Empirical studies in business ethics often rely on self-reported data, but this reliance is open to criticism. Responses to questionnaires and interviews may be influenced by the subject's view of what the researcher might want to hear, by a reluctance to talk about sensitive ethical issues, and by imperfect recall. This paper reviews the extent to which published research in business ethics relies on interviews and questionnaires, and then explores the possibilities of using secondary data, such as company documents and newspaper reports, as a source for empirical studies in applied ethics. A specific example is then discussed, describing the source material, the method, the development of the research questions, and the way in which reliability and validity were established. In the example, content analysis was used to examine the extent to which the executive virtue of courage was observed or called for in items published in four international daily newspapers, and to explore the meaning which was attributed to "courage" in the papers.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Allen, A. M.: 1995, ‘The New Nutrition Facts Label in the Print Media: A Content Analysis’, Journal of the American Dietetic Association 95, 349–351.
Alvesson, M.: 1996, ‘Leadership Studies: From Procedure and Abstraction to Reflexivity and Situation’, Leadership Quarterly 7, 455–485.
Aristotle: [c330BC] 1953. Nicomachean Ethics, translated J. A. K. Thompson (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth).
Babbie, E.: 1995, The Practice of Social Research, 7th edition (Wadsworth, Belmont CA).
Barley, S. R., G. W. Meyer and D. C. Gash: 1988, ‘Cultures of Culture: Academics, Practitioners and the Pragmatics of Normative Control’, Administrative Science Quarterly 33, 24–60.
Berg, B. L.: 1998, Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, 3rd edition (Allyn & Bacon, Boston MA).
Brierley, J. A. and C. J. Cowton: 2000, ‘Putting Meta-Analysis to Work: Accountants' Organizational-Professional Conflict’, Journal of Business Ethics 24, 343–353.
Carlyle, T.:  1908, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, in Everyman's Library, Vol. 278 (JM Dent, London).
Cowton, C. J.: 1998a, ‘Research in Real Worlds: The Empirical Contribution to Business Ethics’, in C. J. Cowton and R. S. Crisp (eds.), Business Ethics: Perspectives on the Practice of Theory (Oxford University Press, Oxford), pp. 97–115.
Cowton, C. J.: 1998b, ‘The Use of Secondary Data in Business Ethics Research’, Journal of Business Ethics 17, 423–434.
Ciulla, J. B.: 1991, ‘Business Ethics as Moral Imagination’, in R. E. Freeman (ed.), Business Ethics: The State of the Art (Oxford University Press, New York), pp. 212–220.
Dalton, D. R. and M. B. Metzger: 1992, ‘Towards Candor, Cooperation & Privacy in Applied Business Ethics Research: The Randomized Response Technique’, Business Ethics Quarterly 2, 207–221.
Davidson, W. N. III., D. L. Worrell and C. I. Lee: 1994, ‘Stock Market Reactions to Announced Corporate Illegalities’, Journal of Business Ethics 13, 979–987.
DePree, M.: 1997, ‘Attributes of Leaders’, Executive Excellence 14, 8.
Ford, R. C. and W. D. Richardson: 1994, ‘Ethical Decision Making: A Review of the Empirical Literature’, Journal of Business Ethics 13, 205–221.
Frankfort-Nachmias, C. and D. Nachmias: 1996, Research Methods in the Social Sciences, 5th edition (Arnold, London).
Franzosi, R.: 1995, ‘Computer-Assisted Content Analysis of Newspapers’, Quality & Quantity 29, 157-172.
Hagood, M. J.: 1941, Statistics for Sociologists (Reynal & Hitchcock, New York). Quoted in I.L. Janis (1965) ‘The Problem of Validating Content Analysis’, in H. D. Lasswell, N. C. Leites and Associates (eds.), Language of Politics: Studies in Quantitative Semantics (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA), pp. 55–82.
Hakim, C.: 1982, Secondary Analysis in Social Research: A Guide to Data Sources and Methods with Examples (Allen & Unwin, London).
Harris, H.: 1999, ‘Courage as a Management Virtue’, Business & Professional Ethics Journal 18, 27-46.
Hegarty, W. H. and H. P. Sims, Jr.: 1978, ‘Some Determinants of Unethical Decision Behavior: An Experiment’, Journal of Applied Psychology 64, 451–457.
Henningham, J.: 1996, ‘The Shape of Daily News: A Content Analysis of Australia's Metropolitan Newspapers’, Media International Australia 79, 22–34.
Holsti, O. R.: 1969, Content Analysis for the Social Sciences (Addison Wesley, Reading, MA).
Hornstein, H. A.: 1986, Managerial Courage (Wiley, New York).
House, R. J., W. D. Sprangler and J. Woycke: 1991, ‘Personality and Charisma in the U.S. Presidency: A Psychological Theory of Leader Effectiveness’, Administrative Science Quarterly 36, 364–396.
