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A Content Analysis of Pro-Eating Disorder Web Sites

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Article chosen for analysis:

Borzekowski, D. L G., Schenk, S., Wilson, J. L.,& Peebles, R. (2010). "e-Ana and e-Mia: A content analysis of pro-eating disorder web sites", American Journal of Public Health, 100(8), 1526-1534.

A content analysis can be most simply described as a systematic and descriptive study of a series of communications. Since the mid-1950's, it has become one of the most widely used tools and research methods in media (Palmquist, 1980). The concept of content analysis is defined by Earl Babbie (Author of The Practice of Social Research) as '...the study of recorded human communications, such as books, websites, paintings and laws.' When faced with this definition, it is simple to see how content analysis can be used in almost every aspect of human society. However, is every content analysis an effective one? The content analysis that will be discussed and critically evaluated in this essay is ""e-Ana and e-Mia: A content analysis of pro-eating disorder web sites", which was published in the American Journal Of Public Health, in 2010. This article provides an analysis of the features of pro-eating disorder websites, and examines the messages to which users may be exposed. This essay will critically evaluate five main points of the content analysis: clarity of the study's aims, objectives and hypotheses, which theoretical perspectives and epistemologies underpin the project - and how these influence the type of results produced, particular strengths and weaknesses of the method, clarity of expression and presentation of data, and possible improvements upon replication of the study.

One of the most important aspects of a content analysis is a well-formed hypothesis. Without this element, it will be difficult to develop accurate and sensitive coding categories, and to gather the necessary data for the analysis (Weerakkody, 2009). Whilst there is no formal hypothesis in the content analysis, there is a section labeled 'objectives'. Traditionally, objectives are stated in a way that communicates the researcher's aims in conducting the study. However, in this content analysis, the objectives are simply a brief summary of the actions undertaken by the researchers during the study. This is detrimental to the overall analysis, as there are no clearly communicated aims or objectives listed. A potential reader would have no information on what the researchers had predicted of the results prior to conducting the study, or what they had hoped to achieve from the study. The lack of a formally defined hypothesis also contributes to the ineffectiveness of the study, in that it is inconsistent with a typical research project, or content analysis (Weerakkody, 2009). The aims and objectives of the content analysis are not communicated effectively or consistently with that of other research projects, and thus are not clear.

With any study or analysis, there is always a set of theories or beliefs that are either being supported or challenged. Often in content analysis, there is such a thing as an 'epistemology' - which Matthias Steup of Stanford University defines as 'the study of knowledge and justified belief'. As mentioned previously, the content analysis in question is lacking a clear hypothesis, as well as a conventional series of aims or objectives. Without these elements, it is difficult to determine resignedly which epistemologies underpin the project, as these are the main elements that communicate the theory and beliefs behind any study (Kohlbacher, 2006). However, there are two mentioned theories as well as recognizable components of other theories shown throughout the analysis. The two theories that are briefly described in the analysis are Bandura's social cognitive theory, and George Gerbner's Cultivation theory. Both of these theories suggest that behaviour is more likely to be imitated and accepted as 'normative' by people who have had high exposure levels to the message. This is applied to the analysis in that there is the potential for frequent visitors to pro-eating disorder websites to perceive the message that extreme dieting and exercise is normal, rather than symptomatic of a dangerous disease (Borzekowski et al 2010, 8). One theory that is not mentioned but can also be applied, is that of Critical Theory, which uses either qualitative or quantitative data, and examines observations or data collected by a researcher to identify the ideological bases in them (Weerakkody, 2009). This theory is prominent in the results and general discussion area of the analysis, as there is a clear examination of the data collected by the researchers, and a communicated desire to identify the ideological bases behind it. This can be seen in the section labeled 'Thinspiration, Tips and Techniques', in which the researchers



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