Quality & Quantity 32: 93–108, 1998.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Q-Analysis Techniques for Studying
THOMAS L. JACOBSON
Department of Communication, 338 MFAC – Ellicott, The State University of New York at Buffalo,
Buffalo, NY 14261, U.S.A.
Speech Communication Department, East Stroudsburg University, East Stroudsburg, PA 18371,
Abstract. Q-analysis has proven a useful research methodology in a number of social science
research areas for exploration of structures in human and social phenomena. Unrelated to either Q-
mode factor analysis or the Q-sort technique, Q-analysis combines an anti-reductionist ethos with
algebraic description. This paper addresses Q-analysis’s potential contribution to content analysis
of print communication. Twenty-seven news stories covering the “drug war” from the New York
Times are analyzed to illustrate the Q-analysis approach and conceptual comparisons with tradi-
tional content analysis methodology are drawn. Advantages and disadvantages are evaluated. The
report concludes that Q-analysis is a promising approach to content research that makes possible
the mathematical expression of content properties beyond the reach of traditional content analysis
Key words: content analysis, news, Q-analysis.
1. Q-Analysis Techniques for Studying Communication Content
Q-analysis was developed and introduced to the social sciences by English math-
ematician R. H. Atkin in the early 1970s (Atkin, 1974a). It has been used as a
research methodology in areas such as psychology (Cowley, 1986) urban planning
(Atkin, 1974b, 1975; Johnson, 1981b), agricultural planning (Gaspar & Gould,
1981) and organizational networks (Atkin, 1977). Methodological and meta-
theoretical assessments of Q-analysis have also been published (Macgill, 1983).
Not to be confused with either the Q-sort technique (Stephenson, 1968) or Q-
mode factor analysis (Kerlinger, 1973, pp. 678–781), Atkin’s Q-analysis has its
roots in algebraic topology. It is a geometrically oriented approach to exploring
and representing structure in data.
With one exception, Q-analysis has not been employed in communication con-
tent research. Gould, Johnson & Chapman (1984) conducted an extensive study
of international television content and ﬂows in the 1970s (see also Gould & John-