Howell, J. M. and C. A. Higgins: 1990, ‘Champions of Technological Innovation’, Administrative Science Quarterly 35, 317–341.
Insch, G. S., J. E. Moore and L. D. Murphy: 1997, ‘Content Analysis in Leadership Research: Examples, Procedures, and Suggestions for Future Use’, Leadership Quarterly 8, 1–25.
Jamal, K. and N. E. Bowie: 1995, ‘Theoretical Considerations for a Meaningful Code of Professional Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 14, 703–714.
Janda, K.: 1969, ‘A Microfilm and Computer System for Analyzing Comparative Politics Literature’, in G. Gerbner, O. L. Holsti, K. Krippendorf, W. J. Paisley and P. J. Stone (eds.), The Analysis of Communication Content (Wiley, New York), pp. 407–435.
Janis, I. L.: 1965, ‘The Problem of Validating Content Analysis’, in H. D. Lasswell, N. C. Leites and Associates (eds.), Language of Politics: Studies in Quantitative Semantics (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA), pp. 55–82.
Kabanoff, B., R. Waldersee and M. Cohen: 1995, ‘Espoused Values and Organizational Change Themes’, Academy of Management Journal 38, 1075–1104.
Kaplan, A. and J. M. Goldsen: 1965, ‘The Reliability of Content Analysis Categories’, in H. D. Lasswell, N. C. Leites and Associates (eds.), Language of Politics; Studies in Quantitative Semantics (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA), pp. 83–112.
Kouzes, J. M. and B. Z. Posner: 1995, The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations, 2nd edition (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA).
Krippendorff, K.: 1980, Content Analysis (Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA).
Lacy, S., K. Robinson and D. Riffe: 1995, ‘Sample Size in Content Analysis of Weekly Newspapers’, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 72, 336-345.
Lasswell, H. D., N. C. Leites and Associates (eds.): 1965, Language of Politics: Studies in Quantitative Semantics (MIT Press, Cambridge MA).
Meindl, J. R., S. B. Erlich and J. M. Dukerich: 1985, ‘The Romance of Leadership’, Administrative Science Quarterly 30, 78–102.
Mintz, A.: 1965, ‘The Feasibility of the Use of Samples in Content Analysis’, in H. D. Lasswell, N. C. Leites and Associates (eds.), Language of Politics: Studies in Quantitative Semantics (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA), pp. 127–152.
Neuman, W. L.: 1994, Social Research Methods, 2nd edition (Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA).
Payne, J. G. and K. Mercuri: 1993, ‘Private Lives, Public Officials’, American Behavioral Scientist 37, 291–301.
Plato: [c320BC] 1970, Laches, in Dialogues, Vol. 2, translated B. Jowett (Sphere Books, London).
Randall, D. M. and M. F. Fernandes: 1991, ‘The Social Desirability Response Bias in Ethics Research’, Journal of Business Ethics 10, 805–817.
Randall, D. M. and A. M. Gibson: 1990, ‘Methodology in Business Ethics Research: A Review and Critical Assessment’, Journal of Business Ethics 9, 457–471.
Robertson, D. C.: 1993, ‘Empiricism in Business Ethics: Suggested Research Directions’, Journal of Business Ethics 12, 585–599.
Sarantakos, S.: 1993, Social Research (Macmillan Australia, South Melbourne).
Silverman, D.: 1993, Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction (Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA).
Strauss, A. L.: 1987, Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists (Cambridge University Press, New York).
Teal, T.: 1996, ‘The Human Side of Management’, Harvard Business Review 74(6), 35–44.
Treviño, L. K.: 1986, ‘Ethical Decision Making in Organizations: A Person-Situation Interactionist Model’, Academy of Management Review 11, 601–617.
Walton, D. N.: 1986, Courage: A Philosophical Investigation (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA).
Weaver, G. R. and L. K. Treviño: 1994, ‘Normative and Empirical Business Ethics: Separation, Marriage of Convenience, or Marriage of Necessity?’, Business Ethics Quarterly 4, 129–143.
Weber, J.: 1992, ‘Scenarios in Business Ethics Research: Review, Critical Assessment, and Recommendations’, Business Ethics Quarterly 2, 137–159.
Weber, R. P.: 1990, Basic Content Analysis, Sage University Paper series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences 49 (Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA).
Woodrum, J.: 1984, ‘“Mainstreaming” Content Analysis in Social Science: Methodology, Advantages, Obstacles and Solutions’, Social Science Research 13, 1–19.
About this article
Cite this article
Harris, H. Content Analysis of Secondary Data: A Study of Courage in Managerial Decision Making. Journal of Business Ethics 34, 191–208 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1012534014727
- content analysis
- research mothods