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Using content analysis as a research methodology for investigating intellectual capital disclosure: A critique

John Dumay (Department of Accounting, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
Linlin Cai (Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong)

Journal of Intellectual Capital

ISSN: 1469-1930

Article publication date: 12 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to build on Dumay and Cai’s (2014) prior research to provide a deeper analysis of the problems associated with using content analysis (CA) as a research methodology for investigating intellectual capital disclosure (ICD).


Totally, 110 articles utilising CA as a research methodology for inquiring into ICD are analysed based on Krippendorff’s (2013) conceptual CA research framework and design logic, and tied into issues relating to CA as a research methodology for investigating ICD.


The authors advocate that ICD CA researchers need to go back to the drawing board and ensure that future studies rigorously apply the basic logic of CA design. In its current state, ICD CA research needs to take a few steps back, before it can move forward. If ICD CA researchers can accomplish this, then there is an opportunity to undertake rigorous research to develop reliable and valid outputs that add to new knowledge about IC.

Research limitations/implications

The main limitations of the research are the chosen sample of CA-based ICD articles and the adoption of the Krippendorff’s framework. However, the authors have identified the main corpus of CA-based ICD studies and since Krippendorff is the only recognised comprehensive text on CA as a methodology, the authors use the most appropriate data and framework possible for the analysis.


Prior CA studies have laid the foundation for what is a popular research methodology. However, the authors argue that the popularity of CA as a research method for investigating ICD has become so great that at times the research methodology “drives the research questions” as opposed to the “research questions driving the methodology” Hence, this research examines reasons for CA limited contemporary contribution and recommends how this may be overcome rather than prescribing how to conduct ICD CA research.



The authors especially want to thank Professor Eric Tsui and the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering of Hong Kong Polytechnic University their support provided to the authors throughout the conduct of the research. The authors are also grateful to Jenny Hatton for her editorial feedback on early drafts, and Fiona Crawford of Macquarie University for her sterling efforts to refine the paper’s presentation.


Dumay, J. and Cai, L. (2015), "Using content analysis as a research methodology for investigating intellectual capital disclosure: A critique", Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 121-155.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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