pages in a manuscript or textbook to highlight them and move around instead of taking the entire book about. Finally, you may file all the copies for subsequent research when you conclude your study.

Ensure authenticity

When choosing your source materials, it's essential that they're authoritative sources. You may ensure the validity and trustworthiness of a source document by checking factors like:

  • Authenticity: It's crucial that the record is complete with unquestionable authorship.

  • Credibility: This factor ensures the document content is reliable, with listed author and valid copyright information.

  • Accurate: When a piece of information is correct, it's precise and completely records the events that occurred.

  • Meaning: You can consider whether there's only surface meaning or a deeper semiotic meaning to the content.

  • Representativeness: Under this factor, you inquire whether the document is a representative sample of existing papers.

  • Dependability: Answers if you can present the source document anywhere else.

  • Completeness: Assessing the totality of an information answers whether it's selective or comprehensive.

Explore the document's schedule and check for biases

Some documents may contain biases that question their accuracy regardless of their sources. Some kinds of biases to look out for in texts and use to filter your research include:

  • Question-order bias: Under this bias, authors use answers to specific questions to influence respondents to answer other questions similarly.

  • Confirmation bias: Here, the text uses the opinion of others to confirm certain beliefs.

  • Halo effect: This bias represents a person or concept based on a single character in a particular light.

  • Wording bias: The effect of this bias elaborates the answer to a question such that it fits into an agenda.

  • Culture bias: The text in this bias makes assumptions based on how individuals perceive their culture or that of others.

Ask questions

To properly conduct your analysis, it's essential to ask questions that help you establish the document's background and how it may help your research. Part of the questions you may request to gather crucial details and assess the information is:

  • When did the author write the document?

  • Who wrote, created, and researched the document?

  • How and why is this document valuable to my research?

  • What is the paper about?

  • What is the document's source?

  • Is the document edited, solicited, or anonymous?

Read more: 7 Analysis Questions to Ask (With Example Answers)

Evaluate the document

Completing the previous steps ensures a standard framework for conducting your analysis. This framework allows you to identify patterns you use to extract information. You also use this information to determine the research question, "How the report answers the research question, and how do you base your research?" You may then interpret your results and use them to develop your current research study.


The different advantages of performing content analysis as opposed to other techniques are:

  • Data collection: You may use the content analysis technique in various research fields, either in the primary data collection method or complement other methods. It can ensure that your study is complete and critical.

  • Easy organization of data: It's an effective method of gathering and organizing data such that you can easily manage them. It also makes it easy for you to access different data.

  • Saves time and cost: This technique is more time and cost-efficient than initiating and conducting your experiments or research. For instance, under this technique, you can read and review data sources multiple times without influencing them with your thought and research process.

  • Supplementary research data: It's beneficial, as documents may provide supplementary research data. It's also useful, as documents may provide background information and comprehensive data coverage to help contextualize research within a subject field.


Some concerns to consider when conducting content analysis are:

  • It may contain little relevant data: A research document may not adequately answer the research question as it may contain little valuable data or none.

  • Incomplete or inaccurate data: Some source data may be incomplete, with inconsistent or inaccurate data affecting their credibility.

  • Difficulty in finding documents: The technique may be burdensome as the documents may not be easily accessible.

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