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Lesson Plan: Content Analysis

A Taste for Honey by H.F. Heard

A Taste for Honey by H.F. Heard

Activity: Introduction to Content Analysis

Mass-market paperbacks also can serve as a great introduction to content analysis, a humanities research method that seeks to identify patterns through quantitative analysis of a group of texts. 

Below is a sample worksheet for conducting a content analysis lesson using detective novels from our mass-market paperback collection. Although this particular example lesson centers on conducting content analysis in order to answer questions about gender in mystery/detective novels, the lesson could be easily adapted to other genres or questions. The lesson has been designed to meet the following learning objectives and student outcomes.

Learning Objectives: 

Students will practice determining information about the mystery genre’s assumptions about gender based on conducting content analysis.

Students will explore the benefits and limitations of content analysis as a research method.


Learners will be able to use their acquired content analysis skills to conduct cultural criticism on a variety of objects.

Worksheet: Content Analysis

Content analysis is a research tool commonly used in the social sciences and humanities. Content analysis can be used to help you see major themes and recurring imagery in a set of data. 

Typically, this analysis is done by generating (and defining) codes for specific recurring imagery and then coding a large set of data using those codes. 

Here, we are going to try our hand at coming up with coding tags for a group of mystery novels from the mid-20th century. You will be approaching this as someone who is interested in how gender is portrayed in 20th century mass-market mystery and thriller novels. 

Initial discussion: So what kind of images come to mind when you picture a detective? What other elements come up when you think of mystery novels? What do you expect in terms of gender portrayal in these genres?

Group Work: In your group, look over 10 books in the collection (from the selection linked here) and come up with a list of tags you might want to use when coding them. Write these codes (and their definition) on your group’s slide on the googledoc.

Earth Man on Venus by Ralph M. Farley

An Earth Man on Venus by Ralph Farley


Codes should be a balance between being specific and general, so that the same codes can apply across a wide data set. For instance, if I was coding this science-fiction novel, some tags I might think of using would be “giant monster,” “revealing outfits,” “damsel in distress,” “muscular hero.” When I am thinking of these tags, I also need to think of what might define said tags (i.e. how am I defining the visual language that signifies a “damsel in distress?” What counts as “revealing outfits”?)

Next steps: Now, the group following yours will code the collection based on the codes you created. (i.e group 2 will code using group 1’s terms, group 3 will code using group 2’s terms). Once this is done, answer the questions below.

1. Did you have any problems deciding on how to classify particular images when brainstorming your codes? If so, what were your problems?

2. Were the other group’s codes very different from yours? What codes did they include that you did not? What did they not include that you deemed important?

3. Did you have any problems implementing the other group’s codes? If so, what were your problems. 

4. What did you find enjoyable about this process? What didn’t you like?

5. What kinds of things did you expect coming in about gender? What did you find that was interesting? What new things came up as you looked at these covers?

6. Were there other frequent images that weren’t related to gender that you found yourself wanting to code? What were they?

7. What are the advantages of using coding for a collection like this? What do you feel is not being expressed?