What Is Discourse Analysis in PhD thesis

Discourse analysis


Discourse analysis is an important research technique when it comes to qualitative data and helps in coming to useful conclusions with the help of its critical approach. To understand the meaning of discourse analysis better, let us dive into details. Discourse analysis is an important research technique when it comes to qualitative data and helps in coming to useful conclusions with the help of its critical approach. To understand the meaning of discourse analysis better, let us dive into details.

What Is Discourse Analysis?

Discourse Analysis is one of the most used qualitative research techniques which critically analyses the meaning conveyed by the language and how it is used in a given context. 

To keep it simple, let us first understand one word at a time.

Discourse: It includes both verbal and non-verbal communication (written, expressive or sign language) aspects of a language. 

Language: The language part includes both syntactic and semantic studies which convey the meaning based on the situation and context in which the discourse took place.

Context: The context part involves all the social, political, regional, historical, cultural, and geographical events which can affect the meaning of a word or sentence.

Therefore, discourse analysis in qualitative research is an approach that studies the data collected through interviews, surveys, group discussions, observations, and conversations. This data collected is analyzed based on its linguistic, grammatical, contextual, and purpose.

Types Of Discourse Analysis

Based on the seriousness and strictness of the analysis process, there are majorly three types of discourse analysis which it can be used. These are:

  • Formal Linguistic

The formal linguistic stage of discourse analysis basically focuses on the words, phrases, sentences, and grammatical structure of the language as well as the phonology used.

  • Empirical

In the empirical discourse analysis, the focus is on the social, political, historical background, and cultural construct of a language and how it changed over time.

  • Critical

Lastly comes the critical discourse analysis stage, where the words and sentences used are analyzed based on their purpose as well as the power analytics. It analyses the language construct focusing on the limiting thoughts conveyed by the discourse.

Where Is Discourse Analysis Used?

There is not one way of analysing the qualitative data but many including content analysis, thematic, analysis and narrative analysis. So, why do we need Discourse Analysis to critically study the data?

To answer the question, discourse analysis is an approach of research that studies the relationship of language and its use in the social context as well as the social construct and its impact on the language used. Therefore, to identify where discourse analysis can be used, there must be the following reasons:

  • The purpose of using different languages needs to be identified

  • The effect of a language in a discourse needs to be evaluated

  • The ways of communicating beliefs, individual assumptions, and values followed need to be explained

  • The cultural rules of using language and its conventions must be clarified

  • The change in language due to the socio-political and historical elements needs to be identified

Due to these reasons, discourse analysis is widely used as a research approach in various subject domains of humanities and different fields of social sciences which are concerned with individuals, cultures,  languages, communications, geography, cognitive skills, and psychology.

What Is Content Analysis And Where Is It Used?

Content analysis is another approach to studying and analyzing the qualitative data collected in the form of texts, audio, videos, interviews, surveys, or other communication methods in research. It analyses the text to identify the themes, patterns, and occurrences of particular words or sentences to examine the data in both quantitative as well as qualitative methods. 

Unlike discourse analysis, content analysis is more systematic and can be replicated in future research. Content analysis is used where:

  • The data needs to be quantified

  • The performance of the data needs to be evaluated

  • The subjectivities from the content need to be removed

  • The trends given in the content need to be identified

  • The characteristics need to be associated with the content and context

  • The relationships between messages and individuals need to be established

Discourse Analysis vs. Content Analysis

Many scholars get confused with the names and often ask about the exact difference between discourse analysis and content analysis. Therefore, to put the contrast between the two in an easy-to-understand and simplified manner, the table below describes the features and qualities of these two research approaches by using lesser words.





A method of research study based on the use of language in the text and content.

A method of research study that analyses the content given in the document as a whole.


To examine the language on the basis of the tone, style, intonation, syntax, and gestures

To examine the content based on the themes, patterns, and occurrences of certain words 


Qualitative Data

Qualitative Data and Quantitative Data both


Verbal as well as nom-verbal content including the written documents, gestures, facial expressions, and sign boards

Mostly the written data and transcripts from conversations, audios, and videos 


Contextual and changing based on the empirical elements

Realistic and more factual

Research Questions

General and implicit to the phenomenon being analyzed

Predetermined and well-defined questions

Coding Scheme

Codes emerge along with the process of analysis

Based on the questions and thus, well elaborated

The above-drawn table explained the common difference between discourse analysis and content analysis. For queries related to other research methodologies used in thesis writing or other documents, you can drop your comments below or leave your queries at info@thesiscoach.in. You can also give a read to Writing a PhD Thesis to start your research journey without a hitch. 

Category : Data Analysis
